Lincoln – It may have been the day after Thanksgiving, but No. 19 Nebraska made it seem more like Halloween, turning trick plays into touchdown treats in a 37-14 victory over Colorado in front of a Memorial Stadium record crowd of 85,800 and an ABC national television audience on Friday afternoon.
The Huskers (9-3, 6-2 Big 12) relied on outstanding special teams play and deception throughout the day. Defensive end Barry Turner’s 29-yard touchdown catch from reserve quarterback Joe Ganz on a fake field goal gave NU a 14-7 lead at halftime after a first quarter blocked punt led to NU's first score of the afternoon.
A punt by Jordan Congdon downed at the CU 1 by Turner also led to a safety on the next play to help the Huskers take a 23-14 lead and the Huskers never looked back on their way to a third straight victory heading into next Saturday’s Big 12 Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
While the special teams shined, the Huskers received strong offensive performances from senior quarterback Zac Taylor and I-back Brandon Jackson in posting their second straight win over Colorado (2-10, 2-6 Big 12).
Taylor completed 18-of-29 passes for 249 yards and two scores, tying Tommie Frazier’s school record for career touchdown passes with 43, while breaking his single-season record for passing yards for the second straight year. Taylor, who has thrown for at least 200 yards in each of the past five games, has thrown for 2,789 yards in 2006, breaking his previous NU record of 2,653 in 2005.
Jackson was a workhorse for the Huskers, finishing with 190 all-purpose yards and a pair of scores. He totaled a career-high 34 carries for 142 yards and a score en route to his fourth 100-yard rushing day of the season. Jackson, who became only the second CU opponent to reach the century mark this season, also caught a career-high six passes for 48 yards, becoming the second Husker in school history to record 40 all-purpose attempts in a game.
The Huskers’ special teams gave Nebraska great field position for its first drive, which the Huskers capitalized on for their first touchdown, a 15-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Terrence Nunn. After holding CU on its first possession, Major Culbert partially blocked a Matt DiLallo punt, giving the Huskers the ball at the NU 42-yard line. The Huskers used the power running of Jackson and a key facemask penalty on CU’s Abraham Wright on third down to get to the CU 17-yard line. Three plays later, Taylor found Nunn on a crossing route across the middle, as he raced into end zone untouched to give the Huskers an early 7-0 lead.
Nunn finished the day with four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, while also moving into the No. 2 spot on Nebraska's career receptions list ahead of Matt Davison.
Colorado came right back on its next possession, going 75 yards on six plays, as Bernard Jackson found Riar Geer for a 14-yard touchdown for the tying score. Running back Hugh Charles set up the score, as he deftly spun and avoided a tackle in the backfield and raced 44 yards into Husker territory. Charles had 56 yards on the drive for CU, but had just five yards the rest of the afternoon.
The Buffaloes got a break on Nebraska’s next possession, as Lionel Harris stripped Kenny Wilson and then recovered the subsequent fumble at the CU 46 yard line. The Buffaloes drove to the Husker 37-yard line, but could not convert, as Mason Crosby missed a 55-yard field goal attempt.
The Huskers used some razzle dazzle for their second touchdown late in the second quarter, as Ganz found Turner for a 29-yard touchdown to break the tie. Nebraska drove into CU territory and was facing fourth-and-seven when it lined up in the swinging gate formation. Turner, who lined up as a receiver, streaked down the sideline before Ganz threw a strike over the coverage for the touchdown. It was the third time in as many home games the Huskers successfully executed a trick play for a touchdown. It was also Turner's first career touchdown catch, who had three touchdowns catches as a senior tight end in high school.
The Huskers squandered a golden opportunity on its first possession of the second half, as Thaddaeus Washington recovered a Nebraska fumble to thwart a scoring drive. On the second play of the half, Taylor found wide receiver Dan Erickson for a 57-yard completion to the Colorado 24. Two plays later, Harris stripped Jackson of the football, which Washington returned 10 yards. CU would take advantage of the Husker miscue, needing just four plays to go 71 yards, as Mell Holliday raced the final 45 yards for the tying touchdown just 3:09 into the second half.
The teams traded possessions until the combination of Taylor and Purify helped NU move 65 yards on eight plays for the go-ahead score. Purify, who did not have a catch in the first half, kept the drive alive with a pair of third-down conversions, a 31-yard reception on a fade pattern to put the Huskers into CU territory, before Taylor hooked up with Purify on a 10-yard pass to the CU 15. After a pass interference penalty gave NU a first down, Jackson set up the score with a 13-yard run before scoring from the CU 2 on the next play, as NU scored its first third-quarter touchdown in five games.
After holding Colorado on its next possession, Nebraska’s special teams once again played a big role in a Husker score, as Adam Carriker and Corey McKeon combined on a safety, stopping Holliday in the end zone to give NU a 23-14 lead. After the Buffaloes stopped a Husker drive, place-kicker Jordan Congdon lofted a punt to the CU 1-yard line where it was downed by a hustling Turner, leading to the safety on Colorado’s next play.
After the ensuing free kick, the Huskers used some more special teams chicanery on their next possession before Taylor found Brandon Jackson for an 18-yard touchdown to make it 30-14. Facing fourth-and-one at the CU 40, the Huskers ran a perfectly executed fake, as NU snapped the ball directly to up-back Tierre Green, who went seven yards for a first down, while Taylor was in motion to the sideline. Two plays later, Taylor kept the chains moving with an 18-yard pass to Frantz Hardy before hitting a wide-open Jackson on a wheel route in the end zone, capping the 10-play, 59-yard drive.
The Husker tacked on its final score on Wilson’s seven-yard scoring run with 23 seconds left.
Nebraska will play either Oklahoma or Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game next Saturday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. on ABC.