In a season full of firsts, Iowa added yet another notch to its football history belt in Lincoln Friday.
Thanks in large part to its defense — and Tommy Armstrong Jr.‘s arm punts — Iowa was able to stake itself to a 14-10 halftime lead and then held on for a 28-17 win. The Hawkeyes had previously gone unbeaten and untied in a season twice (1921,1922) and went unbeaten in its first two seasons of competition (1899, 1900). The 12 wins is also a school record, breaking the mark of 11 previously held by head coach Kirk Ferentz‘s 2002 and 2009 squads.
It’s also the fifth 10-win season in Ferentz’s 17 seasons in Iowa City. And, as was the case in the other four, it was a sturdy defense and low-risk offense that’s led the way to this perfect season.
While the Cornhuskers managed 433 yards of offense, the defense allowed just 20 points, with seven of those greatly aided by a muffed first-half punt. NU ran 83 plays, meaning they averaged a little over five yards per play.
The Hawkeyes’ offense, meanwhile, ran just 44 plays in putting up 250 yards of offense. Leading the way was Jordan Canzeri, who accounted for over half that yardage with 140 on the ground. Canzeri also accounted for two of the Hawkeyes’ three offensive touchdowns, with the other coming off the arm of quarterback C.J. Beathard.
Amazingly, Iowa didn’t convert a single third down in nine attempts, while Nebraska converted seven of 16. The most important stat, though was the Hawkeyes’ 4-1 edge in the turnover battle.
Armstrong Jr. tossed four interceptions, giving him a nation-leading 16 on the season. He did throw for 296 yards in a loss that dropped the Cornhuskers to 5-7 and, in all likelihood, a bowl-less 2015 postseason. While they could still go bowling if 80 teams don’t reach the six-win mark, they’ll likely stay home for the postseason for just the third time in the last 47 years (2004, 2007) in the first season under Mike Riley.
Iowa had previously wrapped up the Big Ten West division and a spot in the conference championship game. UI will face Michigan State if the Spartans beat Penn State, or the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game should MSU falter.
A win over any of those three opponents would all but assure the Hawkeyes of one of the four spot in the second edition of the College Football Playoff.