LINCOLN — As poor as the Nebraska defense has looked this season against mobile quarterbacks, it has looked just as good against pocket passers. Luckily for the Huskers, Iowa’s James Vandenberg is the latter.
Much like Nebraska’s Oct. 29 game against Michigan State, the Husker defense looked Blackshirt-worthy Friday against Iowa at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska controlled the Iowa offense throughout much of the contest, and pitched a shutout until late in the fourth quarter when running back Marcus Coker scored on a 2-yard run with the game firmly in Nebraska’s control.
In a season that has featured more highs and lows than a rollercoaster, the new rivalry game was one of the high points for a Nebraska defense that persevered in a hard-hitting battle.
“I love this style of football. That game out there was physical,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “Our guys dragged themselves off the field. (There were) a lot of guys limping through the tunnel at the end of the game. I love that kind of football.”
The Huskers limited the Hawkeyes to 270 yards of total offense, including 88 yards on the ground. Coker had a couple of good, physical runs, but finished with just 87 yards and the touchdown.
Nebraska also continued its mastery of pocket passers, limiting Vandenberg to a 16-for-35 day with 182 yards and an interception. It was only the second time this season the Hawkeye signal-caller failed to record a touchdown pass. Andrew Green’s fourth-quarter interception also was just Vandenberg’s sixth this season.
Nebraska’s defense has been much-maligned this season for its inability to get off the field. Friday’s performance could draw no such complaints.
The Huskers limited the Hawkeyes to a 2-for-12 clip on third down, and Iowa only had the ball for 22 minutes, 13 seconds. Green’s interception, combined with a Lavonte David forced fumble and recovery in the third quarter, gave Nebraska a plus-2 advantage in the turnover category.
“They were 2-for-12, and we were 10-for-21. We didn’t turn the ball over,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said. “I thought those were two big statistics, being able to get off the field on third down, convert on third downs and also win the takeaway battle.”
Perhaps the biggest key to Nebraska’s success was its ability to keep the ball out of the hands of Marvin McNutt. Iowa’s senior wide receiver is the best in the Big Ten Conference, coming in with 49 catches for 827 yards, an average of 118.1 per contest.
But Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was up to the challenge of lining up across from McNutt, winning the battle more often than not.
McNutt finished the game with just four catches for 29 yards, most of which came on a 26-yard catch late in the fourth quarter with Nebraska in control of the game. With Dennard locking down McNutt, Iowa’s passing game never got rolling.
“I really liked our plan. I think McNutt is a big part of their offense,” Bo Pelini said. “It was about fifty-fifty with how we did it. We used Fonzo in a number of different ways in that game. I think taking care of (McNutt) was a big part of the deal.”
Much like its counterparts on offense, the NU defensive line has been riddled with injuries this season. But the Huskers came up big in the finale, keeping the Hawkeyes at arm’s length throughout the contest. While Iowa isn’t an offensive juggernaut, the feat was impressive nonetheless.
“I’m proud of the guys that had to play a ton of snaps because of other guys being hurt. I appreciate what they did today,” Bo Pelini said. “I think they showed a lot of character and showed the type of pride that makes the group in there a special group. I’m really proud of our football team.”