IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Our grades from Nebraska's game against Iowa on Friday.
Rushing Offense C+
It became clear early on that Friday's game was going to be won in the trenches, and Nebraska got things off to a good start on its opening drive of the first quarter, marching the ball 75 yards on 16 plays to set up a 26-yard field goal by Brett Maher to take an early lead. At least in the first half, Nebraska was unable to stretch Iowa's defense with the pass because of strong winds, and the Hawkeyes began cheating in toward the line of scrimmage. On the opening drive, Nebraska seemed to have a nice thing going with Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard alternating carries, but the Huskers put themselves behind the chains in the second quarter. Nebraska got a boost in the second half with the return of senior running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead's touchdown in the third quarter put Nebraska ahead 13-7.
Passing Offense D
First things first: the wind changed everything. You can say its possible that a team should be able to throw despite the conditions, but with winds gusting upwards of 40 miles per hour during Friday's game, Nebraska managed just 24 yards passing before halftime, though quarterback Taylor Martinez was 5-of-6 passing in the first half. For Nebraska's offense to really click, the Huskers have to be able to work the outside of the field and the wind kept Nebraska from really being able to challenge Iowa's secondary on the outside. On Nebraska's key scoring drive in the third quarter, Martinez hit Ben Cotton in quadruple coverage to move the chains. Otherwise, it was a slow day passing for Nebraska.
Rushing Defense A-
Iowa's first offensive possession wasn't a positive one for Nebraska. The Hawkeyes drove the ball right down Nebraska's throat with 11 running plays, and ended the drive with a touchdown by quarterback James Vandenberg. Friday's game was a rough-and-tumble affair and Nebraska's defense had its share of injuries before halftime, maybe none bigger than defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler, who went down in the second quarter and didn't return. Like Nebraska, Iowa gained the bulk of its rushing yardage before halftime on its first drive of the game. Nebraska upped the intensity in the third quarter, and with the advantage of the wind, tightened its grasp on Iowa's running game.
Passing Defense A
The same problems that plagued Nebraska's passing game, also plagued Iowa on Friday. The Hawkeyes managed just 55 yards passing before the half, with almost half of that coming on one play. Iowa never was able to stretch the field, and its struggles running the ball helped neutralize the play action game. The Huskers got an important interception in the third quarter by Daimion Stafford, and only had trouble matching up with Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who made several nice catches on Nebraska's safeties and dime backs. Eric Martin was huge in the pass rush game, particularly on third down in pressuring Iowa's backfield.
Special Teams B
How you view this grade depends on what you value on special teams. Brett Maher hit a pair of field goals and kicked a punt 61 yards out of bounds inside Iowa's 10-yard line. The Husker special teams unit also gave up a key fumble in the second quarter. Following Maher's big punt, Nebraska's defense got a big stop deep in Iowa territory and forced a Hawkeye punt. Ameer Abdullah tried to make a fair catch at Iowa's 40-yard line, but muffed the punt, which Iowa recovered. The Hawkeyes didn't get any points off the turnover, but those kinds of plays have shaken Nebraska's confidence earlier in the year, and appeared to do so Friday. Kudos to Maher, though, for helping Nebraska control the field position game.