The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Grading Iowa football’s performance against Nebraska

The Hawkeyes’ steady ground game paved the way to a 13-10 win over the Huskers, who rank fifth nationally in rushing defense.
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Emily Nyberg
Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins and Iowa defensive back Sebastian Castro attempt to block a pass by Nebraska quarterback Chubba Purdy during a football game between No. 17 Iowa and Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday, Nov. 23, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 13-10.

LINCOLN, Neb. —

Rushing Offense: A

Of course, there were a few negative plays, but there wasn’t much more Iowa could’ve asked for from its rushing unit. Nebraska’s rushing defense is ranked fifth in the nation, and the Hawkeyes ran for 163 yards. Iowa has yet to lose this season when gaining at least 100 yards on the ground. Leshon Williams led the Hawkeyes with  111 yards — his third 100-yard game of the season and his career — including a 53-yard run in the second quarter and a 22-yard burst in the final seconds to set Iowa up for the game-winning field goal. He averaged a healthy 6.9 yards per carry. Kaleb Johnson tacked on another 30 yards, and Iowa’s lone TD on the day came from a Deacon Hill QB sneak. The Husker rushing ‘D’ allowed just 86.5 yards per attempt coming into Friday’s contest.

Passing Offense: C-

Simply put, there were too many dropped passes by the Hawks. And it hurts even more when it’s veterans like Nico Ragaini who let the ball slip right through their hands. Hill has progressed each week, and when he’s finally putting the ball on target, receivers have to help him out. Ohio State transfer Kaleb Brown made a few nice plays, but his dropped touchdown pass in the second quarter on third down was killer, as Drew Stevens’ field goal attempt was blocked the next play. The best pass play of the day was a 37-yard completion to TE Steven Stilianos, who ran the ball down to the 1-yard line and set the Hawkeyes up for their lone TD of the day. Hill completed just 39 percent of his passes, and his interception with under a minute remaining, which he attributed to miscommunication on his end,  almost proved costly.

Rushing Defense: A

Iowa’s rushing defense continued its solid play on Friday, only yielding 75 yards, 42 of which came from Nebraska QB Chubba Purdy. It was the fewest rushing yards the Huskers have gained in a game and the only time they’ve been held under 100 yards on the ground this season. Third-ranked Michigan, whom Iowa could face in the Big Ten Championship game next week, gave up 106 rushing yards to Nebraska when the two squads played on Sept. 30. The Huskers came into Friday’s matchup averaging 186.1 rushing yards per game, leading the Big Ten and ranking 26th nationally. Iowa’s defense has allowed just two rushing touchdowns this season, the only team in the country to do so.

Passing Defense: B+

Nebraska’s best chance to beat Iowa on Friday was through the air. In the absence of Cooper DeJean, opposing offenses have taken advantage.  In the second quarter, Purdy found WR Jaylen Lloyd for a 66-yard touchdown on third-and-long to cut Iowa’s lead to three. This was just one of several third-and-long positive pass plays the Iowa defense gave up as Nebraska converted seven first downs through the air. Besides that one long pass play, though, the Hawkeye secondary was solid and helped win the game at the end with an interception by defensive lineman Ethan Hurkett, who was acting as a linebacker on the play. On the post-game radio show with Gary Dolphin and Ed Podolak, Hurkett said Iowa had a blitz called on the play where he picked it off. But, LB Nick Jackson saw the Nebraska formation and checked the defense out of the blitz, allowing Hurkett to drop in coverage. Jackson has settled into this Iowa defense and proven himself to be a stellar portal pickup.

Special Teams: C-

Marshall Meeder’s game-winning field goal is about the only reason this grade isn’t any worse. Drew Stevens had an underwhelming, uncharacteristic day with two blocked field goals and two kickoffs that sailed out-of-bounds. I don’t expect him to have a day this bad for the rest of his career, and I assume he’ll be the starter next week in the Big Ten Championship. Punter Tory Taylor didn’t have his best day, but it wasn’t his worst by any means. He downed two punts inside the 20 and averaged 42.4 yards per attempt. For Meeder to come in and seal the game in his Hawkeye debut embodied what this Iowa football season has been all about — “next man up.” And it speaks volumes about Meeder’s character that the coaching staff trusted him in such a high-pressure situation. At the end of the day, LeVar Woods’ special teams unit came in clutch when it needed to.

Coaching: A-

I thought it was the right decision to send Meeder out there for the game-winner. When kickers or punters are having a bad day, they usually don’t fix it within the game. Stevens was probably in his head. But, per usual, the Iowa coaching staff can’t win. If Stevens had come in and missed the FG, people would’ve said Ferentz should’ve put the backup in. If Meeder missed the kick, people would’ve complained that Iowa strayed away from Stevens, who has proven this season he has what it takes. Like I said before, there’s no reason to believe Stevens won’t be the starter in Indy. The one coaching call that proved costly was on Nebraska’s 66-yard passing TD. On third-and-long, defensive coordinator Phil Parker called for both safeties to fake a blitz, and they didn’t get back in time, leaving Deshaun Lee by himself, who got beat badly in coverage. Iowa was just trying to do too much there.

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About the Contributors
Kenna Roering, Sports Editor
she/her/hers
Kenna Roering is The Daily Iowan's sports editor. She is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism with a minor in sports and recreation management. Kenna previously worked as a sports reporter for men's wrestling and volleyball and was the summer sports editor in 2023. This is her second year with the DI.
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
(she/her/hers)
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.