Iowa turns to Goodson in second half, and sophomore running back delivers win over Nebraska
IOWA CITY, Ia. — It had been four weeks since the Iowa football team was locked into a tight game late.
That was a 21-20 loss to Northwestern, in which the Hawkeyes attempted 26 passes in the first half despite an early lead, and followed that up by … continuing to pass. Iowa never established the run in that game. Sophomore Tyler Goodson carried seven times for 29 yards in the opening half, and then six times for just 14 yards afterward.
It was a lesson apparently learned.
On Friday, the Hawkeyes extended their winning streak to four games since that Northwestern setback. They dispatched a determined Nebraska squad 26-20 at Kinnick Stadium despite a paltry 35 rushing yards in the first half, at which point the score was 13-13. This time, Iowa came out of the locker room knowing that Goodson needed the football in his hands, and that the offensive linemen had to be the aggressors. This was no time to worry about style points.
Goodson carried the ball a career-high 30 times for 111 difficult yards. In the second half, those numbers were 19 and 87. Iowa controlled the clock for 18 minutes and 38 seconds in the second half. The Hawkeyes scored the final 13 points of the game.
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None of this was coincidence. Iowa had to will its way to a victory Friday, starting with a more sensible game plan.
“They were giving us weird fronts,” Jack Plumb said of the first-half defense by the Cornhuskers (1-4). “We just settled in, got the looks figured out at halftime.”
Plumb was making his first career start as Iowa’s right offensive tackle. Coy Cronk and Mark Kallenberger were both sidelined by injury. Plumb is a sophomore, but even he knows what works best for the Hawkeyes, especially in November.
“We like pounding the ball. It’s tough Iowa football,” Plumb said.
“We do a great job in the week making it stressful on us. So we know if we just keep pounding it, eventually they’re going to break and we’re going to come through.”
Goodson struggled early, confused by Nebraska’s run fits.
“We expected them to overflow like they normally did,” he explained. “They watched film, studied us and made some great adjustments and started playing backside.”
The result was that Goodson spent too much time running parallel to the line of scrimmage trying to find running lanes that weren’t evident. That changed with Iowa’s opening drive of the second half.
Goodson, who is sturdier than he appears at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, needed to duck inside and plow for as many yards as he could. It required patience. The big gains were not going to be there against a Nebraska defense that refused to be run over as it so often has been by Iowa. Goodson’s longest run was just 13 yards.
His first carry of the second half produced seven yards. Then four more. Then two, seven, six and six again. Goodson’s final run of the drive was good for four yards, to the Nebraska 2. Mekhi Sargent came in and took it from there.
It was Iowa’s longest scoring drive of the season in terms of plays (14) and time of possession (6:18). It was exactly what the Hawkeyes needed.
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Goodson ran four times for 17 yards on Iowa’s next possession, which resulted in a field goal.
Eight fourth-quarter carries netted the final 34 yards for Goodson. He was hit hard and often. But he stood up to it all. It was what was required to get the victory.
“After a couple of runs in the first half, I knew the game was going to be a tough running game,” Goodson said. “So it was all about keeping my head clear, staying focused and know that the offensive line, the guys in front of me, would get the job done and we’d be able to break a couple of runs going into the second half.”
Goodson wasn’t concerned about the heavy workload. Iowa (4-2) gets an extra day of rest heading into Saturday’s final road game, at Illinois.
“We wanted to run the ball in the first half. We had a hard time. Give our opponents credit there. They threw a couple wrinkles at us that we were not playing very cohesively,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“I thought the staff made some good adjustments, made some good tweaks. We went out and played a little bit more effectively and ran the ball a little bit more efficiently in that second half for sure.”
Those were adjustments that did not get made in the Northwestern loss. Goodson totaled a mere 43 yards in that one. He has eclipsed 100 in three of the four games since.
Goodson’s 30 carries Friday were the most for a Hawkeye running back since Jordan Canzeri ran it 43 times against Illinois in 2015. Not that 43 is a goal for Goodson on Saturday, but it’s something for Iowa’s coaches to think about.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.