Lincoln, Neb. - Nebraska's offense produced its best performance of the season and the Husker special teams made big plays again to power NU to a 51-38 win over Washington on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
With the victory, No. 11 Nebraska improved to 3-0 and produced 40 or more points for the third consecutive game to open the season. It marked the first time since 1995 that the Huskers have accomplished that feat to open a season.
Rex Burkhead scored on a pair of one-yard runs on back-to-back plays from scrimmage in a nine-second span in the third quarter and notched his fifth 100-yard rushing game of his career. The junior from Plano, Texas finished with 120 yards on a career-high 22 carries to lead an NU rushing attack that amassed a season-high 309 yards on the ground. The Huskers finished with 464 yards of total offense.
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez, who added 83 yards and NU's final touchdown on 17 carries, also threw for 155 yards in the game. Martinez, who completed 10-of-21 passes for the game, needed only 10 passing yards to help the Huskers roll up 31 second-half points on their way to victory.
Special teams was huge again for the Huskers, just like its been through the first two games of the season. Arguably the biggest play of the game came on Mathew May's recovery of a muffed Washington kickoff early in third quarter. UW's Bishop Sankey dropped the ball in the end zone, then kicked it out of the end zone where it was recovered by a diving May at the UW 1. One play later, Burkhead plunged over the top for his second one-yard run in a nine-second span to turn a tie ball game with two seconds left in the first half, into a 17-point Nebraska lead less than five minutes later.
The Huskers built the lead to 37-17 on a Brett Maher field goal with 7:20 left in the third quarter. Maher was perfect on three field goals and six extra points on the afternoon, while booting four punts for a 40.3-yard average.
Nebraska pushed the lead to 44-17 early in the third quarter by capping its longest drive of the season on freshman Aaron Green's six-yard touchdown run with 12:18 left in the game. Green, who finished with five carries for 36 yards, and added a 25-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, put an exclamation point on a nine-play, 86-yard drive that consumed 4:51.
Trailing by 27, the Huskies continued to fight. UW quarterback finished with 274 yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-37 passing. He also threw two interceptions, including Lavonte David's first career pick, and Austin Cassidy's interception on UW's final offensive play of the game.
Price hit James Johnson with a pair of fourth-quarter passes, including a 10-yarder to cut the Huskers' lead to 44-31 with 7:21 left. The duo also hooked up on a 52-yard strike following a five-play, 43-yard NU drive that was capped by Martinez's touchdown to put the Huskers back up 51-31 with 4:42 to play.
Johnson finished with six catches for 108 yards and two scores to lead the UW receivers, while Jermaine Kearse added five receptions and a pair of scores for the Huskies.
Washington finished with 420 yards of total offense, including 146 rushing yards. Chris Polk led the UW ground game with 22 carries for 130 yards and a score.
Freshman Kenny Bell led the Nebraska receivers with two catches for 59 yards, including a 50-yard catch on the opening play of the game. Bell's catch followed a 40-yard return by freshman Ameer Abdullah on the opening kickoff and set up Martinez's three-yard touchdown pass to fullback Tyler Legate to put NU up 7-0 just 34 seconds into the game.
Washington provided a quick response, racing 80 yards in just six plays capped by Kearse's 38-yard touchdown catch from Price to tie the score just over three minutes into the game.
Maher booted a 44-yard field goal to put the Huskers back on top 10-7 with 7:39 left in the quarter.
The two defenses gained control the rest of the quarter, before Washington took its first lead of the game on Price's six-yard scoring strike to Kearse with 13:40 left in the half to put UW up 14-10.
After an offsides penalty against the Huskies on the ensuring kickoff wiped out an apparent touchback, Abdullah raced 66 yards with a return to set Martinez and the Huskers up with a short field. At that point, Abdullah had already accounted for 141 all-purpose yards, including 129 kickoff return yards, but was injured at the end of the run and did not return.
Martinez and the Huskers capitalized four plays later, as he hit Green on a 25-yard touchdown pass to give Nebraska the lead back at 17-14 with 12:17 to play in the half.
Erik Folk tied the score at 17 with a 40-yard field goal three minutes later to cap an eight-play, 44-yard drive for the Huskies, before Maher's go-ahead, 35-yard field goal to end the half put the Huskers on top 20-17.
Nebraska hits the road for the first time next week, as the Huskers travel to Laramie to battle Wyoming on Saturday, Sept. 24. Kickoff against the Cowboys is set for 6:30 p.m. (central) with live television coverage provided by Versus-HD.
Final: #11 Nebraska 51, Washington 38
Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (NU, 10-7)
NU - 14:26 - Tyler Legate 3 pass from Taylor Martinez (Brett Maher kick) - 2 plays, 53 yards, 0:34, NU 7-0
UW - 11:54 - Jermaine Kearse 38 pass from Keith Price (Erik Folk kick) - 6 plays, 80, 2:32, 7-7
NU - 7:39 - Maher 44 FG, 7 plays, 42 yards, 1:47, NU 10-7
Second Quarter (NU, 20-17)
UW - 13:40 - Kearse 6 pass from Price (Folk kick) - 4 plays, 23 yards, 1:47, UW 14-10
NU - 12:17 - Aaron Green 25 pass from Martinez (Maher kick) - 4 plays, 34 yards, 1:13, NU 17-14
NU - 9:24 - Folk 40 FG - 8 plays, 44 yards, 2:45, 17-17
NU - 0:00 - Maher 35 FG - 10 plays, 42 yards, 1:49, 20-17
Third Quarter (NU, 37-17)
NU - 10:18 - Rex Burkhead 1 run (Maher kick) - 9 plays, 56 yards, 3:38, NU 27-17
NU - 10:09 - Burkhead 1 run (Maher kick) - 1 play, 1 yard, 0:04, NU 34-17
NU - 7:20 - Maher 29 FG - 6 plays, 31 yards, 1:24, NU 37-17
Fourth Quarter (NU, 51-38)
NU - 12:18 - Green 6 run (Maher kick) - 9 plays, 86 yards, 4:51, NU 44-17
UW - 10:15 - Chris Polk 2 run (Folk kick) - 5 plays, 32 yards, 1:50, NU 44-24
UW - 7:21 - James Johnson 10 pass from Price (Folk kick) - 3 plays, 53 yards, 0:56, NU 44-31
NU - 4:50 - Martinez 6 run (Maher kick) - 5 plays, 43 yards, 2:37, NU 51-31
UW - 4:27 - Johnson 52 pass from Price (Folk kick) - 1 play, 52 yards, 0:10, NU 51-38
Final: #11 Nebraska 51, Washington 38
Time of Game: 3:32
Game Start: 2:42 p.m. (central)