Laramie, Wyo. - Junior I-back Rex Burkhead rushed for a career-high 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns to carry No. 9 Nebraska to a 38-14 victory at previously unbeaten Wyoming on Saturday night in Laramie.
Burkhead's career-best performance marked his second straight 100-yard rushing effort and sixth of his career and included scoring runs of 45 and 16 yards to power the Huskers to a 4-0 start to the 2011 season. Burkhead's impressive rushing total came on just 15 carries, as NU's most experienced back averaged 11.3 yards per tote on the night against the Cowboys. His previous career high was 129 yards at Iowa State in 2010.
"We got through the preseason undefeated and that's what we set out to do," Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said after the game. "Now it's time to step it up and get ready for Big Ten play."
As a team, the Huskers rolled up a season-high 333 rushing yards, marking their second straight 300-yard rushing effort and fourth straight game of 200-plus to open the season. Nebraska's ground game powered an offense that finished the night with 490 yards of total offense. In all, five Husker backs rushed for 30 or more yards on the night, including Austin Jones (38), Taylor Martinez (37), Ameer Abdullah (36) and Braylon Heard (33).
Nebraska added 157 yards through the air, as Martinez completed 12-of-21 passes with one touchdown pass. The sophomore quarterback added 37 rushing yards and another score on just nine carries.
Burkhead's big night started early, as he raced 45 yards for a touchdown on the first play of NU's second possession of the game to put the Huskers up 7-0 with 8:29 left in the first quarter.
The two teams went scoreless for more than a quarter before Martinez gave the Huskers a 14-0 edge with an eight-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive with 6:28 left in the half.
The Cowboys tried to keep it interesting, as true freshman quarterback Brett Smith hit Mazi Ogbonna on a quick slant that resulted in a 48-yard touchdown pass to cut Nebraska's lead in half to 14-7 with 3:37 left in the half.
The Huskers answered with a solid drive to close the half, giving Brett Maher a chance at a 48-yard field goal attempt as time expired in the half. Maher's kick appeared to squeeze inside the right upright, but the kick was ruled no good and the Huskers went to the locker room with a 14-7 lead.
Despite the first missed kick of his career, Maher continued to stand out on the NU special teams by averaging 53 yards on three punts, including a career-long 61-yard bomb in the first quarter.
Nebraska's defense also played well on the road for four quarters, despite more than 7,000-feet of altitude and a defensive line that was without All-America candidate Jared Crick at defensive tackle. Crick missed the game with an injury that snapped a streak of 31 straight starts for the senior from Cozad, Neb.
While the Blackshirts were without Crick for the first time in three seasons, they regained the services of defensive back Alfonzo Dennard, who made his first start of the year after missing the first three games with an injury.
The Husker defense held the Cowboys to 305 yards of total offense, including 168 passing and 137 rushing. Wyoming freshman quarterback Brett Smith completed 17-of-33 passes for 166 yards with one interception, but the youngster did throw a pair of touchdown passes.
The Huskers seized control of the game early in the third quarter. Nebraska started the second half with the kickoff after winning the toss and deferring to start the game.
Wyoming's kick was short and Tim Marlowe caught it on the run and returned it to the NU 44. Nebraska's great starting field position got even better with a personal foul tacked on the Wyoming coverage team gave NU the ball at the Wyoming 41. Things got worse for the Cowboys with an offsides penalty on the Huskers' first play from scrimmage that moved the ball to the 36.
Four plays later, Burkhead capped NU's short drive with a 16-yard scoring run to make it 21-7 just 1:21 into the second half.
After the Blackshirts picked up a stop, Maher made it 24-7 with a 20-yard field goal with 8:06 left in the quarter.
While the NU defense was shutting out the Cowboys in the third quarter, the offense marched 80 yards in 10 plays capped by Kenny Bell's first career touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter to give the Huskers a 31-7 lead. Martinez found Bell on an eight-yard scoring strike with 13:55 left to take their biggest lead of the night.
Wyoming continued to fight, answering with a 14-play, 80-yard march that consumed 5:42 and was capped by Smith's 10-yard touchdown pass to Robert Herron with 8:13 left.
Although Burkhead called it a night on the ensuing drive, Nebraska's freshman running backs continued to run the ball right at Wyoming. Abdullah, Green and Heard rotated at I-back on the drive until Heard found the end zone on a one-yard plunge. Heard's first career touchdown capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive to make it 38-14 with 3:57 to play.
P.J. Smith notched the first interception of his career on Wyoming's next drive, closing a strong effort that included a team-leading seven tackles.
After Smith's pick, Brion Carnes took the controls at quarterback for the Huskers and the Big Red running game kept rolling with Jones. The senior I-back carried four times for 38 yards on NU's final drive, including a career-long 22-yard run.
Jones pushed Nebraska past the 300-yard rushing mark for the second straight game and took the Huskers down to the Wyoming 3-yard line, before NU closed the contest with class by taking a knee.
Nebraska hits the road to play its first-ever Big Ten Conference football game next Saturday, when the Huskers take on Wisconsin in a battle of unbeaten top-10 teams. Kickoff with the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison is set for 7 p.m. with a primetime kickoff on ABC.
Final: #9 Nebraska 38, Wyoming 14
Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011
War Memorial Stadium (Laramie, Wyo.)
Second Quarter (NU, 14-7)
NU - 6:28 - Taylor Martinez 8 run (Maher kick) - 8 plays, 80 yards, 2:50, NU 14-0
WY - 3:37 - Mazi Ogbonna 48 pass from Brett Smith (Daniel Sullivan kick) - 7 plays, 80 yards, 2:51, NU 14-7
Third Quarter (NU, 24-7)
NU - 13:39 - Burkhead 16 run (Maher kick) - 4 plays, 44 yards, 1:21, NU 21-7
NU - 8:06 - Maher 20 FG - 5 plays, 50 yards, 2:12, NU 24-7
Fourth Quarter (NU, 38-14)
NU - 13:55 - Kenny Bell 8 pass from Martinez (Maher kick) - 10 plays, 80 yards, 3:51, NU 31-7
WY - 8:13 - Robert Herron 10 pass from Smith (Sullivan kick) - 14 plays, 80 yards, 5:42
NU - 3:57 - Braylon Heard 1 run (Maher kick) - 11 plays, 80 yards, 4:16
Final: #9 Nebraska 38, Wyoming 14
Time of Game: 3:07
Game Start: 6:38 p.m. (central)