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On a balmy Black Friday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers staged a fourth quarter collapse to lose to the #16 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes 28-21 and suffer their eighth one-score defeat of the season. Never in the history of college football has a team lost nine times by single digits. To chronicle the ugly, it was the seventh straight loss to the Hawkeyes, the last four by a combined total of 19 points. It was the Huskers 18th straight loss to a nationally ranked team and 18th straight to a Big Ten ranked team. Nebraska is now 1-9 in its last 10 games against Power 5 opponents. Only Vanderbilt (0-10) is worse among Power 5 teams. Six of Nebraska's nine losses came against ranked opponents. The Huskers also clinched their worst win percentage (.250) since 1957, and they did so despite leading by 15 with just 15:27 to play.

Leading 21-6 with just 27 ticks remaining in the 3rd quarter, Nebraska gave up 10 points in 1:11 as an Iowa field goal was followed by a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. A Logan Smothers lost fumble on the ensuing drive did not cost points but resulted in lost field position as the next Iowa punt pinned Nebraska at their own 7. An intentional grounding in the end zone resulted in a safety which Iowa converted into a field goal with a 36-yard drive to tie the game at 21 apiece. Fifteen points given up in 8:06. The Blackshirts did not yield a touchdown until just 2:58 remained in the game as Iowa scored 22 straight points taking just 12:29 off the clock.

In his post-game interview, Frost stated, “The punt block lost us the game.” I would submit that it was the “play of the game” and certainly represented the turning point as it seemed that the confidence drained from the Cornhuskers cortexes and anyone who has followed Nebraska football this year muttered, “here we go again.” Frost is often praised for his creativity and for three quarters he looked like a genius. But the Huskers creatively found a way to lose nine winnable games this year in a fashion that has never been witnessed before and today was no exception. With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I will say that if Nebraska is the best 3-9 team in the country, Iowa may be the worst 10-2 team in the land. Going into the contest the Huskers were favored and probably should have prevailed, but the 2021 team will be remembered as the “little engine that couldn’t.”

At the half, the Huskers led 14-6 and had 111 yards rushing against a team that had yielded just 103.6 per game. Freshman Logan Smothers, in his first start at quarterback, was 5 for 5 for 58 yards passing and had 14 carries for 64 yards as the option attack was crisp and effective. Through three quarters Smothers was 7 for 7 passing for 125 yards and was up to 77 yards rushing. But the Huskers were calling fewer plays on the edge and by then had all but abandoned the option game. The young and inexperienced quarterback was harried and sacked twice. The pressure forced errors that resulted in a lost fumble, a grounding in the end zone and a game-ending interception after the Huskers had driven to the Iowa 28-yard line in the last minute.

Offensively, Smothers finished 16-of-22 passing for 198 yards and rushed 24 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns. He completed four passes of at least 25 yards. Smothers accounted for 67 yards on Nebraska’s 12 play 75-yard opening drive, with 47 passing yards and 20 rushing yards. He also engineered scoring drives of 13 plays 75-yards in the third quarter and a season long 9 play 94-yard drive in the fourth. He needed game experience and it was trial by fire today. Hopefully, it will give him a leg up going into the competition next spring. Jaquez Yant added 44 yards on 13 carries and soared over the pile for his second quarter touchdown. Yant may want to work hard this offseason to stay out of the doghouse as he could be a go-to back next year. Brody Belt added 14 yards on two carries and made a nifty pitch to Yant on a double option play for a crucial third down conversion in the second quarter.

Samori Toure had six receptions for 67 yards, including receptions of 19 and 28 yards on Nebraska’s opening series. He also made a nice 13-yard grab on the sideline on the final series that was initially ruled incomplete. With his six catches, Toure ended his career with 201 receptions, including his time at Montana and Nebraska and he increased his season yardage total to 898, moving him up into a tie for sixth place on the Nebraska single-season yardage list. Not a bad transfer portal pickup. Tight end Austin Allen caught two passes for 55 yards to give him 602 receiving yards this season, a Nebraska record for receiving yardage by a tight end. Junior Miller held the previous record with 560 receiving yards in 1978. Allen also finished with a season record for receptions with 38 catches in 2021. His 27-yard reception in the third quarter and 28-yard catch in the fourth quarter gave him 12 catches of longer than 20 yards this season. He finished the year averaging 16.7 yards a catch which leads all Big Ten tight ends by several yards. Omar Manning had a career-long 40-yard reception in the third quarter in which he used his big body to shield the defender and set up a Nebraska touchdown. His previous long was 32 yards against Fordham. Finally, Levi Falck caught two passes in the game, giving him 101 in his collegiate career, including his career at South Dakota and Nebraska. He nearly had another spectacular catch on the final drive that was ruled incomplete on review.

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Defensively, even though the Blackshirts played without JoJo Domann, Damion Daniels, and Pheldarius Payne, they held Iowa without an offensive touchdown until the last 3 minutes of the game. The Hawkeyes had settled for four field goals on four red zone trips. Nebraska also held Iowa scoreless in the first quarter meaning that the only score in the opening stanza in seven home games was a solo TD by Northwestern. The defense “bend, don’t break” approach worked for 57 minutes until Tyler Goodson broke one for 55 yards to the Nebraska 14-yard line. By then, the wheels had all but come off the bus.

Nick Henrich led the defense with 8 stops but missed a big tackle on 3rd and 9 on the Hawkeyes opening drive of the 3rd quarter. Safety Marquel Dismuke had seven tackles in the game, giving him 204 career tackles. He is the eighth Husker defensive back and 40th Husker overall with 200 career tackles. Luke Reimer finished with seven tackles to increase his season total to 108. His tackle total is the most by a Husker since Mohamed Barry had 112 tackles in 2018. Reimer also forced a fumble (recovered by Deontre Thomas) at the Nebraska 6-yard line as Iowa was threatening to score on their first drive after intermission. Caleb Tannor had two pass breakups in the game to increase his career total to four, but his bonehead slapping away of an official’s hands allowed an Iowa scoring drive to continue. Ben Stille (6 tackles) and Casey Rogers (5 tackles) shared a sack and Ty Robinson (3 tackles) created one of his own for a 7-yard loss. Robinson was also called for a roughing the passer penalty that was initially ruled targeting. Not sure what the officials saw as targeting. Cam Taylor-Britt (5 tackles) bracketed Bellevue West grad Keagan Johnson and held him to just one 11-yard catch even though he was targeted 7 times.

“The punt block lost us the game.” How many games were lost this year due to special team errors? Three, four, five games? They were instrumental in all but about two of the nine losses. The punt block was the play of the game but on the positive side, containing all-Big Ten returner Charlie Jones was huge. Every kickoff Brendan Franke had was a touchback except for the one after the safety. And the lone punt Jones had an opportunity to return, Phalon Sanford wrapped him up for a loss of 1 yard. Will Przystup had a decent punt and a poor one and Daniel Cerni nailed a 47-yarder in relief. All in all, the special team play was solid except for one play, and it was critical. Maybe next year, we will learn how to return punts and kickoffs.

When Nebraska went up 21-6 with 5:54 left in the third, It was tempting to believe that today the Huskers were going to exorcise the demons and finally get that elusive victory. But this season the football gods have been overly sadistic and just as the carrot was within reach, it was yanked away much like Charlie Brown playing ball with Lucy. The season ended much as it began, with a mind-numbing loss. The off-season will bring new coaches (and hopefully some special team emphasis) and plenty of other unknowns as we still don’t know which players will return, who will enter the transfer portal, and who may transfer to Nebraska. The recruiting signing date also lays ahead with its small class of signees. It will get sorted out in the weeks and months ahead, but it many ways I am relieved that this cockeyed season full of statistical anomalies has come to a close. May it rest in peace.

Husker fans are a hearty lot. No matter how many times they get kicked in the groin, they keep coming back. We had a team that did that better this year than any over the past decade and that gives me hope that the “team as family” approach that Frost is fostering has taken hold and will result in future success. The Husker faithful will return just as they have every year for decades. Just 274 days until the Huskers begin anew in Dublin, Ireland against Northwestern. It may take that long for the groin to heal. Go Big Red!