Iowa Stalls at Nebraska in Inaugural Heroes Game
Nov. 25, 2011
LINCOLN, Neb. -- - The sun didn't shine at the University of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium today for the inaugural Heroes Game. It was even darker on the sideline occupied by the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes, who never found any rhythm on offense against a nationally ranked Nebraska Cornhusker squad determined to protect its home field and claim ownership of the new Heroes Trophy.
And protect it the Cornhuskers did. The home team rolled to 20-7 victory thanks to a deliberate offense that took it to an Iowa defense which played heroically but simply spent too much time on the field.
The loss dropped Iowa to 7-5 overall and 4-4 in Big Ten Conference play. The Hawkeyes will go bowling for the 10th time under head coach Kirk Ferentz, but their destination won't be determined until after Saturday's Big Ten games are final or, perhaps, as late as Dec. 3 when the final games of college football's 2011 regular season - including the inaugural Big Ten Conference Football Championship - are played.
You can't win if you don't have the ball and on this Black Friday Nebraska owned the ball. The Cornhuskers dialed up the run 61 times for 221 yards en route to a 15-minute edge in time of possession and a deceiving 25-19 margin in first downs.
Rex Burkhead was Nebraska's workhorse. The senior tailback gained 139 yards on 38 carries. He also caught a pass for 12 yards. Surprisingly, Tyler Martinez, the Cornhuskers' fleet-footed quarterback, had only four carries for 20 yards. He did, however, complete 12 of 23 pass attempts for 163 yards and the game's first touchdown. Martinez's favorite target was Kenny Bell. They hooked up five times for 93 yards.
Marcus Coker led Iowa with 87 yards on 18 carries. He also scored Iowa's only touchdown on a two-yard scamper that completed an 11-play, 80-yard drive that came late in the fourth quarter after Nebraska had pushed the score to 20-0 on Burkhead's two-yard touchdown dive with 11:25 left to play.
James Vandenberg completed just 16 of 35 attempts for 182 yards. Nebraska limited Marvin McNutt to just four catches for 29 yards. Keenan Davis also had four catches. C.J. Fiedorowicz and Coker added three receptions apiece.
"The story of the game from my vantage point is that their offense played very well and we couldn't pass the ball effectively in the first half. We ran the ball early, but couldn't pass it, and we need to be balanced to be successful," said UI Coach Kirk Ferentz.
"Defensively, they took out our best player which is good football. We weren't successful in getting the ball to other guys. On defense, we played hard. Nebraska is a good offensive football team when they're playing well. They were a very good team offensively today," Ferentz added.
Nebraska put 10 points on the board in the second stanza, the touchdown coming on a methodical 15-play, 80-yard march that ended with Tyler Martinez connecting on a six-yard toss to Reed Kyler, who had slipped behind an Iowa defense on a third-and-three with just 32 seconds left on the clock.
Nebraska's Brett Maher kicked a 40-yard field goal to open the game's scoring. That score completed a 10-play, 52-yard drive that started in the first quarter and ended with 11:11 left to play in the second stanza.
Penalties against the Hawkeyes contributed to both of Nebraska's scoring drives. On NU's drive that netted a field goal, Iowa had held the Cornhuskers on a third-and-five, but was called for holding in the defensive backfield. The Hawkeyes were also flagged for pass interference early in Nebraska's touchdown drive.
Iowa and Coker ran the ball successfully during the first half. The sophomore running back gained 62 yards on 11 carries. The Hawkeye passing game, however, couldn't get going. Vandenberg completed only four of 10 attempts for 36 yards. McNutt had just two catches for just one yard at intermission.
The teams played to a scoreless tie in the first 15 minutes with both missing on opportunities. Iowa benefitted from outstanding field position, but had drives fizzled shortly after crossing midfield. Nebraska overcame two starts inside their 10, but watched two possessions stall because of a 15-yard clipping penalty and a 10-yard holding call.
"We didn't finish drives early in the game when we had some opportunities. We had good field position early and didn't capitalize. That hurt us because, on the road, you have to take advantage of the opportunity to start fast," said Ferentz.
Iowa also missed out on two takeaway opportunities in the first quarter. Jordan Bernstine separated the ball from UN's Martinez deep in Cornhusker territory, but the Nebraska quarterback fell on the pigskin. Later in the quarter, Iowa's Christian Kirksey had an interception near midfield slip through his hands.
Iowa's attention now turns to the postseason and win No. 8.
"We have challenges ahead. We'll take a couple days off and, next week, start focusing on getting that eighth win," Ferentz said before being asked to reflect on his program's 10th bowl game in 11 seasons.
"We're proud of that, no doubt," he added.