SAN DIEGO — It had never rained at the Holiday Bowl. Until Wednesday.
And the folks here, in 32 years of postseason play, have never seen quite that kind of a defensive performance, either. The Blackshirts bucked trends all night, turning this annual shootout at Qualcomm Stadium into a total domination of Arizona.
Nebraska blasted the Wildcats 33-0 before a sellout crowd of 64,607, capping a season that served as validation for NU progress in coach Bo Pelini’s second year.
With their fourth-largest margin of victory in 46 bowl games, the 20th-ranked Huskers secured a 10th victory for the first time since 2003 and assured an offseason filled with optimism.
That smothering defense, as usual, was primarily responsible.
“It was nothing fancy,” Pelini said. “Our kids did what they needed to do.”
Nebraska limited Arizona’s pass-happy attack to 109 yards and six first downs, pitching its first postseason shutout, the first in 14 years of Big 12 bowl-game history and the first in Holiday Bowl history.
Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Matt O’Hanlon and Co. played perhaps their greatest games in their last as Huskers.
“I’m eager to come back and watch this team win a national championship,” said Suh, the senior defensive tackle who won nearly every award imaginable and heads off to the NFL as the potential No. 1 overall draft pick in April.
That’s for later.
On Wednesday, Nebraska (10-4) took the role of intimidator from the start, forcing Arizona quarterback Nick Foles to throw an opening-possession interception. O’Hanlon returned it 37 yards to the Wildcats’ 5.
For it and his five tackles, the senior from Bellevue East was named the defensive MVP in San Diego.
“It kind of set the tone for the rest of the game,” Pelini said.
Seventy-five seconds into the game, quarterback Zac Lee found the end zone from 4 yards out on a second-down roll to his right — the fastest touchdown ever scored in the Holiday Bowl and an ominous sign for Arizona.
“I can’t remember the last time we were dominated like this,” UA coach Mike Stoops said.
Lee played his best game in three months, completing 13 of 23 passes for 173 yards and rushing for 65 more. The junior quarterback revealed after the season finale that he’s played with a torn flexor tendon in his throwing arm for the past 12 games.
He said he suffered the injury Sept. 12 against Arkansas State and that he would undergo surgery next week, missing 10 to 12 weeks of throwing drills this winter.
He led an offense that gained 396 yards — 223 on the ground — and converted 9 of 18 third-down opportunities.
“We wanted to get back to trying to be us,” Lee said.
Rex Burkhead rushed for a game-high 89 yards, the majority from the “Wildcat” formation. The freshman I-back took direct snaps from center, starting with a 34-yard run on the first play of the second quarter.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, completed an 8-5 season in which their other four losses came by a total of 24 points.
Nebraska got a Holiday Bowl-record four field goals from Alex Henery, including a 50-yarder midway through the second quarter to make it 20-0.
By then, it was essentially over. NU allowed more than 20 points in just one game this year, and it wasn’t about to happen on this damp night near the beach.
NU led 23-0 at halftime. Arizona gained just one first down in the first 30 minutes and did not produce a play longer than 7 yards.
“I really can’t explain what happened,” said Foles, the sophomore QB who was benched in favor of Matt Scott in the second half.
Arizona drove 72 yards to the 8-yard line in the final six minutes, accounting for two-thirds of its offensive output. But Nebraska safety P.J. Smith deflected Scott’s fourth-down pass with 1:41 left to preserve the shutout.
NU completed its scoring on Lee’s pump fake and 74-yard strike to Niles Paul with 3:39 to play in the third quarter. It was the longest play from scrimmage this year for the Huskers.
Paul, the offensive MVP with 123 receiving yards, spiked the football in the end zone and flexed, drawing a 15-yard penalty and a chewing on the sideline.
There wasn’t much more reason to complain about anything.
|Yards per carry||3.2||4.6|
Nebraska is 1-1 all-time against Arizona.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
Nebraska has played 6 games on Dec. 30. See them all »
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