Nebraska produced a touchdown in all three phases of the game and the Huskers never trailed while picking up their fifth straight victory with a 28-20 win over the Colorado Buffaloes on Friday at Folsom Field.
The win completed a perfect 4-0 conference road record in 2009 for the Huskers, who improved to 9-3 on the season. Nebraska has now won five straight league games on the road, while Colorado ended its season with a 3-9 record.
In building a 21-7 halftime lead, the Huskers scored on a 58-yard punt return by Niles Paul, a 24-yard touchdown pass from Zac Lee to Ben Cotton and a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown by Matt O’Hanlon. NU led 21-14 in the fourth quarter before coming up with big plays on both sides of the ball.
Colorado drove inside the red zone on three straight possessions in the second half but the Blackshirts held them off the scoreboard each time. Offensively, NU put the game out of the reach with a clutch 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive midway through the period that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by freshman Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead rushed 18 times for a career-high 100 yards, as the Huskers ran for 144 yards. Lee completed 9-of-14 passes for 73 yards as Nebraska totaled only 217 yards. But the offense only turned the ball over once, while the Blackshirts forced three Colorado turnovers to offset a season-high 403 yard of total offense gained by the Buffs.
Colorado won the opening coin toss and elected to receive, allowing the Husker defense and special teams to dominate the first quarter. CU failed to get a first down on any of its four first-quarter possessions, while the Buffaloes never moved the ball past their own 21.
The Buffaloes started their drive opening drive at their own 17 and went 3-and-out. NU got the ball at its own 47 and picked up one first down before Alex Henery pinned Colorado at its own 1 with a 44-yard punt.
Henery then came through again for NU later in the quarter, unleashing a 58-yarder that CU returned to its own 8-yard line. After another 3-and-out, the Huskers’ special teams found the scoreboard, as Paul fielded the Buffaloes’ third punt of the game, split a pair of defenders and raced 59 yards for a touchdown to put Nebraska in front 7-0.
After another Colorado 3-and-out, the Huskers started their third drive from their own 44 and marched 56 yards for a touchdown. Burkhead carried the ball three times for 20 yards on the drive and Lee completed each of his three passes for 38 yards, including the 24-yard TD toss to Cotton on the first play of the second quarter.
The Buffs, who totaled 22 yards on 12 plays in the first quarter, finally moved the chains on their first drive of the second quarter. But the Blackshirts responded with a turnover as Phillip Dillard hit Tyler Hansen as he released the ball and Dejon Gomes intercepted the pass at the NU 48.
Nebraska missed a field goal following the turnover before CU drove 67 yards for a touchdown that cut the Huskers’ lead in half. The Buffs had consecutive gains of 13, 19 and 22 yards to move the ball down to the 2 before Hansen found Jake Behrens for a two-yard touchdown pass.
The Huskers were unable to move the ball on their next possession, but Henery boomed a 62-yard punt that bounced out of bounds at the CU 13. That set the stage for the Blackshirts, who were ballhawks once again. On third down from the 16, O’Hanlon jumped a route over the middle of the field, picked off Hansen’s pass and ran in untouched for his 20-yard score.
The second half started much better for Colorado, as the Buffs were the beneficiary of good field position. After a Husker 3-and-out, CU took over at its own 41. A key third-down defensive holding penalty kept the drive alive and moved Colorado inside the 10. Two plays later, Hansen found Scotty McKnight for a six-yard touchdown pass.
On their next drive, the Buffs quickly moved out of their own territory, as on 3rd-and-10, Hansen found Markques Simas for a 58-yard gain down to the Husker 25. But the Blackshirts stiffened with Ndamukong Suh getting credit for a 17-yard sack on third down as Hansen was called for intentional grounding. Aric Goodman then missed a 52-yard field goal to give NU the ball back at its own 35.
But Nebraska fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter and on the next play, Rodney Stewart rushed for 28 yards down to the NU 21. The Buffs gained just two yards from there before Goodman came on and missed a 37-yard field goal.
After two straight Colorado drives inside the red zone ended with no points, Nebraska put the game away its 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took 6:52 off the clock. Burkhead carried the ball nine times for 53 yards on the drive. After an incomplete pass on the first play, the freshman from Plano, Texas, carried the ball on five straight plays and gained 35 yards. Lee then found Paul for a clutch 10-yard pass on a 3rd-and-5 play before Burkhead had four straight carries for 22 yards, capped by a seven-yard touchdown run with 5:43 remaining.
A pair of costly Husker penalties quickly moved Colorado out to midfield on its next drive. The Buffs then picked up 35 yards in two plays to move down to the NU 15. But after Colorado spent its final time out of the game, the Blackshirts stepped up and forced three incomplete passes before Prince Amukamara intercepted a fourth-down pass with 4:03 left to secure the win.
The scoring wasn’t done however, as Colorado became only the second team this season to score more than 17 points on the Blackshirts when Hansen’s hail mary pass was caught by McKnight for a 56-yard touchdown with no time on the clock.
Bolstered by the late pass, Hansen threw for 269 yards on 21-of-44 passing, but he was intercepted twice. McKnight and Simas each topped 100 yards receiving, while Rodney Stewart ran for 110 yards on 21 carries.
Nebraska now battles for the Big 12 title when the Huskers take on No. 3 Texas on Saturday, Dec. 5, in Arlington, Texas. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. with live national television coverage on ABC.