No. 17 Nebraska used a stifling defense and a punishing running game to down Iowa, 13-7, in the HyVee Heroes Game Friday afternoon.
The Huskers (10-2 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) held the Hawkeyes to just 200 yards, and kept Iowa off the scoreboard over the final 45 minutes picking up their sixth consecutive victory. With the win, the Huskers will play for their third conference title in four years, when they take on Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday evening in Indianapolis.
Nebraska's seniors shined against the Hawkeyes, as Alonzo Whaley and Eric Martin turned in career afternoons in helping the Huskers to their sixth straight win. Alonzo Whaley totaled a career-high 11 tackles and capped his day with an interception of Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg with 2:11 remaining.
Martin spent most of the afternoon in the Iowa backfield, totaling seven tackles, three tackles for loss, including a sack, forced a fumble and had two quarterback hurries in holding Vandenberg to just 11-of-24 passing for 92 yards and a pair of interceptions.
The Huskers rushed for 200 yards on the ground battling wind chills in the teens and a wind gusts that made passing a chore. Rex Burkhead made his return in the second half after missing the last four games, rushing for 69 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, as his 3-yard scoring run with 3:10 left in the third quarter gave the Huskers the lead for good.
All four of the Huskers primary ball carriers had at least 40 yards on the ground, with Ameer Abdullah (50) and Braylon Heard (46) combining for nearly 100 rushing yards, while Martinez carried 16 times for 41 yards and completed 8-of-14 passes for 63 yards in blustery conditions.
Iowa lost its sixth straight game and ends its season with a 4-8 mark, including a 2-5 Big Ten record. The Hawkeyes have now dropped five straight games to the Huskers dating back to 1982.
Nebraska took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards on 15 plays into a 25 mile per hour wind before Brett Maher's 26-yard field goal put the Huskers on the board. Nebraska ran 14 times for 72 yards and took 8:09 before the Hawkeyes touched the ball. Abdullah rushed nine times for 32 yards, as Nebraska went 3-for-4 on third down conversions on the opening drive. Nebraska totaled 75 of its 93 first-half yards on its first possession, as its opening march was the longest of the season in both plays and time.
Iowa came right back on its opening possession, going 62 yards in 12 plays, capped by a Vandenberg one-yard TD run. After three straight runs to open the drive, Vandenberg found CJ Fiedorowicz for a 25-yard gain to the Nebraska 25-yard line. Mark Weisman, who carried eight times for 33 yards on Iowa's first drive, put the Hawkeyes on the doorstep before Vandenberg snuck in to take a 7-3 lead.
The Huskers held Weisman for check most of the day, as he finished with 91 yards on 29 carries and did not have a run over 12 yards.
The Blackshirts came up big at opportune times throughout the first half, as Iowa forced a pair of Husker turnovers, but finished with nothing, as the Nebraska trailed 7-3 at the half. Iowa's longest drive after its opening score was 24 yards, as the Blackshirts held Iowa to three plays or less on five of its seven second-half possessions.
Nebraska's defense came up big after a fumbled punt return put the ball at the Iowa 41-yard. The Hawkeyes drove to the NU 39 where Martin stopped Weisman on 4-and-1 to give the Huskers possession. On the Huskers' next drive Nebraska drove into Iowa territory, but Louis Trinca-Pasat recovered a Martinez fumble at the Iowa 48-yard line. Iowa got to the 28-yard line, but would get no closer. Daimion Stafford broke up a pass in the end zone Intended for Zach Darby on first down before Martin stopped Weisman for a three-yard loss on second down and forced an incomplete pass on third down, as Iowa was forced to punt.
Iowa had one more shot on its final drive of the half, as Micah Hyde's 29-yard punt return got the ball to the Husker 42-yard line. Iowa drove to the NU 19, but was unable to capitalize, as Mark Meyer missed a 42-yard field goal into the wind with four seconds left in the half.
The Huskers forced Iowa to a three-and-out on the opening drive of the second half before running a 10-play drive which featured the return to action by Burkhead, who had not played since the Northwestern game. The senior I-back kept the drive alive with a 5-yard run on 4th-and-1 at Nebraska's 44 before Martinez found Ben Cotton on a 14-yard pass to the Iowa 32. NU's drive stalled before Maher connected on a 54-yard field goal to pull Nebraska within 7-6.
Cotton, who played his high school ball in Ames, Iowa, led NU with three catches for 39 yards.
The Blackshirts gave the Huskers great field position after Stafford intercepted a Vandenberg pass that was tipped by Ciante Evans and returned it to the Iowa 49-yard line. NU was unable to sustain a drive and Maher pinned the Hawkeyes at its 10-yard line.
Maher averaged 43.2 yards on his four punts, including a pair of punts that pinned the Hawkeyes inside the 20-yard line, and added a pair of field goals. Maher has now made his last six field goals and is 18-of-24 on the season.
Nebraska forced another 3-and-out and got the ball at the Iowa 43 yard line after the punt. The Huskers, who had just 48 yards after the opening drive, needed just 1:35 to go 43 yards and take a 13-7 lead. Martinez found Cotton for 19 yards on first down before Heard went 18 yards to the Iowa 6-yard line. Two plays later, Burkhead found the end zone, scoring from three yards out to give Nebraska a 13-7 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Iowa pinned Nebraska at its 1-yard line after a 61-yard punt, but Burkhead and Abdullah kept the chains moving to get NU out of the shadow of its own end zone. Burkhead carried the pile on gains of nine and eight yards while Abdullah gained a crucial first down before the Huskers were forced to punt.
Iowa got the ball at its 42, but were unable to gain a first down and forced to punt. Iowa had one final chance and had the ball at its 27-yard line with 3:31 left, but Whaley's interception ended the Hawkeyes' comeback hopes.