LINCOLN — Keith Duncan’s field goal with one second left that lifted Iowa to a 27-24 win over Nebraska on Friday afternoon overshadowed a Blackshiirt defensive effort that got the Huskers back into a one-sided game at halftime.
Trailing 24-10, the Huskers bowed up in the second half. They allowed just 110 yards and four first downs after the break while constantly playing on their own side of the field.
It was big plays that haunted the Huskers in the first half.
Both of Iowa’s touchdowns came via the big play early in the contest. Imhir Smith-Marsette scored on a 45-yard reverse and later running back Tyler Goodson scored on a 55-yard run that gave the Hawkeyes a 14-3 lead with 3:08 left in the first quarter.
“It was about three plays on defense in the first half that got us,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said. “We had an assignment error on the reverse. We got cut out on the back side for a long run. Aside from that, they held their own. I thought we did a good job against a kid who will be an NFL quarterback.
“Those two plays and the kickoff return hurt us.”
But, after that, the Huskers were nearly perfect before the Hawkeyes’ late drive ended the season on a sour note. Iowa’s only other touchdown came when Smith-Marsette returned a kick for a touchdown immediately after Cam Taylor-Britt intercepted Iowa quarterback Nate Stanely and returned it 38 yards for a score with 8:54 left before halftime.
“The first few big plays they had was just making a play and getting guys in position,” said Nebraska defensive lineman Darrion Daniels, who led Nebraska with six tackles. “After that it was just communication. We just did a great job of communicating during the game. Everybody played from the right position.”
In its next eight drives, Nebraska allowed just 66 yards and forced six punts and a fumble with 2:32 left in the game when Colin Miller punched the ball from Mekhei Sargent’s hands and Taylor-Britt recovered. It set up the Nebraska offense for what many in Memorial Stadium thought would be the last drive of regulation.
Nebraska senior cornerback Lamar Jackson felt like the Huskers played some of their best football of the season after halftime.
‘We were all engaged and locked in. We didn’t want to give up until the clock hit zeros,” he said. “We were close. The defense played lights out in the second half.”
Nebraska was solid against Stanley for most of the game. He finished just 11-for-24 for 99 yards, but on the final drive — Iowa took over with 32 seconds left — the Blackshirts gave up consecutive 22-yard pass plays that set up Duncan’s field goal.
Stanley connected with Smith-Marsette on third-and-10 to get near midfield and then on the next play he connected with tight end Sam LaPorta to the Nebraska 30 with less than 10 seconds left.
Despite the finish to the game and the season, Daniels — a Husker captain in his only season with the Blackshirts — said he thinks the program is on the right track.
“Everyone has been buying in to what the coaches are building,” he said. “That wasn’t how it was at the beginning of the season. Among the losses everyone sees that they just have to continue to turn everyone on the right path.”