Nebraska blows big lead, loses 28-21 to Iowa in 8th one-score loss of 2021

It happened to Nebraska again.

All season long, the Huskers have played tough against the best teams in the Big Ten, only to lose in excruciating fashion. Friday’s season finale against No. 16 Iowa may have been the most excruciating yet.

Nebraska led 21-6 late in the third quarter but allowed 22 unanswered points by Iowa in a heartbreaking 28-21 loss. This one featured an epic collapse in the fourth quarter.

Nebraska controlled the first three quarters, but the comeback began when Iowa’s Caleb Shudak hit a 36-yard field goal to cut the Huskers’ lead to 21-9 with 27 seconds left in the third. From there, the wheels fell off for Nebraska.

On the ensuing possession, Nebraska's abysmal special teams struck again. Iowa blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to make it 21-16. A few minutes later, Nebraska quarterback Logan Smothers — making his first career start in place of the injured Adrian Martinez — committed an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone, resulting in a safety and two more points for Iowa.

That safety gave the ball back to Iowa, and Shudak booted his fourth field goal of the game at the 7:21 mark to tie the score at 21-21.

Iowa then forced the shell-shocked Nebraska offense to go three-and-out, setting up what would be the game-winning drive for the Hawkeyes. Iowa running back Tyler Goodson broke off a 55-yard run to get into the red zone and then Spencer Petras capped off the drive a few plays later with a 2-yard quarterback sneak.

Trailing 28-21 with 2:58 to go, Nebraska had one final chance to keep the game alive. The Huskers quickly drove into Iowa territory but the drive ended when Smothers threw an interception on a second-down play from the Iowa 28 with 43 seconds left in regulation.

At that point, Iowa ran out the clock and escaped Lincoln with a 28-21 win.

Iowa's Tyler Goodson (15) carries the ball as Nebraska's Marquel Dismuke (9) dives for the tackle during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)
Iowa's Tyler Goodson (15) carries the ball as Nebraska's Marquel Dismuke (9) dives for the tackle on Friday. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

Iowa can still win Big Ten West, Nebraska drops to 3-9

With the victory, Iowa finishes the regular season with a 10-2 record and is still alive for the Big Ten West title. If Minnesota upsets Wisconsin on Saturday, Iowa will win the division and go to the Big Ten title game, where it would meet the winner of Saturday’s showdown between Ohio State and Michigan.

On the Nebraska side, the loss gives the Huskers a 3-9 record with a 1-8 mark in Big Ten play on the season. The Huskers are 15-29 overall and 10-25 in conference play during Scott Frost’s four seasons as the head coach of his alma mater. On top of that, six of Nebraska's nine losses came against ranked opponents.

During Frost’s tenure, Nebraska is 5-20 in one-possession games, including 0-8 this season. Nebraska had a scoring margin of zero against Big Ten opponents this year, yet won just one of its nine conference games. Nebraska's eight Big Ten losses came by a combined 49 points and its lone win came by 49 points, a 56-7 decision over Northwestern.

The school has already announced that Frost will return in 2022, but he will be back with an adjusted contract that includes a lowered salary and a cheaper buyout. Frost will also revamp his staff as he fired four offensive assistants during the team’s bye week.