Nebraska used a stifling defensive effort and school-record performance from I-back Rex Burkhead, as Nebraska picked up its ninth win of the season with 20-7 victory Friday afternoon in the inaugural Heroes Game.
In front of a sellout crowd of 85,595, the 318th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium, and an ABC National audience, Burkhead carried a career-high 38 times for 160 yards and a touchdown to increase his season rushing total to 1,268 yards. His 38 totes broke the school record of 37 by Cory Ross in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, as Burkhead went over 100 yards for the seventh time this season and 11th time in his career.
While Burkhead punished the Hawkeye defense on the ground, the Blackshirts forced two turnovers and held the Hawkeyes to just 270 total yards, including 88 yards on the ground, to hold Iowa to 100 yards below its 2011 season average of 370.4.
Senior Lavonte David led the Blackshirts with eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in his final game at Memorial Stadium. One of 21 seniors in their final home game, the Butkus Award semifinalist now has 122 tackles on the season and 274 during his two-year career at Nebraska.
With the win, Nebraska finishes the regular season with a 9-3 record, its fourth consecutive nine-win season under Bo Pelini and 38th time in the last 42 seasons that a Husker football team has won at least nine games.
After a strong defensive first quarter, the Huskers stuck first, driving 52 yards in 10 plays before Brett Maher’s 40-yard field goal gave the Huskers a 3-0 lead. Wide receiver Kenny Bell played a major role in the drive, catching two passes for 23 yards, while also drawing a defensive holding penalty to help give the drive some early momentum. With the Huskers facing 3rd-and-6 at its own 30, Bell was held by Iowa’s Tyler Nielsen to give NU a first down at the Husker 40-yard line. Two plays later, Martinez found Bell for a 19-yard completion to get the ball into Iowa territory for the first time in the game. After an Ameer Abdullah 10-yard run, the Huskers were unable to keep the drive going and settled for Maher’s 18th field goal of the season.
Iowa looked like it was going to answer as the Hawkeyes moved into Husker territory after James Vandenberg found Keenan Davis for 16-yard gain to the Husker 35-yard line. But, after an incomplete pass, Husker nickel back Ciante Evans read a wide receiver screen play and tackled Marvin McNutt for a 3-yard loss on second down before solid Husker pass coverage forced Vandenberg to scramble to avoid a sack, as Iowa was forced to punt.
Nebraska then went to the ground attack for a sustained drive, going 80-yards in 15 plays, finished off by a six-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez to Kyler Reed. The catch was Reed’s first touchdown of the season after hauling in eight scoring strikes a year ago. After an Iowa pass interference call, the Huskers pounded away at the Iowa defense, running on 13 of the next 14 plays, as Burkhead carried nine times for 35 yards on the drive. Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Iowa 29, Burkhead kept the drive alive with a two-yard run to move the chains. Facing a 3rd-and-3 at the Iowa six-yard line, Martinez ran a beautiful play fake to Burkhead and found Reed uncovered in the end zone for the score to make it 10-0 with 32 seconds left in the half.
Nebraska controlled the ball in the first half, holding the ball for 17:59 and outgaining Iowa, 196-98 in the opening half.
The Huskers went on another long sustained drive midway through the third quarter before Maher’s second field goal of the game made it 13-0. Nebraska went 82 yards in 12 plays, relying on a punishing ground game along with the big play ability to Bell. The redshirt freshman made a spectacular diving catch on a 20-yard catch to midfield before Martinez found Bell again on a 28-yard catch and run before a horse collar tackle spotted the ball at the Iowa 11-yard line. Nebraska got the ball to the Iowa three-yard line, before settling for Maher’s second field goal of the afternoon.
Bell finished the day by tying his career high in catches with five and a career-high 93 yards through the air. Bell’s 93 yards were the most by a Husker this season, topping Jamal Turner’s 84-yard game against Wisconsin.
On Iowa’s next possession, the Blackshirts came up big, as David stripped C.J. Fiedorwicz and recovered the fumble at the Nebraska 48-yard line, but the Huskers were unable to capitalize on the Hawkeye miscue, keeping Iowa in the game.
Nebraska extended the lead to 20-0 on its next offensive series, going 80 yards in 10 plays as Burkhead went the final two yards for his 15th rushing touchdown of the season. After six straight carries by Burkhead got the ball close to midfield, Martinez found Bell for a 22-yard catch to get the ball into Hawkeye territory. After Burkhead gashed the Hawkeyes for 12 yards, Martinez hooked up with Quincy Enunwa for a 19-yard strike to the Iowa two-yard line before Burkhead cashed in on the next play.
The Hawkeyes were able to escape a shutout late in the fourth quarter with an 80-yard scoring drive over 10 plays. Vandenberg got Iowa into the no-huddle offense and found the endzone in 1:53. After the Huskers were called for pass interference and defensive holding in the endzone over a span of three plays, Marcus Coker got the Hawkeyes on the board with a two-yard run.
Nebraska will now wait until Sunday, Dec. 5, to find out what bowl they will be selected for.