Hapless Huskers Humiliated by Hawkeyes and Have no Heroes in a Half of Horrors
On a beautiful Black Friday afternoon in Memorial Stadium, the Nebraska Cornhuskers completed its worse season in 60 years by falling to an average Iowa Hawkeyes squad 56-14. With less than a minute until halftime, Nebraska led 14-7 and were tied at intermission before completely falling apart in the second half and surrendering 49 unanswered points. The 4-8 final record marks the Huskers’ lowest win total since 1961 and their most losses in a season since 1957. For the first time in school history, Nebraska gave up 50 points in three straight games and four times in a season.
Mike Riley will surely be fired at some point in the next 24 hours, despite Keyshawn Johnson, Sr’s view that Riley just needs more time and Riley’s failed math formula that this is really “year one.” The football program can’t afford the kind of patience that will lead to even further destruction and dismantling when next season’s schedule is even more daunting. How many years will Riley need to put an offense on the field that can outscore what our defense will surrender?
The Husker team played Iowa even for a half, taking advantage of a fumbled punt snap to get the ball at the Iowa 15 and converting an 8 play 75-yard scoring drive. Even though the defense gave up a 15 play 99-yard scoring drive, and special teams botched a fake field goal and extended an Iowa drive by running into the punter, the Huskers had the ball and the wind in the second quarter and let Iowa run the clock down to :25 and did not use any of three available timeouts.
The second half was an unmitigated disaster. Iowa had drives starting in Nebraska territory on five possessions. It had five scoring drives that lasted under 2:23 with three of them under 36 seconds. Iowa gained 320 of their 505 total yards and 208 of its 313 rushing yards in the last two quarters. Like Minnesota a couple of weeks ago, the Hawkeyes are no offensive juggernaut and were ranked 107th in Rushing Offense and 117th in Total Offense going into this game. Diaco’s defense is not only disastrous, it may be the worst in the school’s proud history. Instead of having to buy out his contract, he should be forced to issue the school a refund.
On offense, quarterback Tanner Lee finished 22 for 41 for 205 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Lee finished the 2017 season with 3,143 passing yards, marking only the fourth 3,000-yard season in NU history. He finished third on the single-season chart, trailing only Joe Ganz’s school-record of 3,568 yards in 2008 and Zac Taylor’s 3,197 yards in 2006. Lee finished the season with 23 passing touchdowns, three shy Zac Taylor’s record of 26 in 2006. But, his 16 interceptions led the Big Ten and nearly the nation and spelled doom to offensive consistency and contributed greatly to at least three losses on the year. I will credit his effort, however, by standing in a collapsing pocket trying to find receivers with such incredibly poor pass protection. Nick Gates and Brenden Jaimes were repeatedly embarrassed as defenders raced to the quarterback.
With JD Spielman missing the final game due to a shoulder injury, more pressure was put on the other receivers to step up and perform. Stanley Morgan Jr. competed to the end catching seven passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns, including a one-handed 14-yard TD grab in the first quarter and a 28-yarder in the second quarter. With his 74 receiving yards, Morgan increased his season total to 986 yards setting a Nebraska season record surpassing the 942 yards by Johnny Rodgers during his Heisman winning season of 1972. Late in the 4th quarter, Morgan just missed a catch that would have sent him over the 1,000-yard mark. His career receiving yardage total of 1,743 ranks fifth on the career receiving yards list, and his season total of 10 touchdowns ties him with Nate Swift (2008) and jut behind Quincy Enunwa (12, 2013), and Johnny Rodgers (11, 1971). Morgan’s 15 career touchdown receptions leave him tied for seventh on the NU career list. He finished the season with 61 receptions placing him fifth on the Husker season receptions list and he is up to seventh on the career receptions list with 119, passing Quincy Enunwa (115) in today’s game.
Senior tight end Tyler Hoppes (4 catches for 37 yards) finished his Husker career by breaking a Nebraska season record for tight ends with 34 receptions eclipsing the 32 receptions by Mike McNeill in 2008. Fellow senior receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El (3 catches for 39 yards) pushed his career receptions total to 100 becoming just the 11th Husker player to match the century mark in career receptions.
The Huskers managed just 67 yards on the ground, marking yet another game of rushing anemia. Mikale Wilbon led the effort with 39 yards on 7 carries as the Huskers averaged just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. It is almost impossible to rely on a pass only attack allowing defenders to rush without worrying about a run and expect positive results. But, when an offensive line struggles to open holes for runners or protect a passer, your ability to sustain drives and score points is severely compromised. The Huskers surpassed the 30-point mark just three times this season. That won’t win many games when the defense is giving up more than 36 points a game.
The defensive highlight was stopping the Hawkeyes three times out of four 4th down attempts. While they at least forced Iowa to sustain long drives in the first half, the Blackshirts were off the field quickly in the second half as only one in six scoring drives lasted longer than 5 plays. Josh Kalu and Dedrick Young led the defenders with 8 tackles each and Kalu also forced a fumble in between chasing Noah Fant into the endzone. It’s hard to take when the best offensive player for Iowa was a Nebraskan from Omaha. Kalu increased his career total to 215 tackles and finished fifth in school history among tackles by a defensive back while Dedrick Young pushed his career total to 201 and is the 36th Husker with 200 career tackles. It would be a big help if many of them weren’t 10 yards down field.
Special teams had a couple of breaks early with unforced errors by the Iowa punter (dropping the ball) and a kickoff returner stepping out of bounds at the 1-yard line. The tide began to turn with a failed fake field goal attempt that likely cost the Huskers three points. The fake was foiled by another Nebraska kid (Nathan Bazata) who played 8-man football and last played in Memorial Stadium in a high school championship game. When Tony Butler ran into the punter on kind of a ticky tack call (can you really run into a rugby style punter?) the momentum shifted further as Iowa continued 64 yards for a tying touchdown. The kickoff team gave up a 75-yard return that would have been a touchdown if not for a block in the back, and the punt team surrendered 43 yards on just 3 returns. Senior kicker Drew Brown did connect on two PATs in the game to finish his career fourth in school history with 355 points and second in school history with 59 field goals.
It was Senior Day and even though the result was forgettable, we should not forget the 22 players who combined for more than 500 games played, including more than 200 starts. In the classroom, the 22 student-athletes combined for 68 appearances on the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll and 13 appointments to the Academic All-Big Ten team. The honorees include eight native Nebraskans, three players representing Texas, two players representing Florida and one player each representing California, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Ontario Canada, Virginia and Wisconsin. I am sure we all offer our gratitude and appreciation for the 22 seniors who played their last game in Memorial Stadium:
Place Kicker Drew Brown (Southlake, Texas); Wide Receiver Brett Classen (Medina, Minnesota); Linebacker Thomas Connely (Kearney, Nebraska); Defensive Lineman Erik Evans (Waverly, Nebraska); Tight End Tyler Hoppes (Lincoln, Nebraska); Defensive Back Chris Jones (Jacksonville, Florida); Fullback Harrison Jordan (Omaha, Nebraska); Defensive Back Boaz Joseph (Weston, Florida); Defensive Back Joshua Kalu (Houston, Texas); Tight End Connor Ketter (Norfolk, Nebraska); Offensive Lineman David Knevel (Branford, Ontario); Defensive Lineman Joel Lopez (Saint Charles, Illinois); Fullback Luke McNitt (Kearney, Nebraska); Defensive Lineman A.J. Natter (Milton, Wisconsin); Linebacker Marcus Newby Gaithersburg, Maryland); Wide Receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El (Alexandria, Virginia); Wide Receiver Gabe Rahn (Le Mars, Iowa); Place Kicker Kramer Rath (Lincoln, Nebraska); I-Back Adam Taylor (Katy, Texas); Offensive Lineman Matt Watts (Stockton, California); Linebacker Chris Weber (Elkhorn, Nebraska); and Wide Receiver Keyan Williams (New Orleans, Louisiana).
It’s over. It’s finally over. I don’t know that I’ve ever looked forward to a season ending before, but like a terminally ill patient that finally expires, I am relieved and can now complete my grieving. Hopefully, Bill Moos will give us a reason to hope once again as he names a new head coach in the next week or so. If the candidate is a fellow Nebraskan as many hope, I trust that he can find a better defensive coordinator than he currently has at UCF. Go Big Red!!
ThotDoc's Brain Droppings on the Iowa Game
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