IOWA CITY — Efficient Iowa never gave Nebraska a chance Friday.
The Hawkeyes struck quickly, scored frequently and simply overwhelmed the 17th-ranked Cornhuskers 40-10 in the regular-season finale at Kinnick Stadium.
“What a way to go out,’’ said senior LeShun Daniels, who scored two touchdowns and became the first Hawkeye to rush for 1,000 yards in a season in five years with a 158-yard performance against Nebraska.
George Kittle, who matched Daniels’ scoring effort with a pair of touchdown receptions in the second half, carted the Heroes Game trophy off the field on one shoulder after Iowa completed an 8-4 regular season and 6-3 Big Ten run with its third straight victory.
“Guys were making plays all over the place. It was as good as it gets,’’ Kittle said.
Not just any old plays, but big plays.
Iowa took advantage of three of its five biggest plays of the season to grab control of the game, scoring its first four touchdowns on drives of two, one, four and three plays.
Akrum Wadley put Iowa on the board, busting through the Nebraska defense on a 75-yard run with 4 minutes, 55 seconds left in the opening quarter.
On the Hawkeyes’ next offensive snap, C.J. Beathard hit Riley McCarron with a 77-yard touchdown pass that left the Cornhuskers in a 13-0 hole with 3:28 left in the first.
“We went into the game thinking a few chances might be there for some big plays, just like at their place last year,’’ said Beathard, who hit 10-of-15 passes. “The guys up front, they did the job. They set us up perfectly.’’
The pass play to McCarron was a part of the game plan, a play Iowa has run several times this season with varying levels of success. Wadley’s run before it wasn’t.
“That was a luck play, something that just sort of happened,’’ Beathard said. “It was a check down, but half of the line went one way, half went the other way and Akrum made us all look pretty good.’’
A 56-yard run by Daniels, who topped the 1,000-yard mark with a four-yard carry midway through the fourth quarter, set up a four-yard score that sent Iowa into the locker room with a 20-3 halftime lead.
But Iowa didn’t stop there.
Desmond King then returned a punt 44 yards on the Hawkeyes’ first possession of the second half, setting up a one-yard scoring pass from Beathard to Kittle to finish a three-play drive.
None of Iowa’s first four scoring drives took more than 2:08 off the clock and all only added to the Cornhuskers’ conundrum.
The Hawkeyes accomplished what they set out to defensively as well by limiting the Cornhuskers to 217 total yards and holding Nebraska’s rushing attack to 90 yards on 31 carries, the third straight game the Hawkeyes have held an opponent below 100 yards on the ground.
“We haven’t really changed a thing,’’ linebacker Josey Jewell said. “It’s about being assignment sound, being where we need to be and doing what we’re supposed to do on every snap.’’
Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley didn’t disagree.
Tommy Armstrong did return to action at quarterback for Nebraska after missing last week’s game against Maryland, and while he struggled, Riley said it had more to do with what Iowa did rather than what the Cornhuskers were unable to accomplish.
“Tommy probably wasn’t 100 percent, and neither was Ryker (Fyfe, his backup), but with the overall picture of what it looked like, we can’t come close to using that as a reason or an excuse,’’ Riley said, feeling that his team got beat in every phase of the game.
Armstrong completed just 13-of-35 passes for 125 yards and rushed for only 13 yards on six carries.
“We felt like if we came out, kept him in the pocket, that good things could happen,’’ Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. “We expected him to play. We expected to play well against him and we got that done.’’
Armstrong hit Stanley Morgan with a 13-yard pass that accounted for Nebraska’s only touchdown of the game, cutting into a 26-3 Iowa lead with a third-quarter score that was the first touchdown allowed by the Hawkeyes in nine quarters.
But by then, Iowa was on its way to earning its third victory in four years over the Cornhuskers (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) and ending a four-year run of success by the road team in the series.
“We didn’t want to let what we accomplished the last couple of weeks go to waste,’’ Hawkeye defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie said. “We got that done and holding onto that trophy out on the field in my last home game here, that felt pretty good.’’