Alfonzo Dennard, Marvin McNutt, Jr.

Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Jr. (7) manages to hold on to a pass despite pressure from Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011, in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver)

Dave Weaver

LINCOLN, Neb. - Iowa's go-to tandem never got going Friday.

Nebraska cornerback Alfonze Dennard made certain that happened, chasing Hawkeyes receiver Marvin McNutt from one corner of the turf to the other at Memorial Stadium and forcing Iowa's career receiving leader to endure one of the longest days of his career.

"It was frustrating. I didn't have a chance," McNutt said.

That was by design.

Dennard spent the day sharing space with McNutt. His man-to-man defensive coverage limited McNutt to a season-low 29 yards on four catches. And 28 of those came on pair of catches during the Hawkeyes' fourth-quarter touchdown drive after the Cornhuskers opened a 20-0 lead.

"It was obvious they weren't going to let our top performers beat them, and we were unable to find other ways to get the job done," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Dennard welcomed the challenge of short-circuiting the Hawkeye passing game, which went without a touchdown pass for just the second time this season.

"I'm a competitive guy, so I want to go against the best every single time. When they told me I was going to go against McNutt the whole game, I just said that I was up for the challenge," Dennard said.

Dennard said his marching orders from coaches were to the point.

"They told me to go everywhere he goes, just follow him," Dennard said.

That only added to the frustration felt by quarterback James Vandenberg, who completed 4-of-10 passes in the first half and finished with a 16-of-35 effort covering 182 yards.

It was just the second time this season the Big Ten passing leader completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes.

"They do a really good job of cutting off end routes, crossing routes, and that made it tough to shake some guys loose," Vandenberg said. "They did a good job of changing things up, mixing their pressures up."

That all contributed to the struggles Iowa dealt with keeping possession of the football. Iowa and Nebraska both punted seven times, but the Hawkeyes managed more than one first down on a drive just once on eight possessions before the start of the fourth quarter.

"Tough day, start to finish," Vandenberg said. "We never got into a rhythm on offense. ... Looking back, there were all sorts of things I wish I could change. We had plenty of opportunities, we just didn't do anything with them."

That disappointed McNutt.

"We know what we're capable of," McNutt said. "We just never got it going."