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February 21, 2024

Iowa-Nebraska gave us perhaps the perfect end to the Big Ten West

Iowa-Nebraska gave us perhaps the perfect end to the Big Ten West

It was a game that featured the lowest Over/Under in college football history, 14 punts, a pair of interceptions in the final minute, and a three-point victory that sealed the Under cashing in the end.

And in many ways, it was a fitting send-off for the Big Ten West.

Saturday in Lincoln, the Nebraska Cornhuskers hosted the Iowa Hawkeyes in the final Big Ten West regular-season game for both teams. For the Hawkeyes, who had already punched a ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game, it was a chance to finish the season with ten wins despite averaging less than 250 yards of offense this year.

For the Huskers, it was a chance to improve to 6-6 on the season and become bowl-eligible for the first time under new head coach Matt Rhule.

In the end, the game had a little bit of everything, but mostly these:

The first points came early in the second quarter when big Iowa QB Deacon Hill plunged into the end zone on a quarterback sneak to stake the visitors to a 7-0 lead. The Hawkeyes extended that lead to 10-0 when kicker Drew Stevens covered from 28 yards out.

But that’s when the Nebraska offense struck back, as quarterback Chubba Purdy connected with receiver Jaylen Lloyd for a 66-yard touchdown pass to cut into the Iowa advantage.

The Hawkeyes had a chance to extend their lead before halftime, but Stevens had his second field goal attempt of the game blocked, this time a try from just 24 yards out. That saw the teams enter the halftime break with the score still 10-7.

It would not stay 10-7 for long, as the Huskers defense forced a quick three-and-out from Iowa, and Nebraska put together an impressive — for this game — drive that lasted 10 plays and covered 43 yards. The drive eventually stalled, and kicker Tristan Alvano split the uprights from 44 yards out to tie the game at ten.

For a contest such as this one, it needed a bizarre ending, and these two teams delivered. The score remained knotted at ten until the final minute. Iowa had a chance to take the lead late, but a Hill pass was intercepted by Nebraska defensive back Tommi Hill, and the Huskers took over on their own 45-yard line with 31 seconds left and a timeout at their disposal:

Following a Purdy three-yard run on first down, the team eventually burned their final timeout with the clock stopped, to try and get the right play into the huddle.

Whatever they sent in, it did not work. Purdy threw a pass right to linebacker Ethan Hurkett — literally putting the throw right on Hurkett’s face mask — and the defender returned the interception down to the Nebraska 37-yard line:

On Iowa’s next offensive snap, running back Leshon Williams ripped off a 22-yard gain, deep into Nebraska territory. Hill would take a knee on the next play to center the ball for the ensuing game-winning field goal attempt.

From backup kicker Marshall Meeder.

That’s right, Iowa sent in Meeder for the game-winning attempt, and it would be his first field goal attempt of the entire season.

He drilled it:

That kick not only clinched a ten-win season for the Hawkeyes, but it sent Under bettors everywhere home happy.

Since the Big Ten changed from the ill-fated “Legends and Leaders” format to the current East/West format, the Big Ten West has been something of a little sibling to the East. In the nine Big Ten Championship Games under this format, the representatives from the East have emerged victorious each time. Iowa is left to try and stop the East from making it ten-for-ten in a week when they will take on the winner of tomorrow’s annual clash between Michigan and Ohio State.

However, for next season the Big Ten is changing things once more, as USC, Oregon, Washington, and UCLA join the conference. When the conference released its schedule for the 2024 season, they announced a move to a division-less format.

So while Iowa faces a huge test next week, their win today might have given us the send-off to the Big Ten West that we all needed.

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