LINCOLN, Neb. – All the Iowa football team needed Friday was a spark.

Freshman Ihmir Smith-Marsette provided it, allowing Akrum Wadley and a resurgent Hawkeye ground game to torch Nebraska 56-14 at Memorial Stadium.

“We didn’t get off to the fastest start, but you have to keep swinging,’’ Wadley said. “Just keep at it. Keep swinging.’’

Iowa (7-5 overall, 4-5 Big Ten) finally made contact after Smith-Marsette returned the opening kickoff in the second half 74 yards, setting up a lightning-quick succession of scoring drives that turned a 14-14 game into a rout in a matter of minutes.

The Hawkeyes scored three touchdowns in a span of 3 minutes, 52 seconds at the start of the third quarter to level the Cornhuskers and retain possession of the Heroes Trophy for the third consecutive year and the fourth time in five years.

“Our first half wasn’t the best, but that’s why you play the full 60,’’ linebacker Josey Jewell said. “I think we came out hungry, ready to play our best.’’

Once that happened, there wasn’t a thing the Cornhuskers were capable of doing to stop it.

Wadley broke the halftime tie when he capped a five-play, 22-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 12:24 left in the third quarter.

After the Cornhuskers went three and out, quarterback Nate Stanley hit Noah Fant with a 44-yard pass to set up a 12-yard touchdown run by James Butler.

A Ben Niemann interception followed three snaps later, positioning Wadley to score on a 29-yard carry with 8:32 left in the quarter.

Part of a 159-yard game by the senior, his third touchdown run of the game pushed Wadley over the 1,000-yard mark for the season and made him the fourth Hawkeye ever to run for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, the first since Fred Russell.

“That is big time to me,’’ said Wadley, who appreciated the way Iowa’s offense worked, piling up 313 of its season-high 505 yards on the ground.

“For the first time in a few weeks, we were clicking on all cylinders,’’ Wadley added. “The line was pushing some guys around. Tight ends blocked, receivers were going downfield and sacrificing their bodies. It was just fun.’’

The Hawkeyes collected 209 yards in the third quarter, scoring 28 points, including six on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Stanley to Fant, part of a 13 of 20 effort by the Iowa quarterback.

“The offensive line, they came out and controlled things up front and that started it all,’’ Stanley said. “That helped us get things going on the ground and that opened up the play action. Everything worked.’’

And Nebraska knew it.

“Late in the third quarter, after the three quick scores, you could feel it, that they knew it was over,’’ offensive guard Sean Welsh said. “When you have it going like that on offense, it’s a great feeling.’’

Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones wasn’t feeling so hot at the end of a 4-8 season.

“It was little mistakes here and there that turned it, little mistakes that turned into big plays and bit plays that turned into points,’’ Jones said.

Coach Kirk Ferentz praised his team’s resiliency, overcoming some early issues on special teams to earn the most-lopsided victory the Hawkeyes have ever had against the Cornhuskers.

A fumbled punt snap gave Nebraska the football on the Iowa 15-yard line and led to a touchdown. Then a mistake on a return left the Hawkeyes on their 1-yard line to open a drive.

“Those things can be like a lead balloon,’’ Ferentz said.

“The offense really responded there. I think that was the story of our team, coming off of (the Purdue loss) last week,’’ Ferentz said. “We really haven’t been moving the ball with great consistency, so to take that thing and go 99 yards was huge.’’

Iowa 56, Nebraska 14

Iowa 7 7 28 14 — 56

Nebraska 7 7 0 0 — 14

First quarter

Neb — Morgan 14 pass from T. Lee (Brown kick), 9:34. (Drive: 3 plays, 15 yards, :43).

Iowa — Wadley 20 run (Recinos kick), 2:16. (Drive: 15 plays, 99 yards, 7:18).

Second quarter

Neb — Morgan 28 pass from T. Lee (Brown kick), 6:18. (Drive: 8 plays, 75 yards, 3:04).

Iowa — Fant 4 pass from Stanley (Recinos kick), :25. (Drive: 11 plays, 75 yards, 5:53).

Third quarter

Iowa — Wadley 1 run (Recinos kick), 12:24. (Drive: 5 plays, 22 yards, 2:21).

Iowa — J. Butler 12 run (Recinos kick), 9:53. (Drive: 2 plays, 56 yards, :34).

Iowa — Wadley 29 run (Recinos kick), 8:32. (Drive: 2 plays, 40 yards, :36).

Iowa — Fant 68 pass from Stanley (Recinos kick), 1:20. (Drive: 2 plays, 68 yards, :19).

Fourth quarter

Iowa — T. Young 3 run (Recinos kick), 9:24. (Drive: 7 plays, 39 yards, 4:33).

Iowa — Kelly-Martin 5 run (Recinos kick), 6:34. (Drive: 3 plays, 65 yards, 1:27).

Att. — 90,046.

TEAM STATISTICS

Iowa Neb.

First downs 24 12

Rushes-yards 47-313 21-67

Passing yards 192 200

Comp-att-int 13-20-0 23-42-3

Return yards 118 43

Punts-avg. 2-27.0 5-34.0

Fumbles-lost 2-0 0-0

Penalties-yards 3-30 3-19

Time of possession 33:09 26:51

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing

IOWA — Wadley 19-159, Kelly-Martin 6-90, J.Butler 9-36, T.Young 8-21, Easley 1-6, Smith-Marsette 0-5, Stanley 2-4, Kulick 1-1, Rastetter 1-minus 9.

NEBRASKA — Wilbon 7-39, Bradley 9-19, Ozigbo 3-13, Lindsey 1-1, T.Lee 1-minus 5.

Passing

IOWA — Stanley 13-20-0, 192 yards.

NEBRASKA — Darlington 1-1-0, minus 5 yards, T.Lee 22-41-3, 205 yards.

Receiving

IOWA — Easley 4-17, Fant 3-116, Smith-Marsette 3-26, VandeBerg 2-25, Wadley 1-8.

NEBRASKA — Morgan 7-74, Hoppes 4-37, Wilbon 4-18, Pierson-El 3-39, Ke.Williams 1-19, Stoll 1-12, Bradley 1-7, Ozigbo 1-minus 1, McNitt 1-minus 5.

Tackles (solo-ast-total)

IOWA — Stone 2-6-8, Jewell 5-3-8, Hankins 2-3-5, Gervase 3-2-5, Bower 1-4-5, Jackson 2-2-4, Niemann 2-2-4, Welch 1-2-3, Bazata 2-1-3, Rugamba 2-0-2, Taylor 2-0-2, Hesse 1-1-2, Nelson 1-1-2, Milani 0-1-1, Dvorak 0-1-1, Dafney 0-1-1, Mends 0-1-1, Clayber 1-0-1, Golston 1-0-1, Brincks 0-1-1, Reiff 0-1-1, Epenesa 1-0-1, Nelson 0-1-1.

NEBRASKA — Young 3-5-8, Kalu 5-3-8, Weber 1-6-7, C. Davis 1-5-6, Akinmoladun 2-3-5, Miller 1-3-4, Stoltenberg 1-3-4, Stille 2-2-4, A. Williams 3-0-3, K. Williams 2-1-3, A. Davis 1-1-2, Newby 0-2-2, Barry 1-1-2, Jones 2-0-2, King 0-2-2, Dismuke 1-1-2, Bootle 0-2-2, Reed 0-2-2, K. Davis 1-1-2, Newell 0-2-2, Jackson 0-1-1, Butler 0-1-1, Lee 1-0-1, McNitt 1-0-1, Ober 0-1-1, Gates 1-0-1.

Tackles for loss

IOWA — Jewell 1-1, Bazata 1-5, Hesse 1-5, Epenesa 1-1.

NEBRASKA — Weber 0.5-1, Akinmoladun 0.5-4, Stoltenberg 1.5-4, Stille 2-2, A. Davis 1.5-6.

Sacks

IOWA — Hesse 1-5.

NEBRASKA — none.

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