IOWA CITY - The Iowa football team is not into moral victories. Not even after a dismal 4-8 season.
The Hawkeyes had the first-place Nebraska Cornhuskers on the ropes Friday but failed to capitalize on two first-half turnovers and No. 14 Nebraska scored 10 third-quarter points to earn a 13-7 come-from-behind win at a cold and windy Kinnick Stadium.
"That was hard and we knew it was going to be hard," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "We did what we had to do. I don't know if we played our best, but give Iowa credit for that. They played hard."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Nebraska linebacker Alonzo Whaley (45) and defensive back Daimion Stafford tackle Iowa wideout Kevonte Martin-Manley on Friday during the Huskers’ 13-7 victory. Nebraska’s defense held Iowa to just one touchdown and 200 total yards on the day.
It was the sixth straight win for the Cornhuskers, who finished their regular season at 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten Conference. Nebraska will play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game later this season with the winner earning a trip to the Rose Bowl.
"I believe in this team," Pelini said. "Today it was about winning the line of scrimmage, and we were able to do that in the second half. I am proud of the kids in that locker room, but we are not done. We are looking at something bigger a division title. We have one more game left."
On the other end of the field, Iowa ended maybe the worst season based on expectations in the Kirk Ferentz era, losing six straight and finishing shy of a bowl game for the first time since 2006.
"There is not much joy in 4-8, we didn't have much fun," Ferentz said. "We have been here before unfortunately. But the low point for us is still 2006."
The biggest issue for the Hawkeyes in 2012 was a very inept offense that scored the second fewest points in the Ferentz era.
Iowa scored on its opening possession but finished with only 200 yards of offense. Iowa senior quarterback James Vandenberg tallied the only TD of the game with a 1-yard run in the first quarter but threw for just 92 yards and two interceptions.
"The problems with the offense are more complex than one player, one position and one thing," Ferentz said.
The Vandenberg touchdown came after Nebraska kicker Brett Maher booted a 26-yard field goal on the Cornhuskers' opening possession.
Nebraska lost two possessions on fumbles, but Iowa's struggling offense failed to cash in on the mistakes. The Hawkeyes were stopped on fourth and one during one of those possessions and punted on the Nebraska 31 on the other.
"It's not frustrating at all for the defense," Iowa senior Micah Hyde said. "The defense did their part and that's all you can ask for. We got our turnovers."
Iowa had one more chance to put points on the board during the closing minutes. The Hawkeyes started at the Nebraska 42 before a few completions moved the ball inside the 20-yard line. Iowa called timeout with 15 seconds on the clock but then was called for too many men in the huddle coming out of the timeout, which pushed the ball back to the 24.
Junior Mike Meyer then missed a 42-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in the period.
"That was big because we felt like we had a play that would have worked," Kevonte Martin-Manley said. "We just couldn't score today and that ended up hurting us in the end."
Those missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Hawkeyes.
Nebraska has made a habit of coming from behind to win games this season and did so again Friday, scoring 10 points in the third quarter and holding Iowa to just 70 yards in the final two quarters.
The key to the Cornhusker comeback was senior tailback Rex Burkhead. Burkhead did not play in the first half but finished with 69 yards and the team's lone TD with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
Maher added a 52-yard kick early in the third to cut the Iowa lead to just one. Neither team scored in the final quarter.
"He was chomping at the bit to get in there," Pelini said of Burkhead. "We were only going to use him if we needed him, and I thought it would give us a mental boost. It was an emotional lift, and he gave us some tough yards. We needed him today."
The Cornhuskers rushed for 200 yards in the win. Burkhead's 69 yards was assisted by Ameer Abdullah's 50, Braylon Heard's 46 and quarterback Taylor Martinez's 41. Martinez also threw for 63 yards and was sacked twice.
"It was difficult to throw the ball today," Martinez said. "It was going all over the place. The defense played great. They won the game for us today. The offense will definitely have to clean some things up."
The Hawkeyes will try to find a way to regroup after its most disappointing season and worst record since going 3-9 in 2000. The team also will have to figure out what to do from now until January, days usually being used to prepare for a bowl game.
"We'll have more time than we wanted to have for offseason training," Ferentz said. "We will not be together as a full team now like we usually are through January. That will give us more time for recruiting and player development."
Five of Iowa's eight losses were by six points or less. But Ferentz and the Hawkeyes have won just four games in November during the past four seasons.