Nebraska finishes 4-8 for second straight year after Iowa wins on walk-off field goal

Nebraska finishes 4-8 for second straight year after Iowa wins on walk-off field goal
Nebraska linebacker Mohamed Barry leaps over the line to try and block Miguel Recinos' game-winning field goal. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD

IOWA CITY — Nebraska capped off its 2018 season with a comeback that fell just short, losing 31-28 on a  field goal made as time expired.

Nebraska trailed 28-13 heading into the fourth quarter, but a touchdown pass from Adrian Martinez to Maurice Washington brought Nebraska within a score at 28-20. Martinez threw what looked to be a costly interception, but Iowa missed a 37-yard field goal to give Nebraska the ball back with 7:54 left and another shot to tie.

Martinez led Nebraska down the field in the closing minutes and ran in a score from three yards to pull within 28-26. On a broken play, Martinez found Kade Warner in the back of the end zone on a two-point conversion to tie it at 28 with 3:22 left in the game.

Iowa took back over as it began to rain in Iowa City. They handed it off, time and time again, to Mekhi Sargent, who ran for 173 yards on the day. The Hawkeyes got down to the Nebraska 37-yard line with 42 seconds left. On fourth-and-8, Iowa QB Nate Stanley found tight end TJ Hockenson for 10 yards to keep the Hawkeyes on the field.

Two plays later, they ran out kicker Miguel Recinos, who hit a 41-yarder to win.

Nebraska finishes the season 4-8 for the second straight year, and won’t go to a bowl game for the second straight season for the first time since Bob Devaney’s hiring in 1962.

Martinez finished 26 for 38 for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Washington caught seven passes for 102 yards. Stanley Morgan capped of his career with seven catches for 81 yards, and finished with 1,001 receiving yards for the season, breaking the school record he set last year.

Iowa dominated up front, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Stanley completed 16 of his 27 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns, and one clutch first down that gave Iowa the chance to win.

Iowa held onto the ball for 20:49 in the first half and went into halftime up 21-13. The Hawkeyes did just about whatever it wanted in the first, running for 143 yards on 25 carries in the first 30 minutes. Nebraska, meanwhile, hardly had the ball enough to make an impact. Martinez led Nebraska on a touchdown on NU’s first drive, but the Huskers’ offensive line struggled to protect the true freshman for most of the game. Iowa sacked Martinez three times, and the Huskers struggled to find a rhythm on offense.

In the final three minutes of the half, Nebraska couldn’t slow Iowa’s ground game. The Hawkeyes put together a 15-play, 85-yard drive to push the lead to 21-10.

With 45 seconds left, Nebraska drove into field-goal range. Barret Pickering missed a 51-yarder, but Iowa was called for offsides. He had no issue with a 46-yarder as time expired, and Nebraska was down just one score at the half.

Nebraska got the ball first in the second half and couldn’t keep it long. The Huskers went three-and-out thanks to Iowa’s third sack on the day from Anthony Nelson.

Iowa went back to business on their first possession of the second half, throwing together an eight-play, 56-yard drive to take a 28-13 lead with 9:13 left in the third quarter.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz chose to fake a field goal on fourth down, but the Hawkeyes failed. Nebraska took over but was stopped on third-and-3. But on the 9-yard line, Frost faked the punt on fourth down, and Luke Gifford gained just enough to save the drive. Martinez converted a fourth-and-1 near midfield. On fourth-and-2, Morgan caught a swing pass to convert another fourth down. One play later, Martinez hit Washington on a wheel route for 28 yards and a score, and Nebraska was within one score again, at 28-20 with 13:57 left in the fourth quarter.

Nebraska’s defense forced a three-and-out on Iowa’s next possession and took back over with 12:30 to play. Martinez dove forward for the fourth fourth-down conversion and Nebraska looked like it was within striking distance. But on the next play, Martinez read the Iowa defense wrong and was picked.

But Iowa missed a field goal on that extra possession, and life was injected back into the Huskers.

Martinez led NU back into the red zone. On first-and-goal from the 3, Martinez scored on a keeper, slamming into an Iowa linebacker and pulling NU to 28-26. Frost elected to go for a two-point conversion. On a broken play, Martinez found Kade Warner in the back of the end zone and tied the game at 28-28 with 3:22 left.

Iowa then won it with a field goal.

Iowa kicker Miguel Recinos redeems himself with game-winning kick after earlier miss

IOWA CITY — Choices by Nebraska’s coaches unknowingly made two of the final three plays of Iowa’s 31-28 victory Friday easier for the Hawkeyes.

The first came on a 10-yard pass from Nate Stanley to tight end T.J. Hockenson on a fourth-and-8 with less than one minute remaining. That completion put the Hawkeyes in position to set up Miguel Recinos for the winning 41-yard field goal as time expired.

Tight end and Omaha South graduate Noah Fant said the pass play was something Iowa coaches had available for just that type of situation. Nebraska had shown that look with the safety — in this case Antonio Reed — playing deep in similar situations earlier this season.

“We had seen that before the game how far the safety was playing off,” Fant said. “(T.J.) ran a nice little option route, sat right there, and Nate put a great ball on him, and he caught it. Their safety was playing like almost 12 yards off the ball.

“So he was pretty far back there, and T.J. did a good job of running up on him, sitting down quick and getting his eyes back to the ball. I guess our coaches held that in their pocket if we ever needed it, and it ended up working out for us.”

Iowa at first tried to draw Nebraska offside.

When that didn’t work, the Hawkeyes called a timeout. The players headed to the sideline uncertain if they were going to punt or go for the first down.

“We had a play we felt good about which was what we ran,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If we hadn’t got the look we were hoping for, then we would have called a timeout and punted the ball away. Got matched up, and our players did a great job blocking the blitz.”

Keeping the drive alive moved the ball into range — 44 yards instead of 54 — for Recinos to try to atone for a missed field goal in the third quarter. A 4-yard run by Mekhi Sargent moved the ball to the Nebraska 23 before Recinos got a gift he anticipated was coming.

The senior from Mason City, Iowa, said Frost helped him focus by calling Nebraska’s final timeout before he made the kick.

“Right after the miss I just kind of reset and just got back in it to try and make that kick,” Recinos said. “I think ol’ Frost made a big mistake calling timeout on that one because it gave me an opportunity to get the guys together and I was able to say a few things to them.”

In that extra minute to regroup, Recinos and the field goal unit had a chance to breathe before executing the final play at Kinnick Stadium for 14 seniors, including Recinos.

“When I went out there, I knew I was going to make the kick,” Recinos said. “I remember telling myself in my head, ‘Nebraska’s going to go and score, they’re going to get the 2-point (conversion), we’re going to drive the ball down, probably going to be a medium to long kick, and Frost is going to call a timeout, then I’m going to hit it to win it.’ ”

The ball was placed near the right hashmark and Recinos drilled it, fading it back toward the middle of the uprights as it sailed over the crossbar. Recinos then took off on a sprint that was more about self-preservation than showboating.

“I started to celebrate, then it did occur to me I’m probably going to want to keep running around,” Recinos said. “I remember Keith (Duncan) telling me horror stories about being at the bottom of the pile. I was really winded after the end of that. I was feeling a little nauseous there at the end of that for a second.”

Eventually, nearly every Hawkeye ended up in the south end zone and Recinos didn’t end up at the bottom of a dogpile.

He added that he was careful not to start celebrating too soon.

“I hit the ball and I knew I hit it well,” Recinos said. “But because of what had happened with the last one I didn’t want to count my chickens before they hatched.

“I saw it was going to stay on target. At that point I realized it was going to go through.”

The process of bouncing back from his third-quarter miss began as soon as Recinos returned to the sideline.

“I struck the ball really, really well, it just didn’t behave the way I thought it would,” Recinos said. “When I came over to the sidelines, it just speaks to the quality of the guys who are my teammates because every single one of them came up to me.

“I’ve seen it before where they say it just to say it. But these guys meant it where they’re like, ‘You’re all right, we’re going to need you again. We have tremendous faith in you.’ It means a lot because you can see the honesty in their eyes.”

Scott Frost says Huskers had fight, but Iowa was the ‘bigger, stronger football team’

IOWA CITY — Nebraska coach Scott Frost was proud of the fight in his team, but he was also disturbed in the wake of a 31-28 last-second loss Friday.

The Hawkeyes ran for 266 yards and controlled the clock for much of the first half with a basic power running game. Iowa’s offensive line especially pushed around NU’s defensive line. While Iowa has done that for the last four games of this series, this was Frost’s first time seeing it. He didn’t like it.

“Iowa’s a bigger, stronger football team,” Frost said. “That’s right now. I never thought I’d see or hear that or say that about a Nebraska football team. That we can fix. We can get bigger, we can get stronger.”

Veteran Hawkeye players have had three or four years in their strength and conditioning program. NU has had just one year with strength and conditioning coordinator Zach Duval.

“They leaned on us quite a bit, especially in the first half,” Frost said. “I thought the defense did a great job of responding, but I’m looking forward to the day we get that fixed, where we’re not going to be pushed around by anybody.”

Still, despite Iowa winning the battle of the trenches, Nebraska had a chance to win in the fourth quarter — or at least take the game into overtime. Iowa had a fourth-and-8 at the NU 37. The Hawkeyes initially attempted to draw NU offsides. When that didn’t work, Frost said he figured Iowa would punt.

Nope. Iowa went for the fourth down, and Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley hit tight end TJ Hockenson for a 10-yard gain. Iowa made the game-winning field goal two plays later.

“That’s a gutsy decision for them,” Frost said of the fourth-down call. “I give Coach (Kirk) Ferentz credit. If they give us the ball back with 40 seconds left or whatever I like our chances of hitting a couple plays and maybe getting an opportunity for a field goal.”

NU chose a heavy “zero” blitz on Stanley with man-to-man coverage on the fourth down. Frost said the defensive play call was the right one.

Nebraska could have folded, Frost said, after falling behind 28-13, but did not. He described NU’s locker room as disappointed but prideful.

“I’ve got some fighters in there,” Frost said. “We need fighters. We’ve been missing a little bit of that. That team is getting to the point where they expect to win and hate to lose.”

Record-setting day is ‘overwhelming’ for Husker senior Stanley Morgan

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Stanley Morgan could have blamed the steady rain coming down. But no, he really was bawling his eyes out.

Not because Nebraska lost 31-28 to Iowa on a field goal at the horn. Not even because it was his last game as a college football player. Emotions flowed from the 6-foot-1, 200-pound New Orleans native because he finally reached a school record he’d been chasing for two years.

Captain Morgan is now also Mr. 1,000.

That’s 1,000 receiving yards in a season, the first Nebraska player to reach such a plateau. Morgan came close last season, when he ended with 986. He needed 77 for the milestone Friday and finished with 81 on seven catches to conclude with 1,004.

“I’ve never been the first ever to do, I don’t think, a lot of things,” Morgan said. “Because I’m a junior. My dad’s a senior, so I’ve never been the first Stanley Morgan. But it’s a blessing. It’s overwhelming and I’m very proud of it.”

The senior could have left Nebraska — then in the midst of a coaching transition — after his breakout junior campaign. But he said Friday he never had any intentions of departing — “Just throwing the hype in there,” he said with a grin — and knew he made the right decision immediately after returning to campus in the summer.

“Stanley is one of those special guys I hope I keep in touch with for the rest of my life,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “He’s a warrior. He’s always ready to compete.”

On Friday, Morgan also took over NU’s all-time record for receiving yards from Kenny Bell (2,689) by ending with 2,747. He caught a pass for a 38th straight game, passing Johnny Rodgers’ previous best mark of 37. Morgan’s 70 receptions in 2018 also are second on the single-season charts while his career catches (189) are a new Husker high.

The funny thing, Morgan said, is these numbers won’t last long. Just look at sophomore receiver JD Spielman. Just look at this Frost offense.

Spielman sat out a second straight week Friday with a foot injury despite going through warmups. He is already climbing Nebraska’s career charts in receiving yards (seventh, 1,684) and career receptions (eighth, 121). Morgan said his good friend will be on top soon enough.

“He’s gonna break (the records), c’mon now,” Morgan said. “I get to hold these up for a year, but I always got first to get it. So I always got that on him.”

Morgan doesn’t know who will take over his role as the main “X” receiver. He lists Kade Warner, Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard as possibilities. Maybe it’s someone not on the roster yet. But he believes what made him a better player under Frost was how the offense allowed him to become more consistently involved and, because of that, a leader.

Morgan knew he reached 1,000 when he corralled a 13-yard pass as Nebraska drove for the tying score in the fourth quarter. It’s amazing, he said, how the new staff has had an effect on his game after years in a pro-style system.

“Just the attention to detail, these coaches’ schemes,” Morgan said. “We scheme so good. They know exactly where they want to go with the ball, know exactly what they want to do with it. These coaches are real good.”

Morgan will go home for a while, he said, then tackle the NFL. He’ll take online classes for one more semester before he can graduate with a major in child, youth and family studies along with a minor in criminal justice.

“I’m gonna finish,” Morgan said with a firm smile.

He’ll do so having reached uncharted territory for any Husker outside of Johnny Rodgers’ 1,013 receiving yards in 1972 (bowl games didn’t count toward a player’s total then). To teammates, he leaves as a leader and friend. To fans and recruits, he’s a symbol of the possibilities for 2019 and beyond.

“He’s gonna fight to the end with you and the best thing about Stan is he’s always going to be in a good mood and loves the game and has fun doing what he’s doing,” Frost said. “He’s been a great Husker and this place will miss him.”

Fake field goal didn’t fool NU

IOWA CITY — Nebraska looked down for the count midway through the third quarter, when Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz got a little too cute — giving the Huskers life.

Leading 28-13, Iowa had a fourth-and-2 at the NU 3. Scott Frost figured the Hawkeyes would kick the field goal to go ahead three scores.

He wasn’t even watching as Iowa holder Colton Rastetter flipped a shovel pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson. “Fake!” he heard over his headset.

“I’m never going to criticize anybody for being aggressive,” Frost said.

Said Ferentz: “Maybe we got greedy, but we were playing to win.”

While Nebraska prepared to see a fake field goal — Iowa scored touchdowns against Minnesota and Penn State on those plays — it hadn’t seen that particular fake. But outside linebacker Luke Gifford sniffed it out.

Gifford played a key role in Nebraska’s gamble. Frost called for a fake punt from his own 9 that required Gifford to take the direct snap, sweep around the punt formation to his right, and outrun defenders to the first down. He needed 3 yards, gained 5 — and NU got a 15-yard personal foul penalty on top of it.

“I don’t know how to read blocks any more, that’s what I found out today,” joked Gifford, a former high school quarterback. “I almost screwed it up — I had to get going, get on my horse.”

Frost said Nebraska had little choice but to call the fake.

“If we had punted back to them right there, I think the game would have been over,” Frost said. “We needed to make something happen on offense. That fake punt started a string of things that worked in our favor.”

Gifford said Nebraska has had that fake punt in its playbook all season.

“We’ve been trying to run it for a long time, and I can’t believe we called it,” Gifford said.

Barry eyeing senior season

Mohamed Barry finished the season with 112 tackles — the most of any Husker since Lavonte David in 2011.

But Barry wasn’t in the mood to celebrate after the game. He was already looking forward to the offseason and next year.

“For me, anything less than a Big Ten championship my senior year will be for nothing,” Barry said.

One of NU’s leaders in 2018, Barry may be an odds-on favorite to become a captain next season. Barry’s not worried about having the formal title.

“That’s all whatever — politics, you like him or whatever,” Barry said. “I’m not trying to be liked. I’m just trying to help my teammates be the best they can be.”

Ferentz got right look; his Hawkeyes executed

Antonio Reed and the Nebraska defense took the field and waited for Iowa to show its hand.

The Hawkeyes had already taken a timeout in the key moment after trying to draw the Huskers offsides. Fourth-and-8 from the NU 37-yard line with 42 seconds left in a 28-28 game. Seemingly too long for a field goal.

Would Iowa punt or go for it?

“Going in, I didn’t think they was going for it,” Reed said. “So when they did … nobody’s really prepared … . ”

Reed, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior safety, found himself on T.J. Hockenson, a 6-5, 230-pound tight end, who snagged a Nate Stanley pass in front of Reed for a 10-yard gain. Iowa won two plays later on a field goal at the horn.

Said Reed: “We just weren’t expecting it to be that play.”

Ferentz said he got the look he wanted. “If we hadn’t got the look we were hoping for, we would have called a timeout and punted the ball,” Ferentz said. “It matched up. Like everything else, it’s down to execution. ”

Ozigbo still wants to play

Devine Ozigbo’s career at Nebraska is over. He hopes his football days are not.

The running back said after the game Friday he has a few postseason senior bowls that are interested in him. He said he’s going to wait and see which one is the best for him.

Ozigbo finished his career at Nebraska with more than 2,000 rushing yards, nearly half of that coming this season.

But the 4-8 result is what’s going to stick with him.

“It’s rewarding but I wish it would’ve turned out better for all the other guys that worked just as hard as me,” Ozigbo said. “This team worked their tails off all offseason, all spring, all fall camp and I just wish it turned out a little better for them.”

Hawkeyes ‘good technicians’

Iowa’s defensive linemen had a field day with Nebraska’s offensive tackles.

Both sophomore tackles, Matt Farniok and Brenden Jaimes, were beat on sacks. Farniok twice.

What Iowa did wasn’t all that special, Farniok said. The sacks came from self-errors. Errors they need to correct.

“They’re very lanky and they’re good technicians so it’s always going to be a fight,” Farniok said. “So really the mistakes of why I got beat and why I got beat sometimes is ourselves.”

Redemption for Pickering

Barret Pickering has been iced before. It didn’t work in high school, and it didn’t work Friday.

The true freshman from Alabama heads into the offseason having made 10 consecutive field goals after a pair of kicks in the second quarter. The streak appeared to end moments before halftime, when his 51-yard try fell just shy of the crossbar after Iowa called a pair of timeouts.

But wait. The Hawkeyes were called offsides, giving NU an untimed down and Pickering new life from 46 yards out. He made the kick with room to spare.

“I hit a decent ball on the first one — it just got caught up in the wind a little bit and came up a tad short,” Pickering said. “Then when we got the free play, it just made it that much easier. Just go out there and knock it through.”

Pickering also hit from 27 to finish the season 14 of 18. He said he wants to get stronger in the offseason, but his confidence never wavered even after a slow start to the year.

“I didn’t change anything (mechanically),” Pickering said. “I knew I was capable and went out there and trusted in what I did. Just relaxed and didn’t worry about anything.”

On the rise

The momentum feels similar to Tre Neal. In the moments after leaving a soggy Kinnick Stadium, the senior safety had one thought as he changed out of a college football uniform for the last time.

This is just like UCF.

The Knights, for whom Neal played under Frost the last two seasons before transferring this year, didn’t start 0-6.

But they finished 6-7, coming up just short multiple times as a new culture took hold.

“Just the way the games went, I think that was weird, it felt like deja vu,” Neal said. “We were in so many games and then some games we quit and got blown out. But just the fact that we were in a lot of games that people thought we wouldn’t be in.”

The vibe really shifted after the narrow loss to Ohio State, Neal said. After Friday’s defeat, some talk in the locker room centered around the bright future in the secondary.

Neal spoke to a trio of sophomore defensive backs  , JoJo Domann, Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke, about being the ones to take over for the graduating group of Aaron Williams, Reed and himself.

“I said, ‘You guys are going to lead the team. That’s who we’re going to lean on. That’s going to be the group,’ ” Neal said. “I told them, I said, ‘Y’all gotta take the next step, not just on the field. In the weight room, off the field. Live your life right.’ ”

The future’s so bright …

It was a gloomy, rainy afternoon, but running back Maurice Washington walked out of the locker room wearing sunglasses.

Washington, who has not spoken to the media in roughly two months, had seven catches for 102 yards. He’s the first NU running back to have more than 100 yards receiving in a game since Marlon Lucky in 2007.

‘Jaxson Says GBR’: Huskers participate in one of football’s most heart-warming traditions

IOWA CITY — When Nebraska last visited Kinnick Stadium in 2016, it was the final game before one of college football’s newest and most heart-warming traditions began the next fall.

At the end of the first quarter, players, coaches, fans and everyone else in the stadium wave to the children who are patients at the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital.

The hospital had a dedication ceremony and open house less than three weeks before the 2016 Iowa-Nebraska game and began treating patients in February 2017, but tours were allowed of the top floor of the facility before that.

That 12th floor has been nicknamed the Press Box because patients and their families are able to watch every home game.

The tradition of waving to patients and their families began at the beginning of 2017. The hospital is across the street on the east side of Kinnick.

Nebraska and Iowa supporters alike waved to and cheered those watching Friday’s game.

The Huskers were represented by a fan on the ninth floor. The sign “Jaxson Says GBR, GO SKERS,” on white poster board in red letters, was posted on a window.

No shirts needed

After going bare-chested in bitter cold conditions during warmups before their Nov. 17 home game against Michigan State, Nebraska wide receivers and others wore shirts while prepping for Friday’s game against Iowa.

At least at the beginning.

Those gray T-shirts were discarded by at least a half-dozen of those players when the game clock wound down to 90 minutes before kickoff.

Senior Stanley Morgan and a few of his mates went through the short route drills with no shirts for about 15 minutes before retreating to the locker room to put on their uniforms.

Thin red line

Iowa placekicker Keith Duncan, punter Ryan Gersonde and redshirt freshman Jack Koerner inadvertently got cornered behind the Huskers on the east sideline after all the NU players had taken the field to begin full-team warmups.

The three Hawkeyes patiently waited for the Huskers to disperse before heading to their bench on the west side of Kinnick Stadium. A few Nebraska players politely let those three pass in front of them.

Cold lips

Members of the 250-piece Iowa Marching Band who had a long wait in the northwest corner of the stadium were thrilled to find toasty warm benches waiting when they reached both sidelines.

Three rows of flugelhorn players sat for a couple minutes on the benches, where warm air was gently blowing out of the vents on the top. Others stood a safe distance away in front of round heaters releasing stronger blasts of warm air.

A few put the mouthpieces of their instruments near the heaters just before they took the field.

Quick hits

Martinez and Farniok walked up a stairwell with arms on each other’s shoulders as they left the bowels of Kinnick Stadium for the team bus.