Status report: The Hawkeye Express keeps rolling
LINCOLN, Neb. — And now the waiting game begins.
Iowa’s football team, a 28-20 winner Friday over Nebraska at Memorial Stadium, will find out Saturday if it faces Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 5 in Indianapolis.
“The train hasn’t stopped yet,” senior wide receiver Tevaun Smith said. “We’re definitely going to keep pushing. We’ll watch the games (Saturday) and see what happens.”
Michigan State advances with a victory at home against Penn State. If the Spartans lose, the winner of Ohio State at Michigan gets the bid to play an Iowa team that continues to roll.
“We haven’t arrived,” Smith said. “We don’t want to be complacent. From Game 1 to Game 12, we’ve had a lot to prove. Especially going into this game. A lot of people doubted we could win this game. That’s what keeps the train moving.”
Pass offense: Numbers don’t add up
Nebraska entered Friday’s game 13th in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing 305.5 yards a game. But instead of having a field day, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard threw for just 97 yards. He completed nine of 16 passes.
It was the second-lowest passing total of the season for Beathard. He completed nine of 12 passes for 77 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener. Beathard has now completed 184 of 303 passes for 2,534 yards, 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His last pick was against Northwestern on Oct. 17.
George Kittle caught his sixth touchdown pass Friday, a 10-yard strike from Beathard to open the scoring. The two also hooked up for a 25-yard completion in the third quarter.
Henry Krieger Coble had two catches. The second, a 19-yarder, came on the play before Kittle’s touchdown. Fourteen of Krieger Coble’s last 15 catches have gone for first downs.
Pass defense: Adding to a big turnover advantage
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., completed 25 of 45 passes for 296 yards. He was also intercepted four times — by Cole Fisher, Greg Mabin, Parker Hesse and Josey Jewell.
Iowa has now logged 17 interceptions this season. The Hawkeyes have a plus-14 turnover margin on opponents and a 83-40 edge in points off turnovers this season.
One of the biggest plays by the secondary wasn’t an interception. On a fourth-and-1 play from the Iowa 19 and the Hawkeyes in front 28-17, Armstrong tried a fade pass to the right side of the end zone intended for Brandon Reilly. Mabin defended the play perfectly, and Iowa took over on downs with 6:37 remaining.
“I had a feeling they were going to take a shot at me,” said Mabin, whose interception came in the third quarter. “He did a good job of reading our defense. We had both safeties down, and we were going to come after them. He just tried to give his receiver a chance to make a play. But I was able to go up and make a play on the ball.”
Desmond King’s streak of 36 consecutive starts ended with he was suspended for the first quarter. He had been late for a team meeting. Maurice Fleming, a junior, started in King’s place.
Rush offense: Two snaps, two Canzeri TDs
Iowa gained just 52 yards rushing on 15 first-half carries. The second half told a completely different story. Jordan Canzeri went 29 yards for a touchdown on Iowa’s second play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
After Nebraska scored on an 11-play, 75-yard drive, Iowa dodged disaster. Riley McCarron fumbled the kickoff, but King recovered it at the Iowa 32. On the next play, Canzeri went 68 yards for a touchdown.
“One was more to the outside. One was up the gut,” fullback Macon Plewa said. “And we were able to get some nice blocks and rip them. Canzeri and the line did a great job.”
Canzeri got 17 of Iowa’s 28 carries, gaining 140 yards. He needs just 36 more yards to reach 1,000 for the season, even though he was injured in the first quarter at Northwestern and missed games against Maryland and Indiana.
“It was a great team effort,” Canzeri said of his touchdown romps. “The plays (called) were great. The line, fullbacks, receivers downfield and the tight ends made it easy for me. All I had to do was run.”
Rush defense: Prep playoff memories
Iowa’s defense gave up over 400 yards for the fourth straight game, but the rush defense was solid. Nebraska managed just 137 yards on 38 attempts, or 3.6 yards a carry. Terrell Newby had the longest run from scrimmage at 12 yards.
The Hawkeyes had five tackles for a loss — one each by Jewell, Bo Bower, Jaleel Johnson, Nathan Bazata and Nate Meier. Bower played extensively at outside linebacker for Ben Niemann, who suffered a head injury in the first half and didn’t return.
Hesse, the right defensive end, made one of the biggest plays of the game. He batted Armstrong’s pass into the air, caught it and went 4 yards for a second-quarter touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
It was Hesse’s first touchdown since he scored on a quarterback sneak in a 31-28 loss to Carroll Kuemper in the 2013 Class 2A title game.
“The (Nebraska) tackle tried to cut block me, so I defended myself,” Hesse said. “I was standing right there and the ball goes over the top of me. I was just reacting. I didn’t catch it right away. But I was lucky enough to tip it back to myself.”
Special teams: Mixed returns
King fumbled his first punt return of the season, giving Nebraska a short field for a touchdown that tied the game at 7-all in the second quarter. The Cornhuskers went 31 yards in three plays.
Later, King was in the right place at the right time. He recovered McCarron’s fumbled kickoff in the third quarter after Nebraska’s touchdown that had reduced Iowa’s lead to 21-17.
King also had a 26-yard punt return, with 15 yards tacked on for a Nebraska personal foul, to give Iowa the ball at the Cornhuskers’ 33 early in the third quarter. Canzeri’s 29-yard touchdown run two plays later gave the Hawkeyes a 21-10 lead.