Five things to think about over the next few days following the Iowa football team’s 31-28 victory over Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium:
1. The good
Iowa found the right way to defend Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez.
They kept him off the field.
A ball-control approach led Iowa to a nine-minute advantage in possession time against the Cornhuskers, the result of a productive rushing attack which finally discovered the traction it was looking for during the final two weeks of the regular season.
Iowa’s follow-up to a 203-yard effort on the ground against Illinois was a 266-yard day against Nebraska, the only two times this season the Hawkeyes have averaged more than 5 yards per game. That included a season-best 5.9 yards per attempt on 45 rushes against the Cornhuskers.
Continued growth from Mekhi Sargent, who followed his 121-yard effort against the Illini with 173 yards against Nebraska, has been big as has improved consistency up front.
Sargent’s 173 yards were the most by a Hawkeye back since Akrum Wadley went for 176 at Purdue on Oct. 15, 2016 and coaches have given Sargent and Toren Young a chance to gain some traction on the ground as well.
The rotation tightened a bit following Iowa’s 64-yard rushing effort against Northwestern and seems to have given both backs a chance to put their skills to work.
There’s a lot to like about Sargent’s game, including the toughness and strength he demonstrated during the first half.
He said following the game his confidence has grown with his experience and Sargent believes the best remains in front of him.
“Just got go keep pushing forward even though there’s a lot of learning to do,” Sargent said. “I’m not there, but I’m working toward it.”
2. The better than good
Take time to appreciate the contributions placekicker Miguel Recinos continues to make during his senior season on the Iowa football team.
Recinos’ delivered the walk-off dagger Friday against Nebraska, connecting from 41 yards to provide the ultimate Senior Day memory.
It was the same type of kick that Keith Duncan hit from 33 yards to give Iowa a 14-13 walk-off win over Michigan at Kinnick in 2016.
Recinos missed a 46-yard attempt in that win over the Wolverines, but went on to beat out Duncan for the starting job during preseason camp a year ago.
He has hit 26-of-33 field goal attempts for Iowa over the past two seasons, providing consistency and competency in an area where programs like Iowa — where wins and losses are often decided on a razor-thin margin — need proficiency.
Working with holder Colten Rastetter and snapper Jackson Shubbert, Recinos has made a difference in his collegiate career.
3. The bad
Iowa’s inability to contain Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez led to some issues Friday.
The Cornhuskers’ freshman is going to cause a few Big Ten defensive coordinators to lose some sleep over the next few seasons. He has a level of deception in his skill set that allowed for him to accumulate 336 yards against the Iowa defense.
He ran for a team-leading 76 of the 140 yards Nebraska gained on the ground, a rushing total topped only by Wisconsin and Northwestern against the Hawkeye defense this season.
Back-to-back sacks by A.J. Epenesa and Anthony Nelson midway through the second quarter gave the freshman something to think about but he still was able to complete 26-of-38 passes as the Cornhuskers piled up 400 yards against Iowa. The only other opponents to reach the 400-yard plateau against the Hawkeye defense this season? Purdue with 434 yards and Wisconsin with 414.
4. The ugly
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wore the happy scars of battle following Friday’s game.
He was accidentally headbutted by quarterback Nate Stanley during the raucous postgame celebration at Kinnick Stadium, taking a shot from Stanley’s helmet during the on-field party.
That left Ferentz with a cut on his face and blood on his lips, although he didn’t seem to mind.
“He got me. I don’t think he saw me,” Ferentz said. “But that one’s easy to live with.”
5. The reality
Nebraska coach Scott Frost was left with one reality to deal with at the end of his first team’s 4-8 season.
“What disturbs me right now is that Iowa is a bigger, stronger football team. That’s right now. I never thought I would see or hear that or say that about a Nebraska football team,” Frost said.
“Give their guys credit. They’ve had three, four years in Iowa’s strength and conditioning program. We’ve had one year. They leaned us quite a bit, especially in the first half. I’m looking forward to the day we get that fixed.”
That is the reality of what he inherited in Lincoln. Iowa’s four-game stronghold on the Heroes Trophy is no accident. The more physical, stronger team has won each of those four games.
Anybody who watched the Hawkeyes’ deliver lopsided beatdowns in match-ups against Nebraska the previous two years understood that Frost had some work to do.
Friday’s effort — and the edge the game was played with — demonstrated that the Cornhuskers are making strides and that the Heroes Game is turning into a true rivalry as Iowa won for the fifth time in eight seasons against its neighbors to the west.