IOWA CITY – The burden was off the Hawkeyes, but only because there are no more tests for 2012.
No. 17 Nebraska proved to be that much more stout than Iowa in a wind-aided 13-7 victory Friday at Kinnick Stadium. Running back Rex Burkhead, held out of action the last four games with a knee injury, scored a 3-yard touchdown late in the third quarter and that held up against an Iowa offense that fought itself as much as the 26 mph wind.
The burden isn’t relieved as much as delayed. Iowa (4-8, 2-6 Big Ten) will carry a six-game losing streak into 2013. That’s one number on the remaining players’ minds. The next number was 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. That’s when winter workouts begin for the 2013 season.
“Tuesday,” linebacker James Morris said when asked when workouts start, “6:30 in the morning. It’ll be cold getting there. Whatever temperature it is plus the 30 mph wind you feel on a moped.”
The calendar on Morris’ football career at the University of Iowa flipped to “senior” Friday afternoon. He is one of nine underclassmen who started for Iowa’s defense against Nebraska, which kept Iowa in the game against the Huskers, but remains a fixer-upper going into next season. The Hawkeyes allowed 199 or more yards rushing five times this season. That’s a number that’s hard to live down.
“Tuesday morning we’re going to be getting after it, 6:30 a.m.,” defensive end Dominic Alvis said.
There is disarray even among some of the returning players. Starting safeties Tanner Miller and Nico Law were replaced at different times, with sophomore John Lowdermilk and senior Collin Sleeper replacing them. And then there was when punter Connor Kornbrath had a kick roll to Nebraska’s 1 in the fourth quarter. With the wind in their faces, the Huskers seemed to be in danger of giving up a short field to the Hawkeyes. Instead, Nebraska blasted the ball out to the 33 and at least forced Iowa to start from its 42.
The Huskers muscled the ball out that far. They muscled the Hawkeyes a lot of Friday. So yes, it begins 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“This can make us or break us,” Morris said. “You can change and respond or we can keep doing it and the next thing you know, you have a loser attitude. As a returning guy, I have to make sure it’s the former and not the latter.”
Six underclassmen started on offense, including tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who caught six more passes and ended up ’12 with the most receptions for an Iowa tight end (45) since Scott Chandler had 46 in 2006. But the player everyone wanted to know something about didn’t play a second Friday. Or all season for that matter.
For the first time in Kirk Ferentz’s 14 seasons as head coach, Iowa used one quarterback the entire season. Senior James Vandenberg took all 793 snaps. Redshirt freshman Jake Rudock was listed as the No. 2, but the closest he came to playing was putting his helmet on before Minnesota scored late in Iowa’s 31-13 victory.
Ferentz doesn’t think stray snaps this season will rudder how it goes for whomever wins QB next year.
“I think it’s really overrated, personally,” he said. “Any experience is good, but to say it was going to determine the fate of our season next year . . . I think there are a lot of things that are going to happen between now and then that will be more important.”
If you can believe it, Iowa goes into 2013 with more stability at running back (Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, Greg Garmon, Jordan Canzeri) than it does at QB, where Rudock will compete with junior Cody Sokol and freshman C.J. Beathard. Iowa’s top three rushers in 2012 will return, but no QB will have thrown a pass.
“I think Jake has kind of been groomed, very talented,” Vandenberg said. “You’ve got Cody, a juco who is the oldest and most mature guy in that room but who’s only been with us for a semester and a half now. And then C.J., who really has no idea what he’s doing yet, but you can see his natural talent. He can really throw the ball.
“All three of those guys can play and they’re great guys. They’re hard-working guys who show up everyday.”
And so they’ll be there Tuesday 6:30 a.m.