LINCOLN — Nebraska probably thought things couldn't get worse for its offense Friday after quarterback Ron Kellogg threw a pair of interceptions right away and it ran just eight plays in the first quarter.
Then the Huskers started second-quarter possessions at their own 1- and 3-yard lines.
That combination of turnovers and poor field position turned out to be too much to overcome as Nebraska fell behind 14-0, blew a couple of chances to catch up and lost 38-17 to Iowa at Memorial Stadium.
It also left NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck answering some of the same questions he's heard in recent weeks about a unit crippled by injuries but also prone to making it worse with its own mistakes.
“It's hard to score when you're turning the ball over and you're backed up,” Beck said. “We got to be better at doing that. We just weren't very good today coming out of our own end.”
After Kellogg was intercepted twice in his first four throws, the Huskers added an Ameer Abdullah fumble in the third quarter that gave the offense 21 turnovers in the past seven games.
“That's just been something that's happening to us,” NU offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “It's almost become kind of who we are.”
Nebraska matched its lowest scoring output of the season, and the Huskers' 288 total yards left them under 325 for only the second time all season. They picked up 205 of those yards on their three scoring possessions, meaning that their 11 other series were largely unproductive.
Two of those 11 stood out in the second half because of their timing:
Ľ Trailing 17-10 in the third quarter after an Iowa field goal, Nebraska failed to pick up a first down and then was stopped on a fake punt. Iowa scored the next play.
Ľ After the Huskers cut a 14-point deficit to 24-17 and then took over after an Iowa punt in the fourth, Abdullah fumbled on a first-down carry. Iowa needed two snaps this time to push it back to 31-17.
“The upsetting thing is that we played so poorly and there were two times we were within seven points with the ball,” Sirles said. “We fumbled with that one and we went three-and-out with the other one. It just shows that if we can take care of the ball and take care of ourselves, we can drive the ball and score, even with a beat-up offense.”
One other twist Friday was Iowa's ability to take away Abdullah, especially in the first half.
The junior I-back had 10 carries for just 16 yards in the first two quarters and didn't have a run longer than 5 yards until the third. Abdullah finished with a season-low 85 yards on 23 attempts (3.7 per carry).
“They were beating us up front a little bit,” Beck said. “We were trying. We felt like we had to get them running a little bit, so we tried to throw the ball and get 'em off us and wear 'em out.”
Beck credited the Iowa front seven for the trouble they caused and the physical play that he expected. The Hawkeyes also blitzed the Huskers more than he anticipated, and that started to take its toll on Kellogg in the second half as he endured some big-time shots.
Kellogg completed 19 of 37 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown. Beck said he was proud of the fifth-year senior in his first career start, and said afterward that Kellogg wasn't feeling 100 percent, either.
Kellogg would reveal only that he had “a little sore throat” and added, “I'm not going to lay down and quit. I still have a job to do.”
Beck said redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong (ankle) could have played if necessary, but that NU didn't consider a quarterback change. Beck said it was best to stick with the veteran who had been seeing the coverages and blitzes through the game.
“Ronnie, I know his completion percentage wasn't very good,” Beck said. “Boy, he played very gutsy today. Really proud of him.”
The month or so until the bowl game should give the Huskers a chance to heal.
Looking back on recent weeks, however, the offense will see turnovers as its biggest problem.
“It's the same story, different week,” receiver Kenny Bell said. “We have to get it fixed, and it's the players. Players have to figure it out. It's gotten to the point where there's not much more the coaches can do for us.”
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
Video: NU's Jeremiah Sirles at the postgame press conference:
Video: NU's Kenny Bell at the postgame press conference:
Video: Husker seniors honored before the Nebraska-Iowa game:
Video: Sam McKewon's postgame analysis: