LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Iowa certainly didn’t change the minds of critics who say the Hawkeyes don’t look the part of a national championship contender.
They didn’t do a whole lot on offense against Nebraska, their defense gave up a lot of yards again and they muffed a punt.
When the clock struck 0:00 Friday, though, they were celebrating a 28-20 victory that finished their first perfect regular season in 93 years.
“We’re not trying to be pretty, we’re trying to be productive,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Football’s not gymnastics. There are style points in gymnastics. Here it’s having one point more than your opponent. We’re 12-0. You can’t do better than that.”
The Hawkeyes (8-0 Big Ten, No. 4 CFP) locked arms and ran to the south end zone to pick up the Heroes Trophy that goes to the winner of this game. Then it was off to the corner to salute their fans before heading to the locker room.
There’s still work to be done to make this season even better. Next stop, the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis where they’ll play for their first conference title since 2004. Win there, and a spot in the College Football Playoff is a very real possibility. Maybe even a certainty.
“The goal is three more,” offensive lineman Austin Blythe said. “Right now we’re going to enjoy this one and find out our opponent on Sunday.”
Jordan Canzeri ran for 140 yards on 17 carries and broke long touchdown runs on back-to-back series in the third quarter on a raw afternoon when a gusty north wind made for a 12-degree wind chill.
The Hawkeyes generated only 250 total yards and were limited to just 44 plays from scrimmage because they went 0 for 9 on third downs. But Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw four interceptions, with Parker Hesse returning one 4 yards for a touchdown, and the Cornhuskers (5-7, 3-5) committed eight penalties, including four personal fouls.
All that helped Iowa remain one of two unbeaten teams. Clemson is the other.
“You want to win every game, that’s your goal,” Ferentz said. “We find ourselves in a good position today. But we’ve been trying to get there for 17 years.”
Canzeri ran off left tackle two straight times for two touchdowns in the third quarter to keep Nebraska from gaining any momentum. His first TD went 29 yards and the second 68 yards for a 28-17 lead.
The Huskers, who started 3-6 under first-year coach Mike Riley, had their third losing season since 2004 and lost four times at home for the first time since 1961.
The Huskers needed a win to assure bowl eligibility. They still might play in the postseason if there aren’t enough six-win teams to fill the 80 bowl spots.
“To some people who say we’re not good enough to go to a bowl, maybe they’re right,” Nebraska defensive end Jack Gangwish said, “but I’d sure like to go.”
Iowa’s first touchdown was set up by two Nebraska personal fouls, its second touchdown was Hesse’s interception return on a ball he tipped at the line of scrimmage, and its third was set up on punter Sam Foltz’s late hit on Desmond King at the end of a punt return.
“Really shot ourselves in the foot,” Huskers coach Mike Riley said. “The production was crazy different, time of possession, they were 0 for 9 on third down. There was a lot of good stuff in the game. It was those other parts we couldn’t overcome.”
The Huskers finished with 433 yards, but those four interceptions were killers.
“I gave them seven points and put them in great position to, honestly, win the game,” Armstrong said. “That’s something I’ve got to fix and something I’m going to fix. Don’t put the blame anywhere else. The team played well. I didn’t. I felt like I let the seniors down.”
The Hawkeyes, who clinched the Big Ten West Division title last week, went undefeated in the regular season for the fifth time in program history and first since going 7-0 in 1922. With at least one more game to play, Iowa has made a five-win improvement over 2014.
“If you watch our team and you like football and you like camaraderie and teamwork, that’s what I like watching,” Ferentz said. “It’s about the teamwork and relationships. When you get teams like that, that’s when you have a chance to do something.”