Nov. 23, 2012
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — With nothing but Hawkeye pride on the line, the University of Iowa football team gave 14th-ranked Nebraska all it could handle before falling short, 13-7, in The Hy-Vee Heroes Game on a cold, windy Black Friday inside Kinnick Stadium.
After trailing 7-3 at the half, the Huskers outscored Iowa 10-0 in the second half, but it was the “Blackshirt” defense that flexed its muscles. Nebraska limited the Hawkeyes to 70 second half yards and six first downs, as it rallied to clinch the Big Ten Legends Division title.
“We competed hard today,” said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. “We weren’t good enough to beat Nebraska today, but we competed hard enough to beat them.
“That’s where it all starts. If you don’t compete, you don’t fight on the field, it’s going to be hard to win football games. With that part of it, I thought our guys did a really good job.”
The Huskers conclude the regular season with a 10-2 overall and a 7-1 Big Ten record; Iowa finishes the year at 4-8 overall and 2-6 in conference play.
After forcing the Hawkeyes to a three-and-out on their first possession of the second half, Nebraska used a 10-play, 30-yard drive to cut into the Hawkeye lead. Five Husker rushing attempts moved the ball into Iowa territory before Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez’s 14-yard completion to tight end Ben Cotton moved the ball to the 32. The Hawkeye defense held, but kicker Brett Maher connected on a 52-yarder to make the score 7-6 with 9:30 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska forced its first turnover on the ensuing possession when Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg’s attempt to tight end Henry Krieger-Coble was deflected and intercepted by Daimion Stafford at midfield. Iowa’s defense stood firm, forcing a three-and-out, but Maher shifted the field position with a 38-yard punt that was fair caught by Hyde at the 10.
After forcing another Iowa three-and-out, the Huskers won the field position battle, taking over in excellent field position at the Iowa 43. On first down, Martinez threaded the needle with a 19-yard completion to Cotton into quadruple coverage, moving the ball to the Iowa 24. Braylon Heard followed with an 18-yard rush to the Iowa 6, and two plays later, senior running back Rex Burkhead scored from 3-yards out, giving Nebraska a 13-7 lead — its first lead of the game — with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Hawkeye offense couldn’t find its footing, even with the wind at its back in the fourth quarter. Iowa started its drives at its own 38, 42 and 27 in the final period, but couldn’t muster a first down.
Iowa still had an opportunity, as it forced a Nebraska punt with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. Taking over at its 27, Vandenberg opened the drive with a 6-yard completion to Krieger-Coble on first down before sophomore Mark Weismanrushed six yards up the middle for first down. On the next play, Vandenberg targeted Krieger-Coble again on a quick slant, but Husker linebacker Alonzo Whaley intercepted the attempt and returned it five yards to the Iowa-35.
Burkhead rumbled for 15 yards up the middle on first down, and Nebraska ran out the clock to secure the victory.
“That was hard,” said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. “We knew it was going to be that way. I don’t know if we played our best, but we did what we had to do… we got it done.
“We’re proud of our team, and we give Iowa a lot of credit. They played hard, and it was difficult.”
Iowa finished with 200 yards of total offense with 108 on the ground and 92 through the air. Vandenberg finished 11-of-24 for 92 yards with two interceptions in his final career game. Weisman had 29 carries for 91 yards, and junior C.J. Fiedorowicz had six grabs for 56 yards.
The Hawkeye defense was solid, limiting a potent Husker offense to 263 yards (200 rushing, 63 passing). Burkhead had 16 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown — all in the second half — while Ameer Abdullah (50 yards) and Braylon Heard (46 yards) combined for 96 yards on 18 carries. Martinez had 41 yards on the ground and was 8-of-14 for 63 yards through the air.
“He’s a really dynamic player,” Ferentz said of Burkhead. “He changes the tempo of things out there a little bit. When he’s in there, they run at a little different level. We had a hard time tackling him, and that was a factor.”
All three Iowa linebackers recorded double-digit tackle totals. Junior James Morris had 13 with two tackles for loss, junior Christian Kirksey had 11 stops with a sack, and junior Anthony Hitchens had 10 tackles.
The game started with two drives — one by Iowa and one by Nebraska — that chewed up the entire first quarter. With the wind playing a factor, the rushing attacks were the game’s feature, as 25-of-the-first-27 plays came on the ground.
The Cornhuskers took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards over 8:09 before settling for a field goal. Fourteen of Nebraska’s 15 offensive plays came on the ground, as Martinez, Abdullah and Heard combined for 72 rushing yards.
Iowa’s defense revved it up in the red zone when Morris stopped Abdullah for a 1-yard loss on third-and-3 from the 8, which set up Maher’s 26-yard field goal.
After getting good field position and starting at its own 38 following the kickoff, the Hawkeyes drove 62 yards to score the game’s and first half’s only touchdown. Weisman rushed three times to start the drive for 12 yards to pick up the first down. In a five-wide, shotgun formation, Vandenberg followed with a 25-yard completion to Fiedorowicz on first down to advance to the Nebraska 25-yard line.
Following five Weisman rushes for 21 yards to the 5, Vandenberg’s quarterback sneak on third-and-1 gave the Hawkeyes a first down at the 2, and he found the end zone two sneaks later, giving Iowa a 7-0 lead.
After forcing the game’s first punt, Maher flipped the field position with a 61-yard rugby style kick that bounced out of bounds at the Iowa 4. The Hawkeyes proceeded to go three-and-out, but the team got the game’s first turnover courtesy of its special teams.
With a stiff wind in his face, freshman Connor Kornbrath had a 32-yard punt that Abdullah signaled for a fair catch at the Iowa-41. Abdullah muffed the catch, and senior Micah Hyde came away with the fumble recovery, giving Iowa the ball near midfield.
After moving the chains and into Nebraska territory, freshman Greg Garmon rushed 8 yards on first down, moving the ball to the 40. Iowa couldn’t cover the final two yards, and it turned it over on downs when Weisman was stopped for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the 39.
Iowa got its second turnover on the next Husker possession. After needing four plays — including a fourth-and-1 conversion — Nebraska fullback Andy Janovich’s knocked the ball loose when his knee hit Martinez to put the ball on the turf. Sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat recovered the fumble, giving the Hawkeyes possession at the Iowa 48.
With 1:57 remaining in the half, Iowa had an opportunity to extend its lead. Hyde gave the Hawkeyes good starting field position when he nearly broke a punt return before losing his footing on his 29-yard return to the Nebraska 42. Iowa picked up its initial first down on an 8-yard completion to Kevonte Martin-Manley, and Vandenberg connected with Martin-Manley for a second first down, on an over the shoulder sideline route, setting up a first-and-10 from the 19.
The drive stalled on a pair of incomplete passes on first and second down, and Iowa was then whistled for a substitution infraction on third down, pushing back a field goal attempt. After a Husker blitz forced a misfire on third-down, Mike Meyer’s 42-yarder into the wind sailed wide left.
Iowa outgained Nebraska, 130-92, in the first half, and forced two Husker turnovers.