IOWA CITY — One of the most frustrating football seasons in Iowa history ended Friday in frustrating fashion.
Unable to capitalize on turnovers and incapable of sustaining drives, the Hawkeyes dropped a 13-7 decision to 17th-ranked Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium.
The victory handed the Cornhuskers at least a piece of the Big Ten Legends Division title and secured Nebraska’s spot in next week’s conference title game, where it will face Wisconsin for a Rose Bowl berth.
But for the Hawkeyes, the loss ended a 4-8 season, the program’s worst record since 2000. Iowa’s 2-6 Big Ten finish is its worst since matching that mark in 2006.
The team’s sixth consecutive loss was more of the same.
“The defense, it showed up every week and did its job. Offensively, we just didn’t get it done,” running back Mark Weisman said.
Iowa finished with a season-low 200 yards of offense and converted on just 5-of-15 third-down opportunities.
The Hawkeyes failed to covert either of the Cornhuskers fumbles they recovered in the second quarter, the first on a punt that Micah Hyde recovered and the second that Louis Trinca-Pasat gave Iowa following a fumble by Taylor Martinez.
“We did our part,” Hyde said. “We created the opportunities, but as a team we didn’t take advantage of them. That’s on all of us. We didn’t make every tackle we needed to make, either.”
And once Iowa did move into scoring position late in the second quarter, the Hawkeyes were flagged for their only penalty of the game for having too many players on the field after a timeout.
That five-yard penalty left a 42-yard field goal try by Mike Meyer short.
“Those five yards at that time, they were huge. On a day like today and into a wind like that, we didn’t help him out. That’s the way it went for us,” said quarterback James Vandenberg, whose final drive in an Iowa uniform ended in an interception by Alonzo Whaley with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining at the Hawkeyes 40-yard line.
The interception allowed Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) to finish off its fifth come-from-behind victory of the conference season.
Held to a season-low three points in the first half, the Cornhuskers moved ahead to stay by scoring on two of their three possessions in the third quarter.
A 52-yard field goal by Brett Maher on Nebraska’s first drive of the half cut into the 7-3 lead the Hawkeyes had held since Vandenberg scored on a 1-yard run with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Cornhuskers then moved ahead to stay when Rex Burkhead — playing for the first time since re-aggravating a knee sprain on Oct. 20 against Northwestern — reached the end zone on a 3-yard carry with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska, which limited Iowa to 70 yards in the second half, held the Hawkeyes to two first downs over the final 21 minutes of the game.
“I don’t know if we played our best, but we did what we had to do,” Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said. “…Other than that first drive, I thought defensively we played really good. That’s a physical team, and I told our team before the game that this was going to be about winning the line of scrimmage. We did that well enough to win.”
And what Nebraska did was enough to force Iowa (4-8, 2-6) to deal with its fifth loss by six points or less.
“It’s been tough. We practiced well all week and we’ve been doing that. It just never carried over to games,” Iowa center James Ferentz said. “That’s the tough thing. We’re a better football team than we showed. It never seemed to come together for us.”