LINCOLN — Scenes from the $600,000 Saturday, in which Nebraska’s football team paid FCS doormat Idaho State a tidy sum to show up and submit to a 73-7 stomach punch:
>> NU’s offense scoring on consecutive one-play drives.
>> Ameer Abdullah catching a slow-hop grounder of an Idaho State punt and weaving through nearly every Bengal defender for an 81-yard touchdown.
>> ISU quarterback Kevin Yost smacking into the back of an offensive lineman for a self-sack. He was later replaced by that beleaguered punter, C.J. Reyes, who threw a touchdown pass.
>> The Memorial Stadium crowd engaging in a slow-motion wave in the second quarter, to the delight of the students, who emptied their section at halftime.
>> Rex Burkhead sprinting, scooting, dipping and darting around after missing two games because of a knee injury.
Wait. Let’s stop the sideshow recap for a quick storyline. Burkhead’s back in time for Big Ten play — and he’s inching closer to full health.
Against Idaho State, he said, he played at 90 percent. He wore a black knee brace usually reserved for offensive linemen. Still, he ran eight times for 119 yards. Caught a pass for 25 yards. Undercut a blitzing Bengal on a pass block. And busted a career-high 61-yard touchdown run on his third carry, hitting a big hole and accelerating — though not quite to his liking — through traffic.
“The brace is a little restricting,” Burkhead said. “I can’t wait to get it off. Hopefully that’s next week. You just got to deal with it. It’s there for a good cause.”
Coach Bo Pelini said he wanted to get Burkhead 10 to 15 touches.
“We did that and pulled the plug,” he said.
Why prolong it? Burkhead’s second rushing touchdown of the day gave NU (3-1 overall) a 42-0 lead. The Huskers led 45-0 at halftime. They played 90 guys. They outgained the Bengals 569-210, notched eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss, had six scoring plays of 25 yards or longer and kicked eight touchbacks.
While most of the Big Ten slogged through games against MAC and Conference USA opponents — and Iowa dropped a 32-31 stunner to Central Michigan — Nebraska tested its “maturity,” Pelini said, to prepare for a team that’s won five games since 2008.
“It’s really easy to have a letdown or look ahead, but first things first,” Pelini said. “You have to have respect for the game and how you play it. I thought our guys did that.”
Burkhead’s 61-yarder started it. He swept around left end, got a sideline block from wide receiver Kenny Bell and chugged to the end zone, brace and all. Burkhead — who had his 12th career 100-yard game — said the brace hurt his acceleration. He scored at the 11:41 mark of the first quarter.
At 8:41, Abdullah scored on an 8-yard touchdown run.
6:03: Quarterback Taylor Martinez threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa.
3:37: Bell took a West Virginia-style pitch pass from Martinez around left end for a 68-yard touchdown.
2:52: Nickel back Ciante Evans intercepted a Bengal pass and took it 29 yards for a score. That’s five touchdowns in fewer than nine minutes of game clock.
By the end of the first quarter, Nebraska had 261 total yards on 18 plays. Idaho State had run 21 plays — and gained 13 yards.
The day’s biggest adventure involved the Bengals’ punting unit.
Once, on fourth-and-14 from its own 36, ISU tried a fake punt that Nebraska snuffed out for a 1-yard loss. Otherwise, Reyes repeatedly attempted rollout, rugby-style kicks that were lucky to travel 15 yards in the air. Reyes kicked one of them into NU safety Justin Blatchford. Abdullah returned another for the touchdown. Others careened out of bounds.
“Gee, what do you think?” ISU coach Mike Kramer angrily said when asked how the rugby punts worked. “They ran one back 80 freaking yards for a touchdown. Every time we started punting, we started tiptoeing at the end. ”
Nebraska dialed down its playbook considerably in the second half — backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III threw just two passes in the final 30 minutes — but still racked up 207 yards on 31 plays. Most of offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s calls were runs out of jumbo sets, a precursor to some of the smash-mouth reality the Huskers will find in the Big Ten, which starts next weekend.
First up: Wisconsin, whose September résumé is in some ways similar to Nebraska’s. The Badgers are 3-1. They lost on the road to a Pac-12 foe, Oregon State, that Saturday beat UCLA, the team that nipped the Huskers in the Rose Bowl. UW ruined NU’s entrance in the Big Ten last year with a 48-17 pounding in Madison.
Does Nebraska have a score to settle?
“A little bit,” Burkhead said. “They’re a good team. It kind of put a bad taste in our mouth after last year, starting off that way in the Big Ten. Just looking forward to the challenge.”
Said Pelini: “We just need to keep concentrating on getting us better, keep working better, preparing the way we need to prepare and let the chips fall where they may.”
|Yards per carry||1.1||7.4|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Idaho State.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 1|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 15|
|Idaho State||Sept. 22|
|Ohio State||Oct. 6|
|Michigan State||Nov. 3|
|Penn State||Nov. 10|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 22. See them all »
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