Iowa vs. Nebraska report card: Hawkeyes fall short on all fronts against Huskers

Alyssa Hertel
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — Iowa football entered Friday’s matchup against Nebraska hoping for an easy win against one of the worst teams in the Big Ten but, instead, the Hawkeyes saw their shot at the conference championship diminish significantly when the Huskers beat them, 24-17.

There is still a chance that Iowa makes the title game, just so long as Purdue and Illinois both lose Saturday.

But after the Hawkeyes' performance versus the Huskers on Black Friday, it might be best that Iowa sticks to just a bowl game appearance.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz looks on during a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game against Nebraska, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

It was an all-around ugly effort from all units in the first half. Nebraska dictated the course of the game in the first two quarters before Iowa seemed to piece things together in the second half.

The Hawkeyes' comeback was too little too late, though, and Nebraska pulled off a big road win. Reliving this game might not be top of mind for Iowa football fans, but let’s break down how the Hawkeyes graded in the rivalry game.

More:Iowa football's disappointing loss to Nebraska ends 2022 regular season on sour note

Offense: Alex Padilla’s big moment falls flat

Let’s start by clarifying that the lackluster performance from Iowa’s offense does not rest solely on Alex Padilla’s shoulders.

Completing 17-of-24 for 141 yards and one touchdown – while throwing an interception – is nothing to write home about. Kaleb Johnson’s 44-yard rushing touchdown and Luke Lachey’s score off a 14-yard pass play were some highlight reel moments for the Hawkeyes.

Nebraska's Garrett Nelson picks up a fumble from Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla (8) during a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Unfortunately for Iowa, that’s where the success stops. The Hawkeyes had ample opportunities to move the ball downfield and they just couldn’t get momentum going. Iowa looked awful – to put it kindly – in the first half, but even when things started to come together in the second half, it wasn’t enough.

The offensive line did little to help Padilla out. When he did have time and room, the junior quarterback didn’t always make the most of the opportunities.

Sure, it’s hard to know how the Hawkeyes would have played if Spencer Petras hadn’t gotten knocked out of the game or if Sam LaPorta and Monte Pottebaum had been healthy. But a Division I offense should be able to adjust to its backups, especially a quarterback with as much experience as Padilla.

Grade: D

Defense: Uncharacteristic performance from typically strong squad

This section needs to start with a disclaimer: Iowa’s defense would probably get a different grade had Cooper DeJean not left with an injury on Nebraska’s first drive of the game.

One player does not make up an entire unit, but there are some guys that make more of a noticeable impact than others and DeJean is one of those players.

Nebraska's Rahmir Johnson, right, gets tackled by Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell during a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

But even without DeJean, there is no reason Nebraska should’ve put up as many points as they did against Iowa. The Hawkeyes held opponents to an average of 13.5 points per game. Aside from nationally ranked Michigan and Ohio State, no opponent had scored more than 13 points against the Hawkeyes' defense.

So, sure, it may seem extreme grading Iowa’s defense this low, especially when the Hawkeyes stopped the Huskers' scoring streak. But there is no way that Nebraska – a team without any real offensive identity – should’ve scored as many points as Michigan did against Iowa.

Grade: D+

More:Leistikow's thoughts: How much offseason change will Iowa football's loss to Nebraska spark?

Special teams: Tory Taylor prevents failing grade

Iowa can rely on its punter at any point in any game this season; that hasn’t changed. Taylor averaged 42.8 yards per punt and landed 4-of-5 inside the 20-yard line.

So, yeah, Taylor had a game that would grade a little higher.

But this is a mark for the entire unit, and the rest of Iowa’s special teams left a lot to be desired.

Dissecting the details is an option, but there is one play that sums up the special teams performance against Nebraska. Early in the third quarter, Iowa had a chance to get the ball back into the hands of its offense. Instead, the Hawkeyes fumbled the punt and the Huskers converted that into a touchdown.

There were other moments, too, that didn’t lead to an immediate score, but they did impact the final result of this game.

Grade: D-

Coaching: Not the worst, but nothing’s changed

There were some question marks when it came to Iowa’s coaching: clock management when down by multiple possessions, a declined call early on, a lack of overall energy.

All the issues with coaching have been addressed before.

But again, Iowa finds itself on the losing side of a “should’ve won” game and all the grades for the units above can be attributed to coaching. Whether it’s adjusting to personnel changes after injuries or calling smart plays, the coaching staff once again couldn’t put the pieces together.

And, unfortunately, that impacted the end result in what could’ve been a senior day celebration heading into the Big Ten championship.

Grade: F

Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at ahertel@dmreg.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.