Upset falls short in 28-20 loss to No. 3 Iowa
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Nebraska had a golden opportunity to not only get its record back up to .500 and clinch bowl eligibility with a win over No. 3 Iowa on Friday, but also to achieve the rare feat of upsetting a second top-10 team in one season.
The Huskers fell short of accomplishing any of those goals, however, as four interceptions and some costly breakdowns on defense kept them from ever getting out of their own way in a 28-20 loss to the Hawkeyes in front of 90,830 fans.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong certainly had a game to forget, completing 25-of-45 passes for 296 yards and no touchdowns while getting picked off four times, including one in the final minutes to seal the defeat. With the loss, Nebraska ends its 2015 regular season at 5-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play, and its chances for a bowl berth now come down to hopefully being the one of the first sub-.500 teams invited.
The start of the game was dominated by defense, as the first quarter ended with zero points, five punts, an interception by Armstrong, and just three total first downs on the first six drives of the day. It wasn't until Iowa got the benefit of an illegal hands to the face penalty on Nebraska's Kevin Williams to negate a fumble by quarterback C.J. Beathard that helped get the first scoring drive of the game going.
A roughing the passer call on defensive tackle Maliek Collins then moved the Hawkeyes down to the NU 24, and Beathard capitalized with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end George Kittle to make it 7-0 with 13:50 to go in the second quarter.
Needing a break to go its way, Nebraska finally got one when Iowa punt returner Desmond King muffed a punt that was recovered by NU's Mick Stoltenberg at the IU 31. A 25-yard pass to tight end Cethan Carter and then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz set up first and goal at the Hawkeye four-yard line.
Senior running back Imani Cross took it in from there for a four-yard touchdown run up the gut to tie the game up at 7-7 with 10:18 remaining in the half.
Just when Nebraska had turned the tide of momentum back in its favor, though, Iowa took it right back a few minutes later. Backed up at their own 11-yard line, Armstrong tried to dump a swing pass to Terrell Newby over the top of two blitzing Hawkeye defenders. Defensive end Parker Hesse tipped the pass and snagged it out of the air for a pick-six that put Iowa back on top 14-17 with 6:38 to go.
The Huskers moved the ball into Iowa territory on their ensuing possession, but stalled out with a turnover on downs at the IU 43. On a third-and-six from the Iowa 47, safety Nate Gerry was flagged and ejected for targeting while trying to break up a pass, giving the Hawkeyes first and 10 at the NU 38 with 2:36 remaining.
The Blackshirts held firm from there, though, forcing an Iowa punt and getting the ball back at their own 20 with 1:11 left before half. Armstrong hit Carter for a 27-yard pass to the IU 45 and then again on a 20-yard toss to the Hawkeye 25 with 25 seconds left. That set up Drew Brown for a 39-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 14-10 going into halftime.
It didn't take long for Iowa to set the tone for the second half, as a quick three-and-out by Nebraska to open the half was followed up by a long punt return by King and then a late hit personal foul on punter Sam Foltz to start the Hawkeyes at the NU 33. Two plays later, running back Jordan Canzeri took it in from 29 yards out to push the lead back up to 21-10.
Once again, though, Nebraska was abel to come up with an answer. Sparked by completions to junior Jordan Westerkamp of 15 and 26 yards, Cross found the end zone for his second four-yard scoring run of the day to make it 21-17 with seven minutes left in the third quarter. The drive ended up covering 75 yards on 11 plays and ate up more than five minutes off the clock.
Any momentum gained from that series quickly evaporated in a matter of minutes, however, as Canzeri once again broke are on the exact same stretch run play to the left side and took it 68 yards for a touchdown on the Hawkeyes first offensive play, putting the lead back up to 11.
After a circus catch by wide out Brandon Reilly moved the ball into Iowa territory on Nebraska's following drive, the Hawkeyes delivered another blow when safety Greg Mabin picked off Armstrong for a third time at the four-yard line and ran it back to the IU 30. The Blackshirts were again able to hold firm, though, keeping it a 28-17 game going into the fourth quarter.
Nebraska appeared to be on its way to cutting it to a one-score game when it marched all the way down to the Hawkeye 19, but on fourth-and-one Armstrong's lob to Reilly in the end zone fell incomplete, giving Iowa the ball back with 6:37 remaining.
The defense came through again with a three-and-out stop, giving the offense another chance with the ball at midfield and 4:27 left on the clock. But Armstrong ended up tossing his fourth interception of the game on the first play of the drive.
With 1:21 remaining, Brown his second field goal of the game to cut it to 28-20. But after NU failed to recover the onside kick, the Hawkeyes merely ground out the rest of the game clock to capture a perfect 12-0 regular season.
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