The Nebraska senior class of 2016 gave the Cornhusker State a lot of golden moments this fall. But Friday’s dismal performance at Iowa City has left a dramatically different taste on this season. Thankfully, gold cannot tarnish, but Iowa’s 40-10 thrashing of the Big Red proved that great memories can be suddenly, unexpectedly — and hopefully temporarily — buried beneath a thick layer of foul-smelling sludge.
Nebraska has locked up a nine-win season, and is back to the upper middle class of college football, but it made a convincing case Friday that it’s no better than middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Nebraska’s lack of depth at various positions — most notably the offensive line, but also at linebacker — keeps it at that level.
Given the strange nature of the week leading up to this game, I was ready to accept a Nebraska loss, but not a full-scale capitulation to another mid-level Big Ten West team. I was ready to see a courageous Husker team riddled by injuries to its quarterbacks go down swinging and lose a low-scoring slugfest. However, I was not prepared to see the 79th-rated rushing attack of Iowa crumple the Blackshirts into a little ball and kick them to the curb.
A second blowout loss is not exactly what the doctor ordered. It was an shocking letdown for a team that has battled so hard and played so courageously for so much of the season. This senior class has overcome a lot of adversity and given NU fans a lot of great moments, so it’s astounding that it would go belly up the way it did in its last regular season game. The honor of the Blackshirt performance at Wisconsin seems far away right now.
Both Nebraska’s and Iowa’s offensive lines are young, and both came into the game plagued by injuries. But oh, how differently they played. The Iowa coaching staff was willing to experiment with several combinations and was rewarded on this day with a deeper, more physical offensive line. Meanwhile, the Husker o-line continued its slow slide into oblivion; that was not a big surprise.
It’s been obvious since midseason that the Pipeline has not returned to Lincoln, and its return is not imminent. But you cannot blame the this collapse on the Husker offense. This one is mainly the responsibility of the Blackshirts. How exactly do you go about making the Iowa Hawkeyes look explosive?
An Iowa offense that few thought was capable of scoring 40 points on a Division II team has done it to the Huskers despite getting no turnovers from the Big Red. In fact, this was the first time since 1995 that Nebraska has gone three consecutive games without committing a turnover.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the leader of this team. He tried to play with a hamstring injury, and was ineffective, but those who lamented his four turnovers against Iowa in Lincoln a year ago could at least take some consolation that he was careful with the football this time out. That in itself should have kept the game close.
It was disappointing to see nobody else step up to fill the gap for Armstrong. Some of his big-play receivers came up very small against iowa. Their inability to get separation, and a dropped pass or two, made Armstrong look worse than he really was.
I didn’t think I’d see the Blackshirt front seven so thoroughly overmatched. Is that really all the fight that this defense had left in it? This team gained a lot of ground and picked up a lot of momentum this season, but you get the feeling it gave a lot of it back in Kinnick Stadium, a place Nebraska had not lost for more than three decades. This team is not four touchdowns worse than Iowa. But it played that way on a day when it had every reason to give its best defensive performance of the year. Instead, the Blackshirts allowed three of Iowa’s four longest plays from scrimmage this season before the second quarter was half done.
NU’s linebacking corps looked befuddled and out of position. Meanwhile, the Iowa linebackers unloaded on the Husker running attack, which was held under 100 yards. They also knocked down a handful of short-range Armstrong passes that could have kept drives alive.
This was Mark Banker’s worst moment as a Nebraska coach. His defense looked utterly unprepared. Fundamentals — simple things like taking proper pursuit angles — slipped badly. Tackling was sloppy. Intensity was lacking. Senior leadership disintegrated.
This team is not ready to play in a major bowl.
Nebraska’s season is not wrecked. This team could still pull off a 10-3 finish, which would be NU’s best record since 2003. But now Riley must dig through a lot of foul-smelling sludge to figure out how to get there. It’s going to be hard to clean up the stench.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stryker is a freelance writer, favoring topics related to Nebraska history or Christianity. You can buy his recent book at this link.
Hawkeyes 40, Huskers 10: This one leaves a stench
Collapse in Iowa City shows how Armstrong-dependent NU has become
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