LINCOLN — On a slab of concrete under the north stands at Memorial Stadium, surrounded by hundreds of Nebraska fans, Shawn Watson stood and craned his neck back toward the playing field.
This was no place for an emotional moment, but the Huskers’ fourth-year offensive coordinator — down from his perch in the press box — couldn't wait any longer. And at the end of the line of more than 100 players to enter the locker room after NU completed a 31-17 win over Missouri, here came Roy Helu.
Watson grabbed the senior I-back by the shoulder pads and hugged him for every last yard of the Nebraska-record 307 that Helu gained on a career-high 28 rushing attempts.
“He put the team on his back today,” Watson said. “He did a great job. I've never had a back — and I've been around some great backs — do what he did today.”
All Helu did was shatter the 19-year-old NU mark of 294 yards held by Calvin Jones, rushing for more yards in a game than Mike Rozier and Ahman Green and all the others. Helu raced 66 yards for a touchdown on the Huskers’ first snap, igniting a 24-point first quarter. He also scored on runs of 73 and 53 yards to offset the loss to injury of freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez at halftime.
Martinez took a hit on the right leg from Mizzou safety Kenji Jackson late in the second quarter and limped through the final five plays before halftime.
Zac Lee replaced Martinez in the second half, and the NU starter walked past reporters after the game in a boot. Coach Bo Pelini called it a bone bruise. He said X-rays were negative and that Martinez would be OK.
“He’s already told me he’s ready to go back to practice tomorrow,” Watson said.
In the absence Saturday of the usually electrifying Martinez, who rushed for just 16 yards, Helu’s accomplishments look more impressive. No player nationally has rushed for as many yards this season.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Pelini said. “He obviously played a heck of a football game. But it’s a team game. The guys up front blocked well. It was a team win for us.”
The victory, before 85,907, moved No. 14 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1 Big 12) even with sixth-ranked Mizzou (7-1, 3-1) atop the North Division standings and into possession of the inside track to the conference title game.
NU, after going nine years without a win over a top-15 team, has done it twice in eight days now.
Credit Helu, who had gained a total of 85 yards against Oklahoma State and Texas. He directed a 328-yard team rushing effort against the nation’s 23rd-ranked rushing defense, which had allowed just 114.6 yards per game before Saturday.
Helu got 142 on three carries in the first quarter as Nebraska took control.
It started with the 66-yard burst after the Huskers forced a three and out. Helu took a handoff from Martinez and ran behind the lead block of tight end Ben Cotton, who uprooted star defensive end Aldon Smith.
“My job is to eliminate him from coming down and getting Roy,” Cotton said.
Mission accomplished. After another three and out, NU got a 41-yard field goal from Alex Henery. Missouri stalled again before Martinez needed five plays to find tight end Kyler Reed for a 40-yard touchdown less than 5½ minutes into the game.
Next time out, Helu took the first play 73 yards down the sideline in front of the Missouri bench.
It was 24-0 before Mizzou got its third first down.
“It’s what I want to see all the time,” Pelini said. “I say you create your own energy. You create momentum. You create enthusiasm. You’re not doing anything magical. You’re just executing, doing what you've been coached to do.”
Helu deflected praise.
“I couldn't explain how much I feel for my linemen and fullback,” he said. “They deserve as much credit as I do, just down the line, even with our guys who rotate on the offensive line. I know how easily we could focus on the record and the individual, but it’s a team sport. I just really appreciate my teammates.”
Mizzou stemmed Nebraska momentum in the second quarter and scored on a fourth-and-1 Blaine Gabbert pitch to De’Vion Moore as NU expected a quarterback sneak.
With Martinez out, the Tigers gained more steam in the third quarter. They held Nebraska and converted four third downs to score on a 23-yard Gabbert throw to T.J. Moe.
But Helu answered immediately with a 53-yard TD burst through the middle. Teammates were in awe.
“He was a war daddy today,” receiver Niles Paul said. “He played his heart out, and I’m so proud of him.”
Nebraska stayed two touchdowns ahead by forcing a field goal late in the third quarter after Missouri failed on three tries inside the 1-yard line.
And when NU took possession with 8:40 left in the game, guess who got the call to ice the first Nebraska win over a top 10 team since 2001?
Helu carried on 10 of 11 plays for 53 yards as the Huskers drained the clock. He broke Jones’ record on a second-down carry for 15 yards and went over 300 two plays later on an 8-yard burst.
“To break a rushing record at this place is pretty special,” Lee said. “I just got out of his way.”
|Yards per carry||4.2||7.0|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Western Kentucky||Sept. 4|
|South Dakota State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 20|
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