IOWA CITY -- One more Kinnick moment, that’s all the 14 seniors on the Iowa football team want to get out of today’s regular-season finale against Nebraska.
They want one more memorable kick, one significant stop or just enough offense to hold onto the Heroes Game Trophy and get the chance to celebrate a victory in the Kinnick Stadium locker room one final time.
“Those are things that you remember,’’ Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “It’s the experiences with your teammates, the great finishes, the big wins, just being together. Those are the things we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives.’’
The Hawkeyes would like to add to their memory banks today when the 17th-rated Cornhuskers visit Kinnick Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. game.
The road team has won the battle for the Heroes Game trophy the last four years and once pregame Senior Day activities are in the rearview mirror, Nebraska becomes the sole focus for Iowa players.
“It’s never an easy game against them, and it won’t be this year,’’ running back LeShun Daniels said. “They play tough, physical football, the same type of game we like, and we know we’ll earn whatever we get. We have to be at our best.’’
That hasn’t been an issue lately for either team.
Both the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers have picked themselves up off the turf following lopsided losses on the same night in early November.
At the same time Penn State was handling Iowa 41-14, Nebraska was enduring a humbling 62-3 loss at Ohio State.
The Hawkeyes rebounded to stun second-ranked Michigan and shutout Illinois the past two weeks to improve to 7-4. The Cornhuskers moved on as well, reaching 9-2 following seven-point win over Minnesota and a 28-7 win last week against Maryland.
Both have dominated with defense, Iowa limiting the Fighting Illini to 198 yards last week at the same hour Nebraska was finishing off an effort that held the Terrapins to 207 yards.
Iowa found its motivation to forge ahead in the rubble of the loss to the Nittany Lions.
The postgame suggestion by Penn State running back Saquon Barkley that the Hawkeyes seemed like they didn’t want to compete that night motivated Iowa players more than any coach’s tirade or could have.
“It hurts when you put so much time and effort into being a college athlete and someone questions your dedication to the game,’’ Iowa defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie said. “It hurts, right to the core. It’s driven us ever since.’’
That drive has led to results.
“The way we’ve been able to pull together and get back to playing Iowa defense the way it’s supposed to be played, that’s been big for us,’’ defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. “Turning things around from Penn State to Michigan, we won’t forget that.’’
The postgame scene following Keith Duncan’s last-second field goal to stun the second-ranked Wolverines 14-13 two weeks ago rivaled any of the previous memories collected by Hawkeye seniors.
It’s a group which was part of a team which filled an empty trophy case by winning four rivalry games as part of its 12-0 run through the regular season a year ago, sending Iowa on its way to the Rose Bowl for the first time in a quarter of a century.
They’ve also dealt with handful of stinging losses, part of experiences which have molded a senior class which has a combined 34-17 record since its first members arrived on campus in the fall of 2013.
“We’ve been through a lot,’’ cornerback Desmond King said. “What I’m going to miss the most is the locker room after every win, being there to celebrate with your brothers. Pittsburgh last year, Wisconsin last year, Michigan this year, getting to go to the Big Ten Championship game, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I just hope we can do it all again.’’