LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — After the final seconds ticked off, Iowa’s players stampeded from their sideline to the other to take ownership of the Heroes Game trophy.
A few minutes later in the locker room, the players held their helmets up and let out a primal scream for about 10 seconds that could be heard throughout the bowels of Memorial Stadium.
Yes, the Hawkeyes were in a partying mood after they beat Nebraska 38-17 to complete one of the great turnarounds in major-college football.
A year ago, the Hawks ended a four-win season with a 13-7 loss to Nebraska. Iowa (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) has doubled its win total and is in position to receive a berth in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“Complete opposite. That’s the story of the day,” receiver Kevonte Martin- Manley said. “We finished 8-4 with a win. It’s a complete 360. This is one of the best wins I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here.”
The Huskers (8-4, 5-3) finished with their fewest regular-season wins since 2008, coach Bo Pelini’s first year as head coach, and lost three home games in a season for the first time since 2007 under Bill Callahan.
The focus at Nebraska now shifts to whether first-year athletic director Shawn Eichorst will retain Pelini, who was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting a pass-interference call in the third quarter. Pelini is 57-24 and under contract through the 2017 season. He’s paid almost $3 million a year.
“If they want to fire me, go ahead,” Pelini told reporters after the game. “I believe in what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anybody, myself or this staff. My record, our record since I’ve been here, speaks for itself. And this program is heading in a good direction.
“You choose not to think so, that’s your prerogative. All I know is myself, this staff, the people who have been associated with this program since I’ve been here can look themselves in the mirror and feel good about what they’ve done.”
Jake Rudock threw for two touchdowns, including a 24-yarder to Martin- Manley right after Iowa had stuffed Nebraska on a fake punt in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes converted two of Nebraska’s three turnovers into touchdowns and got a short field for a third TD after the failed fake punt. Seven of Iowa’s 14 possessions started on the Cornhuskers’ side of the 50.
The Hawkeyes have won four of five after a 4-3 start. Their four losses this season have come against teams that have a combined record of 42-3.
“Our focus — as it has been since the end of last November — was just to try to improve, working hard and maximizing our opportunities,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “This is kind of the formula we’ve tried to use. The reason why it has materialized is because our players have done the work that they have to do.”
Mark Weisman ran 24 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns for the Hawkeyes, and Rudock was 9 of 15 for 126 yards and two TDs. Rudock left late in the third quarter with a sprained knee.
Ameer Abdullah carried 23 times for 85 yards, the first time in nine games that he failed to rush for 100 yards. Ron Kellogg III, making his first career start, was 19 of 37 for 199 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice in the first quarter.
Rudock’s backup, C.J. Beathard, went three-and-out on his first full series, but the Hawkeyes got the ball right back when Abdullah fumbled at the Iowa 39. Jordan Canzeri went 37 yards on first down, and Weisman scored from the 2 to put the Hawkeyes up 31-17. Beathard ran 4 yards on a bootleg for the final margin.
The Huskers had come from behind in the fourth quarter in each of their three November wins, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“It’s Big Ten football, and you’re going to have to grind it out,” Weisman said. “Nothing’s going to come easy. It didn’t today. Props to Jordan. That big run was a huge spark for us. We got that fumble and his run. That’s what we needed out there.”