Iowa football hindered by injuries in loss to Nebraska

With five starters out of the game, the Hawkeyes lost to the Cornhuskers, 24-17, for the first time since 2014.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras looks at Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Petras left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. The Hawkeyes lost to the Cornhuskers, 24-17.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

Injuries marred Iowa football’s final game of the season at Kinnick Stadium Friday afternoon. With five starters watching from the sidelines, Iowa lost to Nebraska, 24-17. The Cornhuskers hadn’t beaten the Hawkeyes since 2014.

Both senior tight end Sam LaPorta and fullback Monte Pottebaum were injured in Iowa’s game against Minnesota on Nov. 19. While Pottebaum dressed for the Hawkeyes’ game on Friday, he did not play. LaPorta was in street clothes on Friday afternoon.

Despite missing the game against Nebraska, LaPorta finished the regular season as the Hawkeyes’ leading receiver. He recorded 601 total yards and one touchdown on 53 targets. Sophomore tight end Luke Lachey, who ended the season with 362 yards and three touchdowns, filled in for LaPorta.

Starting linebacker Jay Higgins also suffered a muscle strain this week in practice, head coach Kirk Ferentz said, and he didn’t play on Friday.

“Kind of freakish, quite frankly,” Ferentz said of Higgins’ injury. “We thought maybe he’d have a chance. Then, this morning, they ruled him out even before they left the hotel. So, it was just a freakish thing. I would imagine he’ll be back sometime next week.”

Iowa’s defense got thinner in the first quarter when cornerback Cooper DeJean, who leads the Hawkeyes with four interceptions this season, went down with an injury after absorbing a hard block from Nebraska’s Marcus Washington.

Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean lays on the ground after sustaining an injury during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. The Huskers defeated the Hawkeyes, 24-17. (Ayrton Breckenridge)

DeJean laid motionless on the ground for a couple minutes while athletic trainers tended to him. He walked off the field and into the medical tent under his own power. He returned to the sidelines later in the game in street clothes.

“I feel like we always talk about next man in mentality, but seeing one of our guys down on the field like that … I’m not sure how to say it,” defensive lineman Noah Shannon said. “At the end of the day, it pushed us harder to fight for him and have his back. I feel like we needed to create a spark play and we ended up doing that, we brought the game back within seven. We fought. Our effort and intensity were definitely there. Just needed to start it a little earlier.”

After true freshman TJ Hall replaced DeJean on the next drive, Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson lobbed an 87-yard receiving touchdown to wide receiver Trey Palmer. All three of the Cornhuskers’ touchdowns came against Hall or second-string cornerback Jamison Heinz.

DeJean was also unavailable to return punts, and wide receiver Arland Bruce was slotted into the punt return spot. He fumbled a punt in the third quarter that Nebraska recovered at Iowa’s 18-yard line, leading to a touchdown.

DeJean was one of three cornerbacks with starting experience that didn’t play most of Friday’s game. Junior Jermari Harris is out for the season, and senior Terry Roberts has played just five games. 

“If you think about it, it’s three corners now with starting experience that weren’t here in the second half today, so that’s impactful,” Ferentz said. “Then, it forced us in a tough situation on the punt return game. It made a big difference. Maybe some of those balls would have been fielded, and who knows, maybe we would have returned a couple of them. It’s a big loss because [DeJean is a] very versatile, dynamic player.”

The Hawkeyes were also forced into a quarterback change on Friday afternoon when three-year starter Spencer Petras was injured on a strip sack in the first quarter.

While Nebraska recovered the ball, Petras retreated to the medical tent, testing the mobility of his throwing shoulder. The 6-foot-5, 231-pound senior stayed dressed, but he wore a sling on his right arm for the rest of the game. He finished the contest  1-of-6 for 9 yards.

“It’s his upper body, shoulder,” Ferentz said postgame. “We won’t know until probably Monday … Not to get into a quarterback debate and all that, but he was more rehearsed, more veteran. Nobody can predict the future, what it would have been like. It always hurts any time you lose a starter.”

Backup quarterback Alex Padilla entered the game for Petras in the first quarter. Before Friday, Padilla had only appeared in one other game this season —  Iowa’s game against Ohio State. Padilla went 5-of-10 for 32 yards and one interception against the Buckeyes.

“Not a whole lot of thinking goes into it,” Padilla said. “Spencer couldn’t go the rest of the way. I just tried to go in and do my job as best as I can. Put my helmet on. When I got in, there were a little bit of nerves, but once I started playing, it was as I know it. I had done it before. So, it was not too different from what I’ve done before.”

Padilla was also strip sacked on his first drive at quarterback, contributing another turnover to the Hawkeyes’ tally. He threw an interception on Iowa’s final drive of the game, sealing the Cornhuskers’ victory.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior completed the game 16-of-33 for 141 yards and a touchdown. 

“I thought Alex handled it very well,” Lachey said. “Spence going down was tough for us, but Alex stepped up and kept his composure and really took command of the huddle and gave us the best opportunity to win.”