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Iowa 26, Nebraska 20: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — After four Keith Duncan field goals and two short touchdowns from an Iowa offense that was only sporadically effective, it all came down to the defense Friday.

That's been a winning unit for the Hawkeyes lately. And it was again Friday.

Chauncey Golston rushed in from left defensive end and burrowed into Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, knocking the football into the always-waiting arms of Zach VanValkenburg to seal a 26-20 win at Kinnick Stadium.

It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. But it was a sixth consecutive Iowa triumph in this rivalry, matching its winning streak against Minnesota.

It lifted Iowa to 4-2 on the season and dropped Nebraska to 1-4.

It came with 113 tough rushing yards from Iowa tailback Tyler Goodson. It came with Duncan making kicks ranging from 32 to 48 yards, before finally missing from 51 with 2 minutes and 2 seconds remaining. But mostly it came because an Iowa defense that gave up some big plays early locked down for the final 27 minutes to let the offense dig out of a 20-13 deficit.

Here's what we learned:

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras is brought down after a short run in the first half Friday against Nebraska.

Fourth down decision galore

In the first half, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz kicked a field goal on a fourth-and-3 from the Nebraska 15-yard line. Keith Duncan nailed it for a 13-6 lead. In the third quarter, Ferentz went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Nebraska 16 and Spencer Petras found tight end Sam LaPorta for a five-yard gain, which led to a Mekhi Sargent touchdown and a 20-20 tie.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, after Nebraska decided not to use a timeout, Ferentz sent Duncan out for a 48-yard field goal on a fourth-and-5 play. Duncan had an 11 mph wind at his back instead of in his face, and he drilled the football through the uprights for his first three field-goal game of 2020. Those were three critical decisions for Ferentz, and all of them paid off.

Iowa comes out passing

The Hawkeyes had won three consecutive games by piling up an average of 211 yards on the ground. They had averaged 6.2 yards per carry in the past five meetings with Nebraska, all Iowa wins. But, obviously, the Cornhuskers were aware of this as well. They did stack the line of scrimmage and dared Iowa to throw, and Iowa obliged, with mixed results.

Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras was 12-for-19 in the first half for 139 yards. He hit Tyrone Tracy Jr. for a 6-yard scoring pass. But he also threw an inexcusable interception right to Nebraska cornerback Dicaprio Bootle. And Iowa got a field goal on its first drive only because tight end Shaun Beyer made a spectacular one-handed catch of a high Petras pass for a 22-yard gain.

Meanwhile, Iowa running back Tyler Goodson spent too much time running sideways looking for openings that never materialized. The Hawkeyes had 35 yards on 17 rushing plays in the first half, which ended, tellingly, with a sack of Petras and a 13-13 tie. In the third quarter, Iowa's offensive line fired off the ball better and Goodson was more decisive in cutting upfield, resulting in Iowa's best drive of the game to tie the score 20-20.

Nebraska finds some success with dual quarterbacks

The Cornhuskers started Adrian Martinez, then went to Luke McCaffery after two series. McCaffery had an early 21-yard run and led his team to a pair of field goals. But coach Scott Frost went back to Martinez, who overcame two terrible snaps in the shotgun formation, completed a 23-yard pass for a first down to Austin Allen, and got the Cornhuskers’ first touchdown on a 1-yard run just before halftime.

Nebraska seemed to have as many bad plays as good ones, but did enough to get itself out of poor down-and-distance situations. Iowa’s defense had been dominant for three weeks, but was uncharacteristically leaky against Nebraska in key moments.

Iowa next plays at Illinois on Saturday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.