IOWA CITY — Nebraska lost two important players Friday — and probably won't get them back for the Big Ten championship game.
Coach Bo Pelini said both center Justin Jackson (left ankle) and defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler (right knee) are likely out for the Dec. 1 game with Wisconsin. Pelini did not comment specifically on the injuries.
Jackson was hurt on the eighth play of the game and replaced by walk-on Mark Pelini. Both Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck said they went with Mark Pelini instead of Cole Pensick because they wanted to rotate Pensick in at left guard, and Beck said Pelini was “an unsung hero” in the Huskers' effort.
Steinkuhler left the game with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter. The senior is one of the Huskers' most experienced players, having started 38 career games.
The absence of Steinkuhler will mean more snaps for tackles Chase Rome and Thad Randle, as well as more time at tackle for defensive end Cameron Meredith.
Wind 'not ideal'
Brett Maher wasn't fond of the blustery conditions at the Nov. 17 home game against Minnesota, so it was easy to figure that NU's kicker and punter would have preferred calmer conditions on Friday.
“It was tough out there today,” Maher said. “Talk about not ideal conditions. It was swirling both ways.”
With gusts of more than 30 mph and the temperature barely north of freezing, the wind was tough on both punters and passers. But those factors didn't limit Maher's effectiveness.
Maher's right leg accounted for seven of Nebraska's 13 points — two field goals and the extra point after Rex Burkhead's 3-yard TD run in the third quarter.
“We knew going in it was going to be a special teams game,” Maher said. “They've played a lot of close games, so we knew we had to win that phase of the game.”
One of Maher's field goals — the 26-yarder in the first quarter — was into the wind. His 52-yarder in the third came with the wind at his back. He had to make a couple of punts into the wind, and that's when he switched to the rugby punts.
“I like those into the wind,” Maher said. “That takes their return game out of it.”
Win special for Cotton
Now that Nebraska had beaten Iowa, tight end Ben Cotton could admit the trip — and win — was special. Cotton had played football at Ames High School while his dad, Barney Cotton, coached at Iowa State. Now he and his dad had beaten the Hawkeyes on Iowa's turf.
“Not getting to play in the game last year (because of injury), it kind of hurt a little bit,” Cotton said. “It was a lot of fun to get out and go play against a lot of those guys and their coaches. I have a lot of respect for them and the way they play football.”
Why? Because of Iowa's physicality, Cotton said.
“We both want to pound the football and beat each other up. It was a dogfight out there,” Cotton said. “They came after us, gave us everything they had. We had to give them our best effort to win the game.”
Cotton had a key catch on Nebraska's touchdown drive. The Huskers had the wind on Taylor Martinez's 19-yard throw to Cotton, but the ball was still dancing around when it reached Cotton's hands.
“My last catch — that one was moving a little bit,” Cotton said. “But Taylor did a great job of putting that one where it needed away from the defense.”
Coach 'a little numb'
Friday's game was a homecoming for Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski.
Before joining the Husker staff less than a year ago, Kaczenski was first a graduate assistant, then the defensive line coach for the Hawkeyes for seven seasons.
“It was just nice to get a win,” Kaczenski said. “They came out and hit us in the mouth and had us playing on our heels a little bit. But the kids were resilient, didn't panic and came back and played hard.”
Then after he thought about it for a few minutes, the significance of returning to Iowa — a place where he said he received “an incredible opportunity” — began to sink in.
“It was bittersweet,” Kaczenski said. “We have a lot of friends here. I'm a little numb right now.”
Husker responses to inquiries about the rematch with Wisconsin displayed the single-minded approach the Huskers had to making sure they took care of Iowa before looking ahead to the Dec. 1 Big Ten championship game.
Without coaching on how to respond to the thought of a rematch with the Badgers, their answers were remarkably similar.
Offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles: “It's hard to beat a team twice in the same season, but at the same time we have some good film on them. It's going to be another hard-fought game.”
Receiver Jamal Turner: “It should be a fun game. It's hard to beat a team two times; we'll just have to see how it goes.”
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis: “The pro is there's some familiarity with playing someone again, but the con is they're familiar with you.”
Kicker-punter Brett Maher: “I'm excited. I really don't care who we're going to face in Indianapolis. It will be interesting to play them twice, and it will definitely be a challenge.”
Tickets on sale
Tickets for the Big Ten title game are on sale at Huskers.com through the weekend.
The game is at 7:17 p.m. Dec. 1 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Tickets are $80 each, and NU's allotment is 15,000. Fans are encouraged to buy tickets from that allotment in order to sit in the Nebraska section. All tickets are Print-at-Home tickets.
On Monday, tickets can also be purchased by calling 1-800-8-BIG RED from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
— Sam McKewon, Rich Kaipust and Steve Beideck