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Nebraska-Iowa: Tracking the offense, defense

November 26, 2017

Tracking the offense

The game plan: Nebraska was able to move the ball on the ground adequately early against Iowa’s 46th-ranked rush defense (3.6 yards per carry) and balanced those 13 attempts with 16 passes before intermission. A dropped ball by Iowa’s punter gave Nebraska a short field on its first touchdown, and it went 75 yards on a solid eight-play drive later in the half. Rare trickery on a potential 37-yard field goal went for naught.

The adjustments: While Iowa scored four straight touchdowns to open the third quarter, Nebraska’s offense went into its customary mid-game shell with just 94 total yards after the break. It sandwiched a pair of three-and-outs around a Tanner Lee interception that he threw to a spot where tight end Tyler Hoppes wasn’t. As the Husker deficit deepened, the playbook grew more predictable. Lather, rinse, repeat.

NU star: Stanley Morgan’s two touchdown catches in the first half kept Nebraska in the game, and his one-hand snag for a 14-yard score in the first quarter was highlight-reel stuff. With his seven-catch, 74-yard effort, Morgan broke the school’s 45-year-old single-season receiving record, finishing with 986 yards in 11 games.

Stat of the game: Seven — Total number of Nebraska drives (out of 14) that lasted less than one minute. Of those, three possessions ended with interceptions and two more were three-and-outs.

Final word: In a meager finale, the Huskers couldn’t even muster empty stats after the game was decided. The absence of playmaking wideout JD Spielman hurt, yes. But the dumpster fire that has been NU’s rushing game continued to burn bright, with the 67 total ground yards (3.2 per rush) marking the fifth time in the last six contests the Huskers have netted 69 or fewer. Lee made a few nice throws, but his three interceptions brought back memories of his rough start to the year. This has been a one-dimensional hit-or-miss unit all season, and it emphatically whiffed in its last chance.

Tracking the defense

The game plan: Nebraska avoided trailing at halftime for the first time in seven games and avoided a third 42-point first half. The Blackshirts weren’t exactly an iron curtain — Iowa scored touchdowns on drives of 99 and 75 yards — but also forced a pair of punts while limiting chunk plays. Playing better assignment football helped.

The adjustments: The avalanche came in the third quarter as Iowa continued to stress the Huskers’ ability to play disciplined defense. Blown coverages led to long pass plays, while Iowa back Akrum Wadley became the latest rusher to cut back with big-time success on Nebraska’s front seven. For a third straight game, the Huskers were in garbage time of a loss by the fourth quarter.

NU star: Joshua Kalu wasn’t perfect on Senior Day — Iowa connected too many times over the top of the secondary — but the cornerback-turned-safety capped his final college season by tying a team best with eight tackles and forced a fumble that Iowa recovered.

Stat of the game: 9.7 — Yards per play for Iowa after halftime. The Hawkeyes rang up 320 of their 505 total yards during their 42-point second half. The visitors turned out 5.4 yards per play for 185 yards in the first half.

Final word: In its 128th season as a football program, Nebraska had never given up 50-plus points four times in one fall before this darkest of Black Fridays. The defense swiss-cheesed its way past that mark for a third straight game with a familiar blend of missed assignments, shoddy tackling and a general lack of intensity. The Huskers allowed a 28-point quarter for a second straight week, again making an opponent into a Big Ten player of the week candidate. This time it was Wadley and his 159-yard, three-touchdown day. Yes, the defense made a major scheme change this year with inexperienced players taking on major roles. But with the season complete, there’s an argument for this group being one of the worst defenses in program history.