A rivalry rekindled between Iowa and Nebraska has been a one-side affair for quite some time, but no longer. The Hawkeyes came away from Lincoln with a 38-17 win, their first against the Cornhuskers since 1981 after five consecutive losses and their first on the road since 1943, making it that much tougher for Bo Pellini, stuck on 8 regular season wins this season, to keep his job after they year he’s had.
It’s been a remarkable rebound job by Kirk Ferentz in Iowa City after his first losing season in over a decade. The Hawkeyes didn’t have the best of starts to the season, dropping one to Northern Illinois, but unlike last year, won the games they’re supposed to, including in their inner-state rivalry with Iowa State. They did lose to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan Stage, but came up with big wins over Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern in overtime, doubling their win total from last year.
In Lincoln, it was mostly about the defense, forcing three turnovers, including two interceptions by Anthony Hitchens (senior with his first career interceptions) and James Morris, making it quite a miserable ending to the season for Ron Kellogg III, who didn’t really make a difference once he had to step in for the injured Taylor Martinez, another reason that Nebraska feel like this season has gone so wrong, losing four games for the sixth consecutive year under Pellini, never winning more than 10 games and will probably finish out of the polls, even if they do win a bowl game, for the first time since 2008.
While Nebraska faithful think like they’re moving backwards, this was a season of validation for Ferentz, who has been taking a lot of heat in recent years, as the team declined every season since finishing #7 in the AP Poll in 2009, winning the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech. Last year was rock bottom, finishing at 4-8 and missing out on a bowl game for only the second time since 2000. Things turned around quite nicely this year, as the defense was vastly improved and an answer to the running game was found in converted fullback Mark Weisman. He ran 25 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns, complementing an efficient display from quarterback Jake Rudock, throwing a couple of touchdown passes himself.
How good was Iowa’s defense? They held Nebraska to only 89 rushing yards, almost all of them coming from Ameer Abdullah, gaining 85 and scoring a touchdown. This was the worst rushing performance from Nebraska since joining the Big Ten. The last time they gained fewer yards on the ground was in the Big 12 championship game back in 2009, finishing with 67 in the loss to Texas.
While Iowa are now only waiting to see what bowl game they’re going to end up with and if this season is going to be a setup for greater things in a conference they’ve rarely been able to shine in for quite some time, things are trickier in Nebraksa. Pellini is 57-24 as a head coach, but the program hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, not won a Bowl game since 2009, and they were eliminated from the Big Ten Legends Division race two weeks ago, which means they might not be heading in the right direction after all.