By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Mekhi Sargent speaks softly but continues to make a loud statement for the Iowa football team.
The Key West, Fla. native set career highs with 173 yards on 26 carries to lead Iowa to a season-high 266 yards rushing and a 31-28 victory on a last-second field goal over Nebraska on Friday in Kinnick Stadium.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Sargent also tacked on a rushing and a receiving touchdown for his fourth multi-touchdown game of the season.
“It’s been a long journey and a lot of learning,” Sargent said. “I’m not done learning yet, all detail and effort. Coming out to practice ready, just you’ve got to keep pushing, moving forward. There’s a lot of learning to do and I’m not there yet but I’m working for it.”
Sargent’s efforts have propelled him into the team lead with 748 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this season.
Sargent’s breakout also has helped fill the void while fellow sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin has battled injuries all season.
“It's been fun and enjoyable to watch Mekhi continue to grow,” Head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You look at him, he doesn't look anything special, doesn't look that big, this or that, but the guy is a good player. I think he is deceptively good, deceptively strong when he runs the ball. On top of that, as good of a young guy we have on our football field.”
From hardly being recruited out of high school, to playing at Iowa Western Community College to back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances in Big Ten play, Sargent believes this is just the beginning for him.
“My confidence has grown tremendously,” Sargent said. “I think moving forward it’s going to keep growing by the way I practice and the way study the playbook and hang around the running back group and the offensive line group. My confidence is going to keep improving.”
Injury report: Kelly-Martin was in uniform but missed his second consecutive game due to injury.
Junior fullback Brady Ross was dressed but did not play. He has not played since Oct. 13 against Indiana.
Iowa also was thin at the tight end position with sophomore Shaun Beyer and junior Nate Wieting both missing Friday’s game.
Bowls reps in town: Win or lose, Iowa knew that it would be playing in a bowl game, the question now is which one.
“I have no idea,” Ferentz said. “I know it will be warmer than last year. Make a prediction, go out on a limb. We had a great experience last year. I'm not minimizing that at all. It was a great experience. We're looking forward to wherever they want to send us.”
Representatives from the Citrus Bowl, Outback Bowl and Holiday Bowl were in attendance on Friday.
The Citrus and Outback Bowls are both played on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla. and Tampa, Fla., respectively.
The Holiday Bowl is played on Dec. 31 in San Diego, Calif.
Iowa will find out its bowl destination on Sunday Dec. 2.
Morris comes back: Former linebacker James Morris was the honorary captain on Friday.
Morris played as a true freshman and was a four-year letterman from 2010-13. In 2013, he became the first linebacker to lead the team in sacks (8.0) since sacks became an official statistic in 1986. He ranks seventh in program history with 400 stops, while totaling 26 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, and six interceptions as a senior.
Morris signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s New England Patriots following his Hawkeye career. He was a member of the Patriots organization when New England defeated Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. Morris also spent time with the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
Sack attack: Iowa had three sacks today, raising its season total to 34, its highest single-season total since recording 34 sacks in 2003.
Junior defensive end Anthony Nelson had two sacks, raising his season total to 9.5. Sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa had one sack, also raising his season total to 9.5.
The 9.5 sacks are the highest single-season total by a Hawkeye since Mike Daniels has nine sacks in 2011.
Senior day: Iowa’s 14 players senior class played its final game in Kinnick Stadium on Friday.
The senior class has won the Hy-Vee Heroes Trophy the last four years and recorded 23 total conference wins during that span, tied for the third most by any senior class under Ferentz.
The 2005 senior class won 25 Big Ten games, the 2004 senior class won 24 and the 2016 class won 23.
“These guys have just really worked hard,” Ferentz said. “The trophy obviously symbolizes the fact that you won the game. Bigger picture, I can't say enough about what that these guys have done, what we ask them to do. They've delivered and then some since January.
“It's evolved. They've improved as we've gone along. They're a really good group of guys. It's been a lot of fun to work with them. Glad we got one more month with them.”
Give me that: Iowa has 16 interceptions over its last eight games.
Entering Friday, Iowa had forced 17 turnovers in the second half of games this season, most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.