IOWA CITY — For a second, it looked as though the fog had lifted on an offense that had been flying blind for much of 2012.
On their first drive, the Hawkeyes marched 62 yards on 12 plays. Running back Mark Weisman rushed eight times for 33 yards. Quarterback James Vandenberg hit tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz for a 25-yard gain on his only pass of the drive. Then, Vandenberg capped it with a 1-yard sneak to give Iowa a 7-3 lead over No. 17 Nebraska.
It was Iowa’s first lead since the fourth quarter of the Indiana game on Nov. 3, a time span of 85:30 on the field.
“It was a huge drive,” said Fiedorowicz, who led Iowa with six receptions for 56 yards. “We were doing a great job of mixing up pass and run. We were getting 5 yards a pop and were really jelling that drive.
“I couldn’t tell what exactly was happening the rest of the game, but we’ve got to score more than seven points.”
Points were missing in 2012. Iowa finished with 232 points, 126 fewer than last season and the lowest total since 2007.
The reasons are many. The usual running back woes were there, but softened by the discovery of sophomore running back Mark Weisman, who began the season as a fullback. Iowa’s passing game never found any footing under first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Injuries struck the offensive line, with left tackle Brandon Scherff and guard Andrew Donnal lost for the season during the same series in week 6.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he was struck by the contrast in blocking from 2011 to ’12. It’s easy to forget that Iowa had three NFL linemen (Riley Reiff, Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis) last season.
“When you prepare for an opponent, we intermix clips from a year ago,” Ferentz said. “Our guys blocked pretty well up front last year.
“In this ballgame, you start thinking about it, you have Riley Reiff at left tackle, Zusevics at right tackle — who just got activated — [Adam] Gettis at right guard. James [Ferentz] was a two-year veteran at that point, and [Matt] Tobin was just starting to play well at left guard.
“There are a lot of things that go into execution and production,” Ferentz said. “I’m not saying we couldn’t do better, the receiver/quarterback part of things, but there are a lot of things that go into being a good offensive football team.”
After that first drive, the Iowa offense generated just 138 yards. It was the second time this season the Hawkeyes were held to single digits (9-6 loss to Iowa State on Sept. 8).
The Huskers took a 13-7 lead when it had the 25 mph northwest wind to their back in the third quarter. Running back Rex Burkhead, who missed the last four games with a knee injury, scored on a 3-yard run with 3:10 left.
Iowa needed a TD to tie the game and had more than a quarter to do it. The Hawkeyes’ fourth quarter, with the wind, was an unmitigated disaster.
The Iowa offense produced two three-and-outs and just 19 yards before linebacker Alonzo Whaley effectively ended the game when he picked off Vandenberg with 2:11 left.
When Iowa absolutely needed offense, fourth quarter and down a TD, it gained 19 yards, had one first down and held the ball for just 4:47.
“Seven points isn’t going to get the job done, no matter who you’re playing really,” Fiedorowicz said.
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