Lincoln - Rex Burkhead put on an offensive display with three touchdowns and 157 all-purpose yards to power No. 13 Nebraska to a 24-3 pounding of No. 9 Michigan State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, Nebraska improved to 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten, while handing the Spartans (6-2, 3-1) their first conference loss of the year. The Huskers pulled even with MSU in the Legends Division standings, while also notching their second win over an Associated Press top-10 team in the past two seasons under Coach Bo Pelini.
Playing in front of 85,641 fans in the NCAA-record 316th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium and an ESPN national television audience, Burkhead dominated the game with 130 yards and two scores on a career-high 35 carries. He added a 27-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter that put the Huskers up 24-3.
At the time, Burkhead had produced 141 yards from scrimmage on 32 touches, while the Spartans had managed just 109 yards on 40 touches against a hard-hitting Husker defense.
Burkhead's 35 carries came up just two carries shy of Nebraska's single-game record of 37 carries by Cory Ross againsts Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl - a game Pelini served as NU's interim coach in a 17-3 Husker victory. It was Burkhead's fifth 100-yard rushing effort of the season and ninth of his career.
The junior I-back from Plano, Texas, accounted for more than half of Nebraska's 271 total yards on the day, finishing with 157 all-purpose yards and all three of NU's touchdowns. The Huskers finished with 190 rushing yards on 58 attempts, while Taylor Martinez completed 7-of-13 passes for 80 yards, including a third-quarter scoring strike to Burkhead to seal the win.
Leading 10-3 at the half, Burkhead and the Huskers put the game away in the third quarter with a dominant all-around effort. Nebraska's two third-quarter possessions covered 169 yards on 26 plays and 11:06 of the clock with both resulting in touchdowns. In the quarter, Burkhead carried 14 times for 64 yards, while adding his only catch for 27 yards to finish with 91 yards.
Burkhead and the Huskers jumped to a quick 10-0 first-quarter by taking advantage of a Michigan State mistake while playing strong defense.
After the Spartans picked up two first downs on the ground on the game's opening drive, Husker senior defensive back Lance Thorell stepped in front of MSU receiver B.J. Cunningham and picked off a Kirk Cousins pass at the NU 49 and returned it 26 yards to the Michigan State 25. It was the first career interception for the former walk-on from Loomis, Neb.
The Huskers capitalized seven plays later when Burkhead spun into the end zone from one yard out to give Nebraska a 7-0 lead with 9:01 left in the opening quarter.
The Blackshirts forced three-and-outs on Michigan State's next two possessions, before the offense pushed the Nebraska lead to 10 on Brett Maher's 20-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the quarter. Maher's 14th field goal of the season was set up by Tim Marlowe's career-long 39-yard run on an end-around on second-and-10 from MSU 40.
The Spartans finally put points on the board with 1:38 left in the half on Dan Conroy's 28-yard field goal. Conroy's kick followed Nebraska's lone turnover of the half, when a pass from Martinez was intercepted by Johnny Adams at the MSU 47 and returned 25 yards to the NU 28.
Although Michigan State scored on the drive, Husker defensive backs nearly picked off three Cousins' passes on the possession, starting with a near-miss by Andrew Green on a lateral. Austin Cassidy then had a pass go through his hands near the NU 10 with nothing but open field in front of him, before Daimion Stafford dropped a pass near his knees with plenty of open field in front of him on third down.
Nebraska concludes a two-time homestand by playing host to Northwestern next Saturday in Lincoln. Kickoff between the Huskers and Wildcats is set for 2:30 p.m. (central) with live national television coverage on the Big Ten Network.
Final: #13 Nebraska 24, #9 Michigan State 3
Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (NEB, 10-0)
NEB - 9:12 - Rex Burkhead 1 run (Brett Maher kick) - 7 plays, 25 yards, 2:49, NEB 7-0
NEB - 1:21 - Maher 20 FG - 6 plays, 38 yards, 2:31, NEB 10-0
Second Quarter (NEB, 10-3)
MSU - 1:38 - Dan Conroy 28 FG - 7 plays, 17 yards, 3:10, NEB 10-3
Third Quarter (NEB, 24-3)
NEB - 5:28 - Burkhead 1 run (Maher kick) - 14 plays, 80 yards, 5:28, NEB 17-3
NEB - 0:20 - Burkhead 27 pass from Taylor Martinez (Maher kick) - 12 plays, 89 yards, 5:44, NEB 24-3
Fourth Quarter (NEB, 24-3)
Final: #13 Nebraska 24, Michigan State 3
Time of Game: 3:14
Game Start: 11:02 a.m. (central)