The Iowa football team has been burned by fake punts a lot in recent history.
In fact, the last seven times an opponent has tried a fake punt against the Hawkeyes, they converted a first down all in seven tries.
Trailing by just seven points, Nebraska tried to catch the Hawkeyes off-guard deep in the Huskers’ territory but this time Iowa was ready. Punter Sam Folz was tackled for an 8-yard loss on third-and-3 at his own 32, and then Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock found junior wideout Kevonte Martin-Manley for a 24-yard touchdown pass on the very next play to put the visitors up two touchdowns.
The Huskers never recovered and Iowa ended a five-game losing streak in the series, beating Nebraska for the first time since 1981 – 38-17 – in front of an NCAA-record 331st consecutive sellout of more than 91,000 fans at Memorial Stadium.
It’s also the first win over Nebraska for Iowa in the Hy-Vee Heroes Trophy game. Nebraska won the two previous games since joining the Big Ten Conference.
“There is nothing easy about coming over here and playing,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The series is still lopsided, but this helps make it closer to a rivalry certainly. I didn’t feel comfortable at any point until maybe the last three or four minutes. That’s a good football team over there.”
The 38 points scored by Iowa are the most the Hawkeyes have ever scored against Nebraska. And the 21-point margin of defeat is the largest for Huskers since losing to Missouri 52-17 in 2008.
“This was a fun day,” said Iowa tailback Mark Weisman. “This is what you play college football for.”
The Hawkeyes (8-4, 5-3) doubled their win total from a season ago when they went 4-8. The destination for their bowl trip could shift up a notch to the Outback Bowl, which is played on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla. Iowa also has won four road games for the first time since 2009.
“It was special for me because it was in my home state and it moves us to a better bowl,” said defensive end Drew Ott. “I don’t know what that (Outback) bowl is, but it sounds warm.”
Weisman knew a bounce-back year was possible after last year’s 4-8 campaign, even if that wasn’t the popular opinion.
“We knew it was possible but we knew how hard we had to work,” said Weisman, who rushed for a team-high 72 yards and two touchdowns. “The work we have put in has come through. I am just so proud of everyone, especially those seniors.”
Nebraska lost three times at home for the first time since 2007 and the eight regular-season wins are a program-low since 2008, which was Bo Pelini’s first year in Lincoln.
The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to two interceptions by two of Iowa’s three senior linebackers. Anthony Hitchens picked off an errant Ron Kellogg III pass on the Huskers’ first possession and then James Morris stole a Kellogg pass on the next Nebraska possession.
Both led to points. So did the short field the Hawkeyes were given on the fake punt.
Seven of Iowa’s 15 possessions began in Nebraska territory and none of its five touchdown scoring drives covered more than 41 yards.
“I felt like I had a good idea of what the route was going to be,” Morris said of his interception. “I took a gamble and was surprised he threw it. We deal with that route every day in practice. Every team in the country runs that route.”
The attention for the Huskers now turns to Pelini, who was flagged for another unsportsmanlike penalty for antics on the sidelines that resulted in Pelini nearly making contact with the umpire.
The question now is will first-year Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst continue to allow Pelini to lead the Huskers moving forward.
“If they want to fire me, go ahead,” Pelini said after the game. “I believe in what I’ve done, I don’t apologize for what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anybody; myself or this staff. My record, our record, since I’ve been here speaks for itself.”
The Iowa defense had another fantastic effort, holding Nebraska to just 53 yards in the first 25 minutes of the first half. Nebraska’s final drive went 59 yards in 11 plays and ended in a Pat Smith 33-yard field goal that cracked the scoreboard for Nebraska just before halftime.
Still, the Huskers trailed 14-3 after Rudock connected with his 6-foot-7 tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz from 10 yards out and Mark Weisman finished off another short drive with a 1-yard touchdown. The two drives combined for 10 plays and 66 yards.
Nebraska (8-4, 5-3) went right down the field on its opening drive of the second half and closed the gap to 14-10 following an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by an Ameer Abdullah 5-yard touchdown.
But the Huskers lost the momentum – and never got it completely back – when the Hawkeyes sniffed out the fake punt and scored one play later.
“I had contain on the punt and I was going to make sure I did my job,” Ott said. “It feels good though. There was a lot of adrenaline going after that play.”
Nebraska closed to within seven on an early fourth-quarter touchdown pass by Kellogg, who was making his first career start on his Senior Day.
The Hawkeyes though closed out the win with two consecutive touchdowns. Both came without Rudock under center as the first-year starter went down early in the frame with what Ferentz called a knee sprain.
C.J. Beathard led the Hawkeyes on two scoring drives that totaled a combined seven plays and 66 yards.
Weisman capped the second drive with a 2-yard touchdown run that was set up by Jordan Canzeri’s 33-yard run and another Nebraska turnover. Beathard put a punctuation mark on the win when he sprinted 4 yards to the end zone following a playaction bootleg on the final scoring drive.
The Iowa offense scored 38 points but the defense once again led the way. Aside from picking off Kellogg twice and forcing Abdullah into a late fumble, the Hawkeye defense also held Abdullah to under 100 yards for the first time in eight games. They sacked Kellogg twice and allowed just 281 total yards.
“The situation called for it, but they don’t always work,” Ferentz said of three straight blitzes that were called in the second half that helped stall a solid Nebraska drive. “It’s a crap shoot. They are trying to win, too. If you win more than you lose, blitzing is a good thing.”
Nebraska came into the game averaging 233 rushing yards and 34 points per game but was held to just 89 and 17, respectively, by Iowa.
“We did it collectively as a team,” said defensive lineman Louis Trinca-Passat, who finished with three tackles and a fumble recovery. “Our linebackers did a heck of a job. They were making plays left and right. They got those interceptions and Hitchens got that forced fumble. We wanted to finish the season on a high note and we were able to do that today.”
Kirksey led the Iowa defense with 11 tackles, an interception, a sack, a forced fumble and three tackles for loss. Morris added 10 tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack and an interception, while Tanner Miller also had 10 tackles.
Rudock was 9-of-15 for 126 yards and two scores. Ferentz said he expects his signal caller back next week after leaving in the fourth with a knee injury. … Six different receivers hauled in passes Friday, led by Fiedorowicz’s three catches for 23 yards. Martin-Manley had two catches for 60 yards. … Abdullah averages more than 150 yards rushing per game but only gained 85 on 23 carries against the Hawkeyes.