Iowa Football vs Nebraska - Gang Tackle

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) and defensive back Dane Belton (4) bring down Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson (1) during the first quarter of their game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, November 27, 2020. (Stephen Mally/

IOWA CITY, Iowa - They’re not all going to be pretty. Winning the wanky ones plays a part in achieving a good season. 

Iowa showed that on Friday. A two-touchdown favorite against rival Nebraska, the Hawkeyes rallied from a seven-point, third-quarter deficit for a 26-20 victory, their fourth in a row. The latest triumph was the hardest during the streak. 

They blew out their previous three opponents by a combined score of 125-35. They averaged 211 yards rushing in those contests. Nebraska noticed. 

The Huskers stacked the box and, to their credit, matched the home team’s physical play in the opening half. Iowa managed just 35 yards on the ground in the first 30 minutes as the team’s headed to the intermission locked up at 13-13. 

Nebraska marched down the field for a touchdown on the second half’s opening drive. Like what faced them after an 0-2 start to the season, the Hawkeyes could wilt or respond. Again, they chose the latter. 

Like it had in beating the Huskers in their last five meetings, Iowa bullied them again when it mattered. It drove the ball 66 yards in 14 plays on its initial second-half possession, gaining 38 yards on the ground during the march. Its dominant defense, all-American kicker Keith Duncan and fabulous freshman punter Tory Taylor then carried this one across the finish line. 

The Hawkeyes’ game-plan and execution in Friday’s first half resembled what they trotted out in a 21-20 loss to Northwestern in Week 2. Give them credit for adjusting at the break this time instead of allowing the opponent to take them out of their game. Less predicable running plays helped the cause. 

“We spoke at halftime. The only thing holding is back was ourselves,” first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras said. 

After six games, we know this team’s identity - run the ball, stop the run, play physical and win special teams. Putting pressure on Petras to make plays has proven to be a sideways strategy. The California product showed us again that he’s a work in progress and is best suited to manage the operation. 

“It’s always important to establish the run,” said running back Tyler Goodson, who gained 111 yards on 30 carries. “I think the run set the tone for us to get the ball moving. As we kept running, we kept progressing.” 

Iowa’s defense yielded 338 yards, including 143 on the ground Friday. But it allowed only 48 rushing yards after halftime and delivered in crunch time. The Huskers’ limped to the finish with three punts and a pair of fumbles the last five times it got the ball. One was a costly muffed punt. 

As it had the last two seasons when the Hawkeyes won this matchup on late field goals, this one came down to the wire. Nebraska took possession of the ball on its own 32 with 2:02 on the clock. Three plays later, it set up with a first down on the home 39. 

Quarterback Adrian Martinez dropped back to pass and was rocked by defense end Chauncey Golston. Fellow defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg scooped up the fumble. 

Game over. 

Nebraska coach Scott Frost didn’t criticize his players for this loss as he normally does. He instead complained about Iowa coaches clapping and messing up his team’s snap count. Another memorable chapter added to the sometimes strange series. 

Again, it wasn’t a masterpiece, but it’s always fun to beat your rival. It’s also the type of game Iowa failed to pull out during the first two weeks of this season. An ugly win will always beat a loss of any kind. 

“It means a lot. I can tell you it’s a great feeling, especially winning coming back to the locker room. The atmosphere in the locker room was great. You see a lot of smiles on guys’ faces and that’s the best feeling,” Goodson said. 

The coaches should have plenty of teaching moments during film study. The staff also learned more about its game-planning based on team strengths. 

Run the ball and make formations less predictable in doing so. Let destructive tackle Daviyon Nixon and the defense eat. Petras keeps managing. Lean on special teams. 

That’ll do.