LINCOLN, NEB. –
Hayden Fry, philosopher and football coach, made the point in a way only he can. In Fry’s first season in 1979, the Iowa Hawkeyes made Oklahoma sweat at Norman, but fell short.
A classic moral victory, except in the eyes of the crusty coach.
After the game, Fry said he would smack the first player who cracked a smile over a nice effort that wasn’t good enough to win. Actually, he said he would punch them in the mouth.
A wonderful football-ism. It’s what every coach wants to say after a so-called moral victory but never does. It was Kirk Ferentz’s turn Saturday after the Hawkeyes made No.1 Nebraska blink, 42-13, before a record crowd of 78,070 at Memorial Stadium.
Until the Cornhuskers (3-0) ripped off two fourth quarter touchdowns in the span of less than a minute, the Hawkeyes (0-4) made the Huskers if not sweat then at least twist in their shoulder pads.
Alas, another horseshoes and hand grenades. Close, but another mouthpiece full of defeat.
The Hawkeyes lost their 12th straight, tying the school’s longest losing streak, which stretched during the 1973-74 seasons.
Iowa has lost 18 of its last 19 games and has the nation’s second-longest skid, behind Ball State.
“I never feel good after a loss. I haven’t felt good after any of them,” Ferentz said. “It’s a blow to the stomach. (But) those go away, and we’ll go back to work tomorrow.”
Not exactly a Fryism, but don’t let that fool you. It took an erstwhile equipment manager to keep Ferentz from T-boning an official during a disputed third-quarter intentional grounding call. And remember that was a Big Ten officiating crew, one Ferentz most likely will see again this season.
“I have a right to say what I think, and they have a right to say what they think,” Ferentz said. “Of course, what they think is all that matters.”
It wasn’t as close as horseshoes and hand grenades. But hey, that was Nebraska, the kings of the land, according to the polls.
Iowa’s usual soft spots showed. Run defense, pass defense,
well, defense, wilted. The blitz is still a curve ball to the offensive line. And third down is still a quadratic equation to the defense.
The Cornhuskers hummed behind quarterback Eric Crouch, who tied a school record with five touchdown passes, three to tight end Tracey Wistrom, also tying a school record. Five of Crouch’s 10 completions went for scores.
The last time the Huskers failed to score a rushing TD was the ’99 Holiday Bowl.
“We knew pretty much what they were going to do,” Crouch
said. “It was just a little strange today without a rushing touchdown.”
I-backs Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter rushed for 113 yards and 100 yards, respectively. The Huskers netted 331 rushing yards to Iowa’s 47.
As stats go, that’s a face-slapper.
“It all starts with smart, disciplined football,” Ferentz
said. “Until we do that, we can’t expect to win, especially against a team like Nebraska.”
But hey, when a team that has a “No. 1″ before its name
and an “N” on its helmet – as in “inevitable” – a 42-13 game, in said team’s house, before a record, red-jacketed crowd, has to be considered a step forward. Hayden Fry’s punch-in-the-mouth dictum, notwithstanding.
“This could be the best game we’ve played under Coach
Ferentz,” defensive end Anthony Herron said. “It was
against the No.1 team in the country, which was also nice.
That’s nice, but it’s not enough.
“We’re still beating ourselves in certain situations.”
Herron didn’t specifically point to the certain situation, but he didn’t have to. The astute know the certain situation, the Crouch-to-Matt Davison 43-yard TD pass.
With four seconds left before halftime, Crouch lofted a pass, kind of a jumpball, to the Iowa 5-yard line. Davison, who caught a pair of TD passes, outjumped safety Ryan Hansen and backed into the end zone from the 3.
Suddenly, Nebraska’s 14-13 lead expanded to 21-13 at halftime.
Not so suddenly, the Huskers jammed together an eight-play, 86-yard drive, capped by Crouch’s 10-yard pass to Wistrom, to take a 28-13 lead with 11 minutes, 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
“The timing wasn’t the best,” Ferentz said. “You like to think you’re coming off the field, you’re in a dogfight. That certainly opened it up for them.”
Coming out of the locker room, Iowa’s offense already had it tough. Guard Eric Steinbach and fullback Jeremy Allen didn’t dress. Ferentz used his ninth offensive line combination in his 15 games. And receiver Kahlil Hill saw spot duty on offense because of an injury to his collarbone.
Hey, at least an offensive lineman (tackle David Porter injured an ankle) hurt himself during the game and not in pregame.
The usual soft spots showed. Iowa rushed for just 47 yards on 31 carries, a 1.5 average. Quarterback Scott Mullen, who completed 19 of 40 for 252 yards, one TD and an interception, was sacked six times.
The Hawkeyes opened the game with what arguably was their best sequence of offensive football under Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe. Iowa drove 76 yards on seven plays and took its first lead of the season on Mullen’s 29-yard TD pass to Kevin Kasper, who finished with eight catches for 129 yards.
“We hit them on the head,” Hill said. “We’re learning how to win, a little bit. We’ve got to learn that we can’t feel too good when things are good and feel too bad when
things are bad. We have to find a happy medium.”
After the first drive, Iowa’s offense generated only two Nate Kaeding field goals (40 and 39). The Hawkeyes rushed for minus-11 yards in the second half.
There’s no happy medium. The Hawkeyes remain a team of the
Ying and the Dang.