LINCOLN — Nebraska trailed Iowa 17-10 in the third quarter when it faced a fourth-and-3 from its own 32. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz had called time out to review whether NU quarterback Ron Kellogg had fumbled or thrown an incomplete pass on the previous play. He also inserted his defense for a “punt safe” return, guarding against a fake.
Husker coach Bo Pelini still dialed up a fake punt, with punter Sam Foltz running the ball. Foltz lost 8 yards. It was the second failed fake punt this year, following defensive tackle Brodrick Nickens' stumbling attempt in the UCLA game.
“We thought it was there,” Pelini said. “We missed a block. We liked the look they were in and we whiffed on a block, the most important block. We took a chance and it didn't work out. It's my fault.”
A missed block was costly on running back Ameer Abdullah's fumble in the fourth quarter. NU trailed 24-17 and started its drive at its own 40. Abdullah was met in the hole by Iowa linebacker James Morris, who ran free to Abdullah and dislodged the ball with a hit that left Abdullah on the turf.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Nebraska was unable to block Morris because Iowa's defensive line won the battle at the line of scrimmage.
“Guard blocked down on the (tackle), center's supposed to climb, but Iowa buried the center. (Morris) came over smacked him,” Beck said “Everybody else was blocked. It's their man versus our man. There's nothing we can do but that. Most of the time, our center gets there. On that play, he didn't.”
More unhappiness on punt returns
It's almost impossible to go downhill from a mock cheer.
But that's exactly what happened for the Nebraska special teams.
After freshman Jordan Westerkamp fair-caught a punt following the game's first possession, fans in the south end of the stadium (including the student section) gave the play a sarcastic ovation.
Westerkamp has had his share of issues fielding punts, and the return unit as a whole has been much-maligned.
It got worse — much worse — for Westerkamp and company Friday. Back-to-back possessions in the second quarter started from inside the Nebraska 3-yard line.
The first of the two Iowa punts rolled and was downed at the Nebraska 1. The second was fair-caught at the 3. Both drew boos from the Husker faithful.
Linebacker Rose records 16 tackles
Nebraska got a strong defensive effort from linebacker Michael Rose, who finished with a career-high 16 tackles, including four for losses.
It was the most tackles by a Husker since Lavonte David made 17 in 2011 at Michigan.
Overall, the NU defense allowed 281 total yards, but it was done in by short fields after the Husker offense committed three turnovers and got stopped on a fake punt.
“I think we did a great job of persevering throughout the whole game,” Rose said. “We were put in some pretty rough spots, but I think all in all we did a great job of continuing to play and continuing to fight.”
Hawkeyes-Huskers rivalry still feels 'forced,' Kellogg says
The Nebraska-Iowa game didn't feel like a rivalry to senior quarterback Ron Kellogg.
The Hawkeyes beat NU 38-17 Friday — their first win over the Huskers since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, when the teams were paired for the conference's latest trophy game.
But apparently, the programs' close proximity, the familiarity between the fan bases and the media hype for the annual showdown haven't filtered into the locker rooms.
Kellogg said he chatted about the series with an Iowa linebacker during Friday's game. Both agreed: Nebraska-Iowa feels no different from most.
“It's forced,” Kellogg said.
Iowa's players did sprint across the field after the game, crowding around the Heroes Trophy to celebrate the win. But Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz isn't so sure the series has reached rivalry status.
“It is starting, but it is still pretty lopsided — the record is,” Ferentz said. “But this was a good step forward, for sure.”
— Sam McKewon, Nick Rubek, Jon Nyatawa and Rich Kaipust