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Nebraska falls flat in finale

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley scampers in for a 20-yard touchdown at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 24, 2017 against the Huskers (KHGI)

Nebraska surrendered 49 unanswered points after leading 14-7 to lose the season finale, 56-14, at home to the Iowa Hawkeyes on Black Friday.

It couldn't have gotten much darker for the Huskers, who allowed 166 points combined over the final three weeks and a 50-plus point effort from an opponent for the fourth time this season. It marks the first time ever for Nebraska football, according to Evan Bland of the Omaha World-Herald.

Head coach Mike Riley, who has been on the hot seat since athletics director Shawn Eichorst was fired on Sept. 21, openly campaigned to be the head coach next year on multiple occasions during the post-game press conference.

"I’m going to anticipate that and when I go to bed tonight I’m going to hope for that because I would love to do this," Riley said when asked if he expected to be the head coach next year. "I truly believe I’m exactly the right person to do this. The football parts, I’ve been doing this so long we know how to fix, and we also are doing a good job recruiting. Those two things are going to be the key to Nebraska getting back to where everybody wants to go. The football has to grow, and the recruiting has to continue to be high level to get really back there."

When Riley was asked for his thoughts on how the 4-8 Huskers would look in 2018, he again positioned himself as someone who is the right fit.

“It’s a great group. They will indeed go back to work to develop some of those things that they’ll need. They’ll need more power, we’ll need more power on both sides of the ball up front, very, very obvious in that regard. Kind of a strength in identity offensively with going forward with the people that are in the program, as the quarterbacks right now, and as the people that are coming back as receivers, there’s some real exciting players in that area too. There’s so many guys to continue to develop that are coming back defensively, that on all the parts, it’s a pretty exciting deal if you can look at it big picture wise. It feels like I’m trying to change the subject, but I’m really not. I think that that’s a real deal for this team for next year. It’s exciting for me," said Riley.

Iowa gashed the Huskers for 28 points in the third quarter and another 14 in the fourth, as the Hawkeye ground game punished the Blackshirts for 313 yards rushing and 505 total.

The lone bright spot for Nebraska, in what very well may be the last under the direction of head coach Mike Riley, was a 28-yard touchdown reception for Stanley Morgan, Jr in the second quarter. It helped him become the school's single-season all-time leader in receiving yardage. Morgan finished the season with 986 yards, 61 receptions, and 10 touchdowns, all of which led Nebraska in 2017.

In a one of the most telling moments of the game, Nebraska faked a field goal when it was tied 7-7. Iowa defensive lineman Nathan Bazata (Howells, Neb.) tackled fullback Luke McNitt (Kearney, Neb.) behind the line of scrimmage and then threw "the bones" up in Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska finished the season at 4-8 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten games. The Huskers are not playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2007.

QUOTES

Head Coach Mike Riley

Opening Statement

“Obviously, really, really disappointing. We had chance for a pretty decent start in this football game, and a couple of special teams plays I think were big, big factors in flipping that thing as it didn’t have to flip like it did, but it did. The roughing the punter where we got a 14-7 lead, 4-5 minutes to go in the half, we’re going to get the ball back, and what happens with that is they end up tying the game, and come out in the second half with a big kickoff return, and on a pooch punt that we made that, you know, we just let bounce out beyond us. Those two plays were crucial and then I think that physically their lines took over, ran the ball, obviously, real, real well. They hit some big play actions, which is their game. That’s what they do, and we couldn’t respond in tune with that.”

On his emotions walking off the field tonight:

“I think that you look at the end of the season and a disappointing loss like that, lost game, lost opportunity in that game. It’s disappointing.”

On if he has had more talks with Bill Moos:

“No, not any since mid-week. Something like that. Maybe it was Monday-Tuesday something like that. Nothing after that. There was just a good talk.”

On if Moos has told him anything about his future:

“No, I don’t have any indication about that.”

On his defense:

“You know, I think that it was a little bit of a mystery that way, because I thought up to whatever point that was, I thought we were making some strides on defense, and then I do know tonight that there was… it was hard to find some healthy bodies as we went through the ball game today. We lost both of our field linebackers pretty early, and then Sedrick King had to play there, and there was some moving parts that were balancing acts, and then you’re playing a team like that that is very, very physical, always has done a nice job with those plays they were running. So, an unfamiliar position with a guy makes it a little tougher, but in general, you know the other part of it is probably the teams that we play, the matchups that we play.”

On his decision to go for it on 4th-and-1:

“Should of, could of, would of, there. I just, at that point, didn’t want to fail, and give them what would be a very, very short field at that time. What I know now, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

On Tanner Lee:

“I think that what happened, eventually, we were able to in the first half, kind of find some runs, not great, but okay, that balanced it out a little bit. As the score got bigger, you get a little more antsy to try and get back and score, so the running game doesn’t become a part of that balance that you kind of need, and so when we lost that balance, they teed off on pass rush, made some plays.”

On what he would differently since being 7-0 last year:

“I’m going to have to reflect on that one for a longer answer. In the evaluation of it, but I think that we are obviously in a new… it’s like a year one for me right now, new quarterback, new skill set, a real good player as you have seen. We have to do better scoring points and running the football to really be, so that’s what I would, so as I would look forward, that’s what I would say has to happen, and the style in which we play a little bit in the running game, we really have to examine that part of it. Defensively, I don’t have any regrets about the 3-4, about what we did, it is just very, very painfully obvious that this group, on defense, needs to continue to grow and practice, and lift weights, and be able to withstand strong players like we played tonight, and that’s what I would be all in for is that development with those guys. You know it’s a very, very young defense, and halfway could be exciting. I would be excited about that too. I think that, I’m not going to argue my case here, we went from what? Five wins to nine, and utilized the skills sets better, and better. It might have been a strategic error, but with the new quarterback that we have and the quarterbacks that we’ve had, we looked at it. What we didn’t do this year is run and we know way better than that, that it’s not going to work like that, but that growth plus the defensive growth, I think we could do the same thing next year. I think this team will do that. I just feel that way. I know that we got beat… they played better than us, and rolled us at the end, but it’s like I told our team, that didn’t have to be like that and those critical errors for our team and the stage of where we’re at, you know with the roughing the punter touchdown, and then the kickoff return touchdown that followed that basically right away. We cracked and couldn’t bring it back. These guys have to learn, I told them that we’re going to have to learn to do that, we’re going to have to learn how to fight through a tough time in a ball game.”

On how he would describe this team for next year:

“It’s a great group. They will indeed go back to work to develop some of those things that they’ll need. They’ll need more power, we’ll need more power on both sides of the ball up front, very, very obvious in that regard. Kind of a strength in identity offensively with going forward with the people that are in the program, as the quarterbacks right now, and as the people that are coming back as receivers, there’s some real exciting players in that area too. There’s so many guys to continue to develop that are coming back defensively, that on all the parts, it’s a pretty exciting deal if you can look at it big picture wise. It feels like I’m trying to change the subject, but I’m really not. I think that that’s a real deal for this team for next year. It’s exciting for me.”

On if he anticipates being the coach next season:

“I’m going to, I’m going to anticipate that, and when I go to bed tonight I’m going to hope for that because I would love to do this. I truly believe I’m exactly the right person to do this. The football parts, I’ve been doing this so long we know how to fix, and we also are doing a good job recruiting. Those two things are going to be the key to Nebraska getting back to where everybody wants to go. The football has to grow, and the recruiting has to continue to be high level to get really back there.”

On if Bill Moos has been receptive to where the program is right now:

“Bill has been awesome to talk to, we’ve known each other for years. There is all those parts of the conversation are private, but I appreciate the opportunity to talk, it’s been done first class, and it will always be with him.”

Iowa Defensive Lineman Nathan Bazata

On this being his last regular-season game

“It was pretty sweet going out like that. Especially doing it in your home-state. There was a lot of motivation behind us back on our feet. We took one to the chin last week and it was a matter of ‘are we going to get up and compete or just going to roll over?’. Obviously we came and executed today.”

On being from Nebraska and beating the Huskers

“I mean it’s always good to win in your home state. That’s awesome. But it was more important that we bounced back from the last two weeks and get up off the mat and just competed. That meant more than anything.”

On the first half versus the second half

“We had some missed cues there on the punt (return). Kind of gave them a short field. We weren’t executing. We were executing but we weren’t doing our best. We came in and just tried to eliminate those and fix some things. In the second half we came out firing all cylinders.”

On Iowa’s offense

“It was awesome getting the run game going again. Having our tight ends play really good. Noah Fant had a great game. It was awesome. We were hitting all cylinders.”

On stopping Nebraska’s fake field goal attempt

“I kind of knew just looking at the guy in front of me. His eyes were kind of wandering a little bit. I just shot the A-gap and just happened to be right there. It was kind of a shock for me, it just landed into my arms.”

Numbers and Notes

986 –– Junior receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. caught seven passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns, including a spectacular 14-yard TD grab in the first quarter and a 28-yarder in the second quarter. With his 74 receiving yards, Morgan increased his season total to 986 yards setting a Nebraska season record. The previous season record was 942 yards by Johnny Rodgers during his Heisman winning season of 1972. Morgan increased his career receiving yardage total to 1,743, which ranks fifth on the career receiving yards list.

10 –– Morgan’s two touchdowns today increased his season total to 10 touchdowns. He is the fourth player in NU history to have 10 touchdown catches in a season, joining Quincy Enunwa (12, 2013), Johnny Rodgers (11, 1971) and Nate Swift (10, 2008). Morgan has 15 career touchdown receptions good for a tie for seventh on the NU career list.

61 –– Morgan’s seven receptions today increased his season total to 61 moving him into fifth place on the Husker season receptions list. Morgan moved up to No. 7 on the career receptions list with 119, passing Quincy Enunwa (115) in today’s game.

3,000 –– Junior quarterback Tanner Lee completed 22-of-41 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns in today’s game. With his 205 passing yards, Lee finished the 2017 season with 3,143 passing yards, marking the fourth 3,000-yard season in NU history. Lee’s 3,143 yards are third on the single-season chart, trailing only Joe Ganz’s school-record of 3,568 yards in 2008 and Zac Taylor’s 3,197 yards in 2006. Lee finished the season with 23 passing touchdowns, three shy Zac Taylor’s record of 26 in 2006.

34 –– Senior tight end Tyler Hoppes caught four passes in today’s game to increase his season total to 34 receptions, a Nebraska season record for a tight end. The previous record was 32 receptions by Mike McNeill in 2008.

100 –– Senior receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El caught three passes for 39 yards in the game to increase his career receptions total to 100. Pierson-El is the 11th Husker player to record 100 career receptions.

55, 830 ––Redshirt freshman JD Spielman did not play due to injury. Spielman finished the 2017 season with Nebraska freshman records of 55 receptions for 830 yards. He also set a freshman record with 1,572 all-purpose yards.

Other Notes

· Senior safety Joshua Kalu had eight tackles in today’s game. With his eight tackles today, Kalu increased his career total to 215 and finished fifth in school history among tackles by a defensive back.

· Senior kicker Drew Brown connected on two PATs in the game. Brown finished his career fourth in school history with 355 points and second in school history with 59 field goals.

· Junior linebacker Dedrick Young had eight tackles in the game to push his career total to 201. He is the 36th Husker with 200 career tackles.

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