May 24, 2024

Nebraska’s bowl drought continues after Iowa steals road win

Nebraska Cornhuskers Football

Nebraska Coach Matt Rhule reacts to the result of a replay review in the second quarter against Iowa Friday November 24, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Hawkeyes made it a priority to keep the Huskers home for the postseason.

After all, Iowa stormed into Memorial Stadium, outmuscled Nebraska and left the sold out venue with a 13-10 victory. Although it was a defensive slugfest for most of the contest, the final minute is when the fireworks happened, and in the end the Huskers dropped yet another one-score game.

Coach Matt Rhule felt so bad for his players, especially the seniors and all of the Husker fans in attendance in the freezing temperatures. Nebraska had every chance to win the game, but couldn’t deliver in the clutch, and that frustrated Rhule the most.

“Obviously disappointed for our guys, what a great group of young men, and I can’t tell you how much I wanted that game for them,” Rhule said. “I wanted them to walk off the field winners.”

Instead the Huskers had to take that walk of shame back to the locker room, now that the program hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016. The Hawkeyes hoisted the Heroes Trophy and celebrated, as the crowd at Memorial Stadium cleared out extremely fast.

In Rhule’s eyes his players are winners because of the way they battled back and never gave up. Nebraska was held scoreless in the first and fourth quarter, and Rhule knew his team needed to avoid a slow start, and secure a strong finish. The Blackshirts did their best to keep the Huskers in the game. Not to mention Nebraska blocked two of Iowa’s field goal attempts in the first half.

Quarterback Chubba Purdy connected with wideout Jaylen Lloyd for a 66-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter. Rhule thought he had the Hawkeyes right where he wanted them, as the Huskers trailed by three at halftime. Nebraska (5-7) even tied the game up after a 44-yard field goal from Tristan Alvano. He missed his second 44-yard attempt though, which would’ve gave the Huskers the lead in the fourth quarter.

Everything came down to the final minute of the game though. The Hawkeyes had the ball at their own 25-yard line when defensive back Tommi Hill picked off Deacon Hill’s pass. The turnover would’ve gave the Huskers great field position, but they were penalized for a hold on the return.

Two plays later Purdy threw an interception, which turned out to be the key play of the game. Rhule couldn’t believe his eyes as Iowa’s defensive lineman Ethan Hurkett returned the ball to the Nebraska’s 37-yard line.

“Must not of seen the defender, but with 23 seconds we were trying to push the ball down the field,” he said. “Hoping to get the ball thrown pass the sticks, clock it and take a long field goal.”

That would’ve been the ideal finish for Rhule, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that way. The Blackshirts had been on the field for too many plays. Which is why the Hawkeyes were able to execute a huge running play, that set up Marshall Meeder for the game-winning field goal.

Once the smoke cleared Nebraska led Iowa in total offense, and yards per play. Regardless, Iowa led where it mattered, which was in first downs, plays and time of possession. Rhule understood before the game that his squad had a slim margin for error, and the turnovers killed promising drives.

Purdy completed 15 of his 28 passes for 189 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also generated a team-high, 42 yards on the ground. Besides Purdy’s touchdown pass, Nebraska really didn’t have an explosive play. Wideout Billy Kemp was hurt late in the game, and that limited the Huskers’ aerial attack.

The Blackshirts had another solid performance, and limited Iowa to 257 yards of total offense. Linebacker Isaac Gifford generated a game-high, 11 tackles. Luke Reimer added 10 stops, including one for loss. Rhule believes there are plenty of positive aspects of the game for the team to build on, despite the criticism.

“Sometimes people see it from the outside like we messed that up or another close loss,” the 48-year old coach said. “I look at it like no matter how many guys went down, we continued to put guys in, and just battled.”

No. 17 Iowa was the better team, and clearly wanted it more. Rhule is proud that his players were scrappy and never gave up, and that’s how he can find solace in a losing season. It’s going to be a long offseason for the program now. He just wants Big Red Nation to be patient and believe in the process.

“It will all be fixed, it all will improve, maybe this about where we are at right now.”