LINCOLN — The curious among Nebraska football players and coaches stayed past the end on Friday, after the Huskers stomped Colorado 45-17 without their top quarterback and best receiver to win the Big 12 North Division for the sixth time.
They stayed at Memorial Stadium for a special presentation.
What was it? Another video, displayed high atop the north end zone. But wait, this was different, and soon they saw why: The highlights told a story — one by one, NU squashed the dreams of its conference brothers.
At the end, there was just a photo. Cowboys Stadium, with the words, “One Final Time” in bold letters.
From those who remained among the crowd of 85,646, a cheer erupted. Many of the players nodded their heads.
Like that, the mission was clear. Through all the haze of the past week — a painful defeat at Texas A&M, the admonishing of coach Bo Pelini from the chancellor, strong words from Athletic Director Tom Osborne and a key injury to receiver Niles Paul — the Huskers stayed focused on their goal of the past 51 weeks: a return to the Big 12 championship game.
“Really, it was almost scary how focused people were as a whole unit,” quarterback Cody Green said. “It was kind of like everybody had an inner drive in them.”
Green, starting in place of injured freshman Taylor Martinez, played his finest game in two years at Nebraska. He completed 10 of 13 passes and accounted for three touchdowns. Sophomore I-back Rex Burkhead threw two more and rushed for 101 yards and a score.
The 16th-ranked Huskers (10-2, 6-2 Big 12) did not commit a turnover and played suffocating defense to go up 31-3 early in the third quarter. And NU denied bowl eligibility to the Buffaloes (5-7, 2-6) for the third time in eight years in the final scheduled game of this series before the Huskers leave for the Big Ten next year and CU departs for the Pac-10.
Nebraska will play next Saturday at Cowboys Stadium, likely against Saturday night’s Oklahoma State-Oklahoma winner, though if the Sooners win, Texas A&M technically is still in the discussion until the release of Sunday’s BCS rankings, the tie-breaker.
Regardless, the Huskers are in, ready to settle a score after losing 13-12 to Texas a year ago in Arlington, Texas.
“That’s still kind of in the back of our minds,” Burkhead said. “I’m not going to lie.”
Behind Burkhead, Nebraska rushed for 265 yards and completed 15 of 19 passes, handing CU its 17th straight road defeat and the first under interim coach Brian Cabral.
When NU went up by four scores on Burkhead’s improvisational 4-yard TD throw to Kyler Reed in the third quarter, Colorado QB Cody Hawkins had completed 1 of 11 passes with two interceptions.
“The key is we had to be able to stop the run early,” secondary coach Marvin Sanders said, “and I think we did a good job.”
Maybe it had something to do with a rousing speech delivered by defensive coordinator Carl Pelini on Thanksgiving night. Or maybe this was just Nebraska’s reaction to a tough week in Lincoln.
Green said the Huskers “put up a barrier around this place” after the loss at Texas A&M.
What made it work?
“Knowing what we want to do,” the sophomore quarterback said. “Knowing what’s at stake. Knowing where we want to be.”
If people don’t appreciate these Huskers, Bo Pelini said, fine.
“I appreciate them,” he said.
“A lot of people tried to tear this team apart, and we weren’t going to let it happen. Enough said on that.”
Later, he said more.
“They won 10 football games,” Pelini said. “That’s not easy to do. That’s nothing to sneeze at. I’m proud of these kids. They better enjoy it.”
Nebraska led 17-3 after Burkhead took a toss from Green and rolled right to hit Brandon Kinnie with a 26-yard strike 49 seconds before halftime.
DeJon Gomes intercepted Hawkins on the third play of the third quarter. Five plays later, Green hit Kinnie on a 16-yard fade in the end zone. On the second play of the next drive, Eric Hagg intercepted the Colorado quarterback on a pass tipped by defensive tackle Jared Crick. A 26-yard return set up Burkhead’s 4-yard throw to Reed, designed as a jump pass to tight end Ben Cotton.
Next week brings an even bigger game. Pelini wasn’t ready to answer questions on Friday about the QB situation or anything else. He’d rather catch a good basketball game, the coach said, than watch Oklahoma-OSU on Saturday night.
Soon enough, the next opponent will capture his full attention.
“We’re only halfway there,” Pelini said. “It was fun to win the Big 12 North today, but we've still got some unfinished business.”
|Yards per carry||4.3||4.5|
Nebraska is 49-18 all-time against Colorado.
|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|
Nebraska has played 14 games on Nov. 26. See them all »
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