LARAMIE, Wyo. — Burned timeouts. Missed tackles. Blown coverages. Awry throws and dropped passes. Ill-timed penalties.
Different setting. Different opponent. Same frustrating first half for Nebraska’s football team. But halftime remains an oasis where the young Huskers sit, settle, listen — and learn. That’s how NU turned a 14-7 halftime lead into a 38-14 runaway road win Saturday night over penalty-and-pratfall-prone Wyoming.
“We’re making good adjustments,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.
And running back Rex Burkhead said: “We got into a rhythm, that confidence and comfortability to really get it going.”
Plus head coach Bo Pelini: “They develop a better understanding of how teams are attacking us.”
And Burkhead was the chief closer.
While he started fast — with a 45-yard touchdown run on Nebraska’s second drive — he finished even better, running for a career-high 170 yards on just 15 carries, busting off several long runs — including the 45-yard touchdown and a 28-yarder out of the Wildcat formation.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Pelini said. “Rex is a heck of a player. Ran his butt off again tonight.”
Before walking slowly out to team buses and seeing a glut of fans screaming his name — and after teammates jokingly called him the “White Stallion” in the locker room — the typically modest Burkhead deflected the credit to the offensive line that paved the way for 333 rushing yards
Wyoming’s defense never got a clear shot on Burkhead, though, thanks to his twisting, churning running style that leaves his body at all types of angles.
Nebraska outgained the Cowboys 285-135 in the second half and finished the game with three punishing power drives. Toss left. Toss right. Wildcat run up the middle. Power trap. Option into the belly of Wyoming’s defense. Two touchdowns and two merciful kneeldowns as the final seconds ticked down. Twenty-three of the last 25 plays were runs, including the last 15.
“That’s the way a game should end,” offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. He then quickly added: “I’d like for us to start better.”
As NU (4-0 overall) moves On (to) Wisconsin, a quicker start, yes, may be in order.
A gold-and-red crowd of 32,617 at War Memorial Stadium — the third-largest in school history — was treated to perfect weather — tailgates and cookouts galore in this small college town — and porous first-half play.
After Burkhead staked the Huskers to a 7-0 lead with his scoring run behind blocks of guard Seung Hoon Choi, fullback Tyler Legate and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, the Huskers struggled against the Cowboys (3-1), who were running a three-man defensive front, and trying out some new wrinkles on offense.
Nebraska countered with defensive moves of its own, shuffling defensive players in and out of the lineup with nearly every play to match Wyoming’s personnel and keep guys fresh. And in a bold, risky move typical of them, Bo and Carl Pelini converted 6-foot-2, 210-pound safety Corey Cooper into a cornerback this week.
“I have five days of experience at corner,” Cooper said flatly afterward.
The redshirt freshman excused himself for a couple of drives because he was struggling with the 7,220-foot elevation in Laramie. He then returned to get beat for a 48-yard touchdown pass, as receiver Mazi Ogbanna beat him on a slant route. That cut NU’s lead to 14-7 heading into halftime.
No matter. The Brothers Pelini stuck Cooper out there again — and stuck to their guns that Cooper played well in place of sophomore Andrew Green.
“One play doesn’t define a game,” Bo Pelini said of Wyoming’s first touchdown. “I don’t think anybody out there’s ever played a perfect game, do you? OK. I thought he did a good job for the first time out there. I was around Deion Sanders, and I saw Deion Sanders get beat.”
Cooper saw the same route later in the game. He played it, Carl Pelini said, “like a champ.” He adjusted.
So it was with much of Nebraska’s team. Taylor Martinez struggled to hit wide open receivers in the first half, but hit Kyler Reed for a 44-yarder early in the second half to set up a field goal. Later, Martinez threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell.
Not his best game, Beck said, but Martinez converted a couple of third downs with his feet — drawing a personal foul penalty to boot on one of them — that altered the course of the second half.
The one constant from the game’s opening cannon ball fire to the quiet end was Burkhead. No bobbles. No stumbles. Just a career day in, on this night, a one-horse town.
Bring on the Big Ten, the running back said.
“We’re anxious to get going,” he said.
Said Martinez: “Can’t wait to show what we have.”
|Yards per carry||4.4||6.8|
Nebraska is 8-0 all-time against Wyoming.
|Fresno State||Sept. 10|
|Ohio State||Oct. 8|
|Michigan State||Oct. 29|
|Penn State||Nov. 12|
|South Carolina||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 12 games on Sept. 24. See them all »
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