LINCOLN, Neb. – Don’t apologize.
Friday’s 38-17 victory over Nebraska was a scrapbook keeper for the Iowa football program.
And regardless what pundits or critics might say, the Hawkeyes have no reason to feel sheepish.
“It’s why you play college football, for games like this,” running back Mark Weisman said after scoring two touchdowns. “I was just so proud of everyone on our team.”
Was this great Cornhuskers team? No.
Then again, Iowa was 4-8 a year ago. And anytime you silence a crowd of 91,260 at Memorial Stadium, it’s worth savoring.
“We always push out the external things and what people say,” tailback Jordan Canzeri said. “It’s just great for us, because we felt like we executed.
“To come out with a win like this is a great reward.”
The Hawkeyes ended this regular season 8-4 overall, and secured a tie for second place in the Big Ten Conference’s Legends Division with a mark of 5-3.
They also bolstered their chances of receiving an invitation to a warm-weather bowl destination.
“It would be nice to be close to home,” said quarterback Jake Rudock, who grew up in Weston, Fla. “Now that I think about it, it would be nice to be in my home state.”
Iowa bullied its way up the postseason pecking order – holding Nebraska to 89 rushing yards, after the Cornhuskers had been averaging 233.7 on the ground – while breaking down historical barriers.
The Hawkeyes’ last triumph on Nebraska turf came in 1943, and they had not earned a win in this non-continuous series since 1981.
As a result, defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat and his teammates could claim the Heroes Trophy – introduced when the Cornhuskers became Big Ten members in 20011 – for the first time.
“It’s symbolizing pride, toughness and hard work,” Trinca-Pasat said.
The Hawkeyes even managed to snuff out a fake punt in the third quarter – a haunting bit of trickery that has bitten Iowa at least six times the past three years.
“It feels great,” linebacker James Morris said, “There was so much to play for, so much at stake, at least for us.
“We know we’re not going to the (Big Ten) championship, but there is a lot in terms of how we value our own season.”
The four teams that beat Iowa – Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin – own a combined record of 41-3.
It’s the Hawkeyes’ successes, however, that may draw a shrug.
Rudock’s touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz helped Iowa escape Northwestern in overtime.
Michigan showed it was vulnerable in narrow nonconference wins against Akron and Connecticut, then blew a 14-point halftime lead at Kinnick Stadium.
And there was Nebraska (8-4, 5-3), which celebrated moments of good fortune on the field, but always seemed dysfunctional everywhere else.
“It’s been one of the most frustrating years,” offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. “It’s also been one of the most humbling years.”
The Hawkeyes were facing a coach, Bo Pelini, who had fallen out of favor, and a quarterback, Ron Kellogg III, who was struggling to stay upright.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker took advantage with a series of well-timed blitzes.
“Coach Parker was just saying, ‘let’s be aggressive,’’’ linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “We were listening to him and playing the defense.
“He was just bringing it.”
Weisman and Canzeri combined for 131 rushing yards, helping Iowa move into Nebraska territory on nine of 15 possessions.
“We wanted to be physical,” Weisman said. “We’re glad we had some big plays.”
Even when Rudock suffered a minor knee sprain in the third quarter, the Hawkeyes kept rolling.
Canzeri took a handoff from backup quarterback C.J. Beathard and ran around the left side for 37 yards.
Weisman reached the end zone from 2-yards out on the next play, giving Iowa a 31-17 cushion with 9:17 left in the fourth quarter.
“It just shows we’re playing Hawkeye football and we’re not the underdogs people thought we were,” Canzeri said.
None of Iowa’s five touchdown fives touchdown drives was longer than 41 yards. Some of it was due to Nebraska’s ineptness. Some of it was a credit to the opportunistic Hawkeyes.
All that matters is the result.
Iowa closed the regular season by outscoring traditional bluebloods Michigan and Nebraska 55-17 the last six quarters. And that’s a nifty accomplishment in any season, under any circumstances.
“A win is a win,” receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “We know we earned that victory, no matter what they look like.”
The play calling was aggravating at times. And the Hawkeyes should have had more than a 14-3 lead at halftime. But when Nebraska pulled within 14-10 in the third quarter, the offense answered, driving 70 yards for a field goal to steal back the momentum. Jordan Canzeri’s 37-yard run in the fourth quarter set up Mark Weisman’s clinching touchdown.
Two interceptions, by Anthony Hitchens and James Morris, set a tone for the first half. The Hawkeyes then started getting after quarterback Ron Kellogg III, blitzing three plays in a row during the third quarter. You actually started feeling bad for Kellogg. Christian Kirksey forced a fourth-quarter fumble that punctuated their performance.
This time, Hawkeye coaches were ready for the fake punt. In fact, Kirk Ferentz called a timeout and switched personnel. Christian Kirksey made a tackle for a loss of 8 yards and Jake Rudock threw to Kevonte Martin-Manley for a touchdown on the next play.