In a matchup between a top 20 defense and a top 20 offense with a possible Outback Bowl bid on the line, defense once again proved superior today.
The Iowa Hawkeyes took their defensive unit, ranked 10th in the nation in total defense, into Lincoln, NE and defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 38-17. The Iowa win ended Nebraska’s run of consecutive nine-win seasons and sent the records of both teams to 8-4 overall. More importantly for both teams, this victory could send the Hawkeyes to the Outback Bowl in place of the Cornhuskers.
Iowa forced three turnovers and held the Cornhuskers to just 89 yards rushing, including limiting Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah to 85 yards on 23 carries. Containing the Cornhuskers’ running game helped the Hawkeyes limit Nebraska to only three third down conversions. That gave Iowa a nearly three minute time of possession advantage which the Hawkeye offense was able to take advantage of.
Iowa ran for 156 yards on 45 attempts, with carries nearly evenly split between running backs Jordan Canzeri and Mark Weisman. Hawkeye quarterback Jake Rudock, who ended up leaving the game with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter, was efficient going 9-of-15 for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Of huge importance for the Hawkeye offense, besides the time of possession advantage, were the facts that they did not turn the ball over and had outstanding starting field position for much of the game.
Getting to eight wins and doing it by earning a road win over a Cornhusker team that was ranked in the top 25 on several occasions this season should be enough to get Iowa into one of the New Year’s Day bowl games that have Big Ten ties. The Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Outback Bowl are all possibilities, with the Outback getting first pick.
If Michigan State beats Minnesota tomorrow, the Hawkeyes would be one of three 8-4 teams in the Big Ten, with head-to-head wins over the other two (Minnesota and Nebraska). Going simply by the numbers and the schedules, Iowa should be the top choice of the 8-4 Big Ten teams. The Hawkeyes’ fan base travels well, and TV numbers have always been solid in past Iowa Outback Bowl appearances.
Even if the Outback Bowl picks Minnesota or Nebraska over Iowa, the Hawkeyes did all they could today to make the case as to why they should get that invitation. A lot of credit should go to Iowa’s defense for limiting the damage of one of the nation’s best running attacks.