LINCOLN, Neb. – Twelve down, three to go.
The Iowa football team continued its historic march by defeating Nebraska 28-20 on Friday at Memorial Stadium. The victory improved Iowa’s record to 12-0, including 8-0 in the Big Ten, and marks just the third time that Iowa has finished a regular season undefeated.
The Hawkeyes also kept their playoff hopes alive with the victory. Iowa entered Friday’s regular-season finale ranked fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings behind Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma.
Iowa now advances to the Big Ten championship game for the first time in school history. The Hawkeyes would face Michigan State in the title game next Saturday in Indianapolis if the Spartans defeat Penn State this Saturday. But if Michigan State loses to Penn State, Iowa would face the winner of Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Michigan, whose starting quarterback is former Hawkeye Jake Rudock.
Iowa would likely have to win the Big Ten championship game to secure a playoff berth and a chance to compete for a national title, which would require two more victories.
"Our goal is three more, but right now we’re going to enjoy this one," said Iowa senior center Austin Blythe.
Trailing 28-17, Nebraska drove to the Iowa 19-yard in the fourth quarter. However, the drive fizzled as Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw an incomplete pass on fourth down with 6 minutes, 37 seconds left to play.
Iowa was forced to punt on its next possession, giving Nebraska a first-down at midfield with 4:27 remaining.
The Cornhuskers weren’t on offense very long, though as Armstrong’s pass on first down was intercepted by Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell.
Nebraska had one more chance on offense and drove to the Iowa 24-yard line before settling for a 42-yard field goal by Drew Brown with 1:17 remaining. The Cornhuskers attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered by Iowa tight end Henry Krieger Coble at the Iowa 47 with 1:16 left to play. The Hawkeyes then burned the rest of the time off the clock to stay undefeated.
Nebraska ended the season with a 5-7 record under first-year coach Mike Riley and failed to qualify for a bowl game.
Nebraska started the second half on offense, but was forced to punt after the drive stalled. Iowa cornerback Desmond King returned the punt 26 yards before being tackled out of bounds near the Nebraska bench. Nebraska punter Sam Foltz was penalized 15 yards for a late hit out of bounds, giving Iowa a first down at the Nebraska 33.
It only took the Hawkeyes two plays to score their third touchdown of the game as senior running back Jordan Canzeri blasted through a huge hole and raced 29 yards for a touchdown with 12:17 left in the third quarter. Marshall Koehn converted the point-after kick to expand Iowa’s lead to 21-10.
The 11-point lead didn’t last long, though, as Nebraska answered with a 4-yard touchdown run by Imani Cross with 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Cornhuskers drove 75 yards on 11 plays, chewing 5:17 off the game clock.
Iowa only needed one play to score its next touchdown as Canzeri broke through another huge hole on his way to a 68-yard touchdown run with 6:43 left in the third quarter. That run put Canzeri over 2,000 yards in his Hawkeye career. It also expanded Iowa’s lead to 28-17 after Koehn converted the point-after kick.
Nebraska’s next offensive possession ended when Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin intercepted a pass near the Iowa end zone and returned it to the Hawkeye 30-yard before being pushed out of bounds. The Hawkeyes only made one first down, though, before having to punt.
Both teams were held scoreless in the first quarter, but Iowa was driving in Nebraska territory when the quarter ended.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard then completed a 19-yard pass to Krieger Coble, giving Iowa a first down at the Nebraska 10.
On the next play, Beathard rolled to his right and connected with tight end George Kittle for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 13:50 left in the second quarter. Kittle was wide open in the back of the end zone when Beathard threw to him.
Nebraska was forced to punt again on its next possession, but King mishandled the punt and the Cornhuskers recovered at the Iowa 31.
Armstrong completed a 25-yard pass to tight end Cethan Carter on second down. Iowa also was penalized four yards for unsportsmanlike conduct after Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz complained to the officials about something that had occurred on the play.
That gave Nebraska a first down at the Iowa 4.
Cross then bulled into the end zone for a touchdown on the next play. Brown converted the point-after kick to even the score at 7-7 with 10:18 left in the second quarter.
Iowa was forced to punt on its next possession after making just one first down. Koehn buried the Cornhuskers at their own 9-yard line with a 40-yard punt.
Two players later, Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse deflected a pass thrown by Armstrong near the line of scrimmage. Hesse then caught the ball and jogged into the end zone from four yards out for Iowa’s second touchdown. Koehn made the point-after kick to expand Iowa’s lead to 14-7 with 6:38 left before halftime.
Hesse’s touchdown was Iowa’s fourth pick-six of the season. King, Jewell and linebacker Bo Bower also have recorded a pick-six this season.
After forcing Iowa to punt, Nebraska drove to the Hawkeye 22-yard line in the closing seconds of the second quarter. Brown capped the drive by making a 39-yard field goal, trimming the deficit to 14-10 with three seconds left before halftime.
Nebraska finished with 433 yards, while holding Iowa to just 250 yards, including just 97 passing yards. The Cornhuskers self-destructed throughout game, though. committing four turnovers.