Huskers suffer one last painful defeat as they fall 28-21 to Iowa
The final game of Scott Frost's fourth season at Nebraska couldn't have been much more fitting given how the previous 11 games had gone this year.
With freshman Logan Smothers making his first-career start at quarterback and a handful of other key starters out on both sides of the ball, the Huskers played arguably their best three quarters of the season and led by as many as 15 points.
But a crucial special teams error, late defensive breakdowns, and costly mental mistakes turned what looked like a sure upset into one last gut punch in a 28-21 defeat.
The Hawkeyes (10-2) scored just one offensive touchdown despite driving inside NU's 40-yard line on eight of their nine possessions. However, they made up for it with four field goals, a safety on defense, and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
Nebraska had one last chance to tie or win the game in the final minutes, but Smothers was intercepted at the Iowa goal line with just 43 seconds remaining to seal the Huskers' NCAA-record ninth one-score loss of the season.
Finishing the year 3-9 and 1-8 in Big Ten play, NU clinched its worst winning percentage (.250) since 1957.
Smothers wasted no time making his case for 2022 on his opening drive as a starter, hitting Samori Toure on completions of 19 and 28 yards before rushing in a touchdown from two yards out to give NU a 7-0 lead out of the gates.
Iowa responded by marching down the field on its first series and looked to have tied the game on a fourth-down one-yard touchdown toss from Alex Padilla to Sam LaPorta. But replay review ruled the pass incomplete for a turnover on downs.
The next score wouldn’t come until 10:39 left in the second quarter when Caleb Shudak drilled a career-long 51-yard field goal to cut NU’s lead to 7-3.
After two straight three-and-outs, Nebraska’s offense found its footing again on the ensuing possession. Smothers carried it seven times for 43 yards, and Jaquez Yant capped it off with a one-yard dive into the end zone to make it 14-3 with 4:20 to go in the half.
Shudak knocked in another field goal from 48 yards to cut the lead to 14-6 with 39 seconds left, and that score held into halftime. Smothers ended his first half as a starter 5-of-5 passing for 58 yards while rushing 14 times for 64 yards and a score.
Iowa replaced Padilla with Spencer Petras to start the second half and appeared to be well on its way toward trimming the lead even further. The Hawkeyes marched deep into NU territory to begin the third quarter, but running back Tyler Goodson had the ball knocked loose by Luke Reimer, and Deontre Thomas recovered at the Hawkeye 6-yard line.
Smothers and Co. then picked up right where they left off, going 94 yards on nine plays and scoring on a one-yard touchdown run by Smothers to make it 21-6.
Iowa responded by again moving inside the NU 40-yard line but could not capitalize, settling for another Shudak field goal 36 yards out to pull back within 12 going into the fourth quarter.
Just when it seemed that Nebraska was in complete control, though, special teams flipped the momentum. After a quick three-and-out, Iowa’s Joe Evans blocked a William Przystup punt, and Kyler Fisher snagged it out of the air for a 14-yard touchdown return.
That made it 21-16, with 14:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The flood gates opened even wider when Smothers fumbled on a run-pass option on NU’s next drive, and the Hawkeyes recovered at their 46.
The Blackshirts held firm and forced a punt four plays later, but that only led to Smothers getting hit in the end zone and then committing an intentional grounding penalty for a safety to pull Iowa within 21-18.
A good kick return following the safety spotted the Hawkeyes at their 38. They turned that into a 44-yarder by Shudak that tied it up at 21-21 with 7:21 to play.
Nebraska’s offense quickly punted it back to Iowa, and Goodson ripped off a 55-yard run down to the NU 14-yard line with five minutes remaining. Petras punched it in from there on a two-yard touchdown sneak to give the Hawkeyes their first lead of the day at 28-21 with 2:58 on the clock.
Smothers led the Huskers all the way down to the Iowa 28, but he was picked off by Jermari Harris near the goal line to officially put the game away.
Smothers ended the day 16-of-22 passing for 199 yards and a pick while rushing 24 times for 64 yards and two scores.