Nebraska finishes worst season since 1961 with blowout loss to Iowa
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — With a 42-point second half, Iowa did its part to put the finishing touches on the worst football season at Nebraska in six decades.
Akrum Wadley ran for 159 yards and three touchdowns and Iowa scored 28 points in less than a 7-minute span over the halves on its way to a 56-14 win Friday in what could have been coach Mike Riley’s last game with the Cornhuskers.
“It just kind of happened,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said of the second-half outburst. “It wasn’t like it a master plan or design. The first part was playing through the bumps we created. We were even at half. We felt like if we could play clean football in the second half, something could happen.”
Tight end Noah Fant returned to his home state and caught three passes for a career-high 116 yards and two touchdowns, and Iowa (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) won for the first time in three games since its upset of Ohio State on Nov. 4.
The Huskers (4-8, 3-6) lost four straight to end the season, finished with their fewest wins since 1961 and lost five home games for the first time since 1957. Nebraska gave up 50 points in three straight games to end the season and four times in all — both firsts in the program’s 128-year history.
Riley is 19-19 in three seasons, with last year’s loss at Iowa starting a 10-losses-in-14-games slide. The Huskers have dropped 12 of 18 since opening last season 7-0 and ranked No. 7.
Riley said he had not spoken with athletic director Bill Moos since earlier in the week. He said he anticipated coaching the Huskers next season.
“When I go to bed tonight I’ll be hoping for that, because I would love to do this,” Riley said. “I truly believe I’m exactly the right person to do this. The football parts, I’ve been doing this so long, we know how to fix. And we also are doing a good job recruiting. Those two things are going to be the key to Nebraska getting back to where everybody wants to go.”
Iowa has outscored the Huskers 96-24 in the last two games but found itself down 14-7 late in the second quarter. The Hawks scored in the final minute of the half to tie it 14-all on Nate Stanley’s 4-yard pass to Fant, who grew up 50 miles away in Omaha, and the Hawkeyes struck for three quick TDs in the third quarter to take control.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette returned the second-half kickoff 74 yards, and would have had a touchdown if it hadn’t been for an illegal block in the back. Five plays later Wadley ran in from a yard.
After Nebraska went three-and-out, Stanley connected with Fant for 44 yards and James Butler ran for 12 to put the Hawkeyes up 28-14.
Tanner Lee threw his 14th interception of the season on Nebraska’s next possession, and Wadley went 29 yards to score his third touchdown and become the fourth Iowa player to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
It was 42-14 entering the fourth quarter after Fant went 68 yards on a catch-and-run touchdown.
“It didn’t have to be like that,” Nebraska linebacker Chris Weber said. “We played pretty well during the first half and really there was no reason it should have ended like it did. Credit Iowa for how they played in the second half.”
Iowa: Iowa finished with a season-high 505 total yards and put the game away in the third quarter, scoring 28 points and outgaining Nebraska 209-69. The outburst came after the Hawkeyes were held to just 66 yards by Wisconsin and 258 by Purdue. Iowa has won three straight against Nebraska but still will lose five games in a season for the seventh time in eight years.
Nebraska: The Huskers allowed five opponents to score more than 40 points, and they became the second team in program history to give up more than 400 in a season. Nebraska allowed at least 199 yards rushing in the last seven games.
Fant soaked up the atmosphere playing in Memorial Stadium for the first time. He got a bit carried away on his second touchdown, diving into the end zone and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“It’s a lot of fun being able to be back in my home state, to play in Memorial Stadium,” he said. “I don’t know how many people I had here. Friends and family, a lot of people I went to high school go to school here. So there were a lot. But I didn’t make a big deal of it before the game.”
Nebraska’s Stanley Morgan Jr. set the school’s single-season receiving record on his 28-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. He ended the season with 986 yards.
Iowa awaits a bowl bid, possibly the Music City in Nashville or Pinstripe in New York.
Nebraska’s season is over.