Hawkeye offense delivers crucial spark

Iowa’s offense returned against Nebraska, giving the Hawkeyes their seventh win of the season and providing some much-needed momentum heading into bowl season.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Iowa tight end Noah Fant runs along the sideline towards the end zone during the Iowa/Nebraska football game in Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 56-14. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Adam Hensley, [email protected]

LINCOLN, Nebraska — Some might call it one of the greatest magic acts in recent memory. Iowa’s offense, nowhere to be found in almost 20 days, reappeared in dramatic fashion, hanging a season-best 56 points on Nebraska on Nov. 24.

For the first time since Nov. 4, Iowa’s offense scored more than 13 points, and the game marked the second time in the past six games that the Hawkeyes scored more than 17 points.

The beatdown of border rival Nebraska not only marks win No. 7 on the season for Iowa, it is a major momentum builder heading into bowl season, something the Hawkeyes desperately needed after two-straight losses.

“Things just clicked,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said.

The Hawkeye offense racked up 505 total yards, 313 coming on the ground and 192 coming via the pass (an immense leap from the 324 total yards, 107 on the ground, in Iowa’s last two games combined).

Iowa seemed to be making up for its previous two games under the century mark in the rushing department; the Hawkeyes had not broken free for 100 yards in the rushing attack since they piled up 243 yards against Ohio State.

Akrum Wadley returned to his jump-cutting, ankle-breaking ways against the Huskers. The senior tailback notched a hat trick in the touchdown column and finished with 159 yards.

When the final whistle blew, four Hawkeye backs had crossed the goal line: Wadley, Ivory Kelly-Martin, James Butler, and Toren Young. Kelly-Martin, Butler, and Young combined for 147 yards.

“Everybody got fed,” Wadley said.

While the Huskers searched for answers defending the run, they were just as clueless when quarterback Nate Stanley took to the air.

“I think it goes both ways,” tight end Noah Fant said. “When we come out and pass the ball, I think it opens up our running game very well, and when we come out and run the ball, it opens up our passing game very well.”

RELATED: Running backs shine in 56-14 Iowa win in Lincoln

In addition to the 192 yards, Stanley threw a pair of touchdowns, both to Fant.

His first score came on rub-route combination. Wideout Nick Easley cut inside on man coverage, essentially creating a pick for Fant, who ran to the sideline and crossed the goal line with under 30 seconds remaining in the first half.

That play proved to be just the momentum Iowa needed going into halftime, and the Hawkeyes came out with a purpose in the third quarter.

In that quarter alone, Iowa outscored Nebraska, 28-0. Two of Wadley’s three scores came in that quarter, Butler scored his first touchdown as a Hawkeye, and Stanley tossed his second scoring pass to Fant, this one a 68-yard catch-and-run.

“We knew that we had the ball coming out of half,” Stanley said. “We always talk about starting fast.”

Fant’s second touchdown set the single-season record for receiving touchdowns by a Hawkeye tight end. His 10 touchdown catches rank as the most by an Iowa player in a season since Marvin McNutt scored 12 in 2012.

Fant isn’t finished catching touchdowns, and the same can be said for the entire team — Iowa now plays the waiting game for a bowl invitation. Wherever the Hawkeyes will end their season, one thing is for certain: Iowa needed a win like today as a catalyst heading into postseason play.

Following the loss to Purdue, Iowa sat at 6-5, and the team was staring at a realistic chance of finishing 1-3 in November and .500 in the regular season.

Instead, the Hawkeyes have something to build on heading into a bowl, especially for an offense that appeared dead in the water less than a week ago.

“It brings a lot of momentum to us,” Stanley said. “For us to be able to finish like this, especially for the seniors and the leaders on this team who put in a tremendous amount of time, it’s really big for us to get a win like this.”

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