IOWA CITY, Iowa – Casey Thompson threw for three touchdowns, and Nebraska ruined Iowa’s chance to clinch the Big Ten West Division title outright with a 24-17 win on Friday.
The Huskers (4-8, 3-6 Big Ten) snapped a five-game losing streak. Iowa (7-5, 5-4) had its four-game winning streak snapped.
Thompson threw touchdown passes of 87 and 18 yards to Trey Palmer in the first half and a 14-yarder to Marcus Washington in the third quarter as Nebraska built a 24-0 lead.
Thompson completed 20 of 30 passes for 278 yards. Palmer had nine catches for 165 yards.
“I didn’t feel like they could guard any of our receivers,” Thompson said. “I definitely didn’t think they could run with Trey. And obviously that showed.”
“We felt good with our receivers against their defensive backs,” Nebraska interim coach Mickey Joseph said. “We thought they were going to have trouble guarding Trey. We talked to Trey this morning, `Just use your speed. Don’t tiptoe through them.”‘
Nebraska broke a seven-game losing streak to Iowa.
Asked how much the Huskers wanted to beat their rival, Palmer said, “Real bad. Very, very bad. Had it on our mind the whole week we were going to do it. And we went out there and did it.”
“We told them, `You let Wisconsin off last week (a 15-14 loss). Don’t let Iowa off,”‘ Joseph said.
Palmer, who became Nebraska’s all-time leader in single-season receiving yards with 1,043, felt he could have a big game against the Hawkeyes, even if they came into the game ranked sixth nationally in passing defense.
“They can’t guard me,” Palmer said. “That’s all I saw. They can’t guard me, they can’t run with me.”
“Our goal was to take the top off of their defense today, and we did a good job of that,” Thompson said. “We knew they would have to cover in space. We tried to get Trey matched up.”
Iowa lost cornerback Cooper DeJean in the first quarter to an injury. That left the Hawkeyes with sophomore Jamison Heinz and freshman T.J. Hall working at cornerback. Palmer beat Hall on both touchdowns.
“It impacted us a great deal,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s a big loss, because (DeJean) is such a versatile player.”
Iowa had a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes, getting the ball twice in the last 3:20 after closing to within 24-17 on a 45-yard field goal by Drew Stevens. But backup quarterback Alex Padilla threw incomplete on fourth down on the first possession. Nebraska linebacker Chris Kolarevic’s interception with 42 seconds left completed the Huskers’ win.
“The reality is we made it too much of a hill to climb,” Ferentz said.
“I wanted to really blow them out, finish them off,” Palmer said. “I didn’t want to play with them.”
The Hawkeyes need losses by Purdue and Illinois on Saturday to have a chance at back-to-back West Division titles.
Iowa lost starting quarterback Spencer Petras to an injury in the first quarter after he was hit and lost a fumble. The turnover led to Timmy Bleekrode’s 21-yard field goal and a 10-0 Huskers lead. Padilla also lost a fumble that led to Nebraska’s second touchdown.
Kaleb Johnson, who rushed for 109 yards, gave the Hawkeyes their first score with a 44-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Padilla threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Luke Lachey in the fourth quarter.
Padilla completed 16 of 33 passes for 141 yards.
The Hawkeyes have struggled all season on offense, and that played a key role again. Padilla had been barely used this season, and being asked to lead a comeback from 24 points down was too much. The turnovers and seven penalties for 65 yards added to the struggles. “A lot of this was self-inflicted,” Ferentz said.
With Nebraska’s coaching situation uncertain, the Huskers gave Joseph a big win in the final game of the season. Getting a chance to ruin a rival’s chances at a division title just added to the win. “They fought,” Joseph said. “They fought every Saturday. They finished something they started, and that’s all I can ask of them.”
Nebraska: Season completed.
Iowa: To be determined. The Hawkeyes are bowl eligible.