Big 12: Zac Lee

Garrett GilbertAP Photo/Nati HarnikGarret Gilbert's experience may have given him the slight edge among the Texas quarterbacks.
A selection at quarterback often means a selection of style as well.

At Nebraska in 2010, Taylor Martinez's speed chained the more experienced Cody Green and Zac Lee to the Huskers bench. As a result, the Huskers offense looked markedly different, centered around emphasizing Martinez's speed in the zone read game while minimizing his pass attempts as necessary.

Kansas State's Collin Klein didn't win the quarterback job, but coach Bill Snyder gave the sophomore time on the field behind Carson Coffman thanks to his shifty, speedy feet.

Back in 2008, Robert Griffin's athleticism made it near impossible for Art Briles to stick with Miami transfer Kirby Freeman for more than three quarters of the season opener, giving way to a new era built on the legs of the league's best dual-threat quarterback.

At Texas? No such luck.

Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin took ownership on Monday of Garrett Gilbert's selection, but it was not an easy decision in Austin this offseason.

"They’re all similar," coach Mack Brown told reporters on Monday.

Gilbert, Case McCoy, David Ash and Connor Wood are all over 6-foot-2 and only McCoy, at 200 pounds didn't fall between 219 and 222 pounds.

"They’re big, they’re strong, they’re smart. They’re very accurate passers," Brown said, "and that’s been one of the difficulties of separating them."

Gilbert's experience, however harrowing it may have been, is the only way to differentiate the four, save Ash's slight edge in mobility.

"There was a certain equality for them starting over in a new offense that’s very complicated," Brown said.

But it's likely that the complex offense would have looked almost identical regardless of who won the job. Which as Brown reiterated, complicates matters.

"This whole battle at quarterback has been very difficult because everybody has gotten better, and that's really what you want, and that's what we said from this position is we don't want to have a huge separation," Harsin told reporters on Monday. "We want it to be a difficult decision, and it was. And Garrett did a nice job from spring through summer into fall camp, and he's earned it."

A competition taking place between two wildly contrasting quarterbacks might have added to the intrigue, but though it complicated the selection process, it simplified the quarterbacks' criteria.

"Bryan Harsin has done a tremendous job of making sure that each have had their opportunities with the different levels of competition," Brown said. "Every pass that's been thrown in preseason has been charted. Every meeting has been charted about who missed a question and who got them right. Leadership has been a huge part of this. We've had competition in 3rd down and 4th downs on the practice field, and who did the best in those areas is a huge part of this."

There was no need to skew the scale. Identical quarterbacks means identical grading.

"He's just older. He's done it before, and that probably helped him as much as anything," Brown said of Gilbert, who started all 12 games last season, versus his competition, which has thrown a combined one career pass. It was incomplete, by the way. And thrown by McCoy in last season's opener against Rice, well before the season was lost.

The one thing about the quarterbacks that can't be identical? The results from last year, when Gilbert threw 17 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, more picks than all but one quarterback in the nation, Dwight Dasher at Middle Tennessee State. It has to be different if life in Austin is going to get any different this time around with a new coaching staff, a new offense, but the same quarterback.

"We talked very little about last year. It's something that's still in the back of your mind. ... You've got a bad taste in your mouth. I think each one of us do. But for me, I would say I can use it as motivation," Gilbert told reporters on Monday. "We don't talk about it. We don't think about it much. It's a new year. It's a new season, and so we're very excited about the prospect of moving forward."

Mailbag: Aggies/SEC, underrating, new QBs

July, 22, 2011
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Thanks for all the emails, everyone. Short day today. Have a good weekend, and we'll see you live Monday morning from Big 12 Media Days. Get excited.

Justin in Forney, Texas, asked: DU, Why are we seeing A&M back in the news with the SEC? While I understand their frustration with the Longhorn Network, I do not see their recruiting increasing by moving to the SEC. Is this going to be a recurring issue each summer?

David Ubben: Yeah, my stance has basically remained the same since A&M's flirtations with the SEC started up more than a year ago. Texas A&M's decision-makers understand the risk in moving to the SEC, as well as the historical repercussions, saying goodbye to long-standing traditions with so many of the other schools in Texas.

Fans see opportunity for the program to grow in the SEC, and it's not impossible, but I feel it's much, much more likely that Texas A&M doesn't win in the SEC at the level it's won in the Big 12, which is already to say, not a ton. I see them on par with what Arkansas is now. Once in awhile, you may see them in the championship game, but if they're going to win a conference title, it's going to be once every 10-20 years. Programs like Alabama, LSU, Florida and rising powers like Auburn, not to mention sleeping powers like Georgia and Tennessee, won't make good new roommates if the Aggies want to win.

The recruiting advantages are overstated. The majority of players growing up in Texas dream of becoming Longhorns and beating the SEC, not going and playing in the SEC. Sure, when they get older, some of them realize schools like OU and Texas A&M are a better fit, but I absolutely, 100 percent disagree that "playing in the SEC" is a big draw for kids in Texas, and something that would help the Aggies recruiting substantially. It might be for a few guys, but it's not a game-changer, and the more difficult schedule would negate, if not overtake those advantages.

So, no. I don't think we'll see this every summer. Once this issue with the Longhorn Network is settled, I think the Big 12 will be back on solid footing. It will be glued together by the billion-dollar deal from Fox that it signed earlier this offseason, and looking forward to making even more money in 2014-15 when it negotiates a new deal for first-tier rights.


Eric in Manhattan, Kan., asked: Why does David Garrett always seem to get the shaft? He is all of 5'8" and under 180 lbs, but he hits like a 230 lb linebacker. I've seen him on multiple occasion level running backs and not be scared to take on a fullback. Then on player and awards lists he's never mentioned, even though last year he had the most tackles for the Cats.

DU: Well, I think the biggest factor was a) Kansas State didn't win enough games to get a lot of attention last season and b) their team wasn't very fun to watch.

Big 12 fans, for better or worse, have come to love the spread game and like watching teams ring up points. Kansas State scored plenty last season (third-most in the Big 12, in fact), but it wasn't a very fun team to watch. More than anything else, I point to those two factors more than any one thing about Garrett himself. It's an exposure issue.

Anyone who saw him play appreciated him, but for as much of a great football player as he is, his coverage does leave a bit to be desired, and for a cornerback, that's a big deal. You'd probably hear guys like Prince Amukamara, Alfonzo Dennard, and Jamell Fleming be appreciated a lot more, because they specialize more in coverage. If Garrett does move around and play some more safety or nickel back, he'd probably get some more notice.

It's unfair, but that's just how it is. You can't really change what people want to see or notice.


Denny Hinds in Waterloo, Iowa, asked: Tiller or Jantz in your opinion? I like jantz.

DU: I can't help but look back and think of Taylor Martinez when I think of Steele Jantz. Did Martinez have his shortcomings as a quarterback? Obviously, yes. But he wasn't significantly worse than Cody Green or Zac Lee as a passer, and his ability to run provided an absolute advantage and a new facet to the offense that no one else on the roster can provide.

For that reason, I think you'll see Jantz win the job. Tiller was very unimpressive when he got chances last season, and it's hard to believe Jantz is a worse passer. But his speed changes what Iowa State can do on offense, and it's worth putting him out there versus Tiller, unless Tiller is a substantially better passer.

For now, I don't believe he is. So, Jantz it is.


Andy in St. Louis asked: Last season, Missouri had a good rushing attack. It was strength and very effective at times, but it was still only solid. Do you think that with all returning running backs, 4 returning o-lineman, and a more run-oriented QB Mizzou's run game can make the jump to elite?

DU: It's got a pretty good chance to do it. Their running backs are great, especially when you add up their production. Any coach would love to have a 1,557-yard rusher with 19 touchdowns. And all four guys averaged more than 5.2 yards per carry! That's crazy. Missouri will benefit from not having to face a team like Nebraska, a speedy defense with instinctive defensive backs and linebackers capable of shutting down the Tigers slow-developing running game that usually starts 5-7 yards in the backfield.

Nebraska really abused Missouri's offense, but the Tigers had a lot of success against just about everyone else. I'd argue Missouri was pretty close to elite in 2010. Even though the style of its running game doesn't exactly strike fear into defenses, you can't argue with the effectiveness with the running backs. Blaine Gabbert actually had 13 more carries than any running back, but only gained 232 yards on his 112 carries, dragging down the team's average into the middle of the Big 12.


Seth Doege in Lubbock, Texas, asked: Should I attempt to do the "Teach Me How To Doege" dance after I score my first TD this year?

DU: YES.


John in Broken Arrow, Okla., asked: Ubbs, if Blackmon and Weeden have another year like last year where would you rank them as far as QB-WR tandems in Big XII history?

DU: Interesting question. If Justin Blackmon repeats and wins the Biletnikoff with equal or better numbers than he had in 2010, I think you'd have to put them at least on the level -- probably higher -- than Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree.

They won't have the longevity of the success Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley ever had, but Shipley never had a season like Blackmon had last season. Blackmon put together one of the all-time great seasons in college football history. It's been repeated ad nauseum, but I'm not sure people fully appreciate how difficult it is to account for 100 yards and a touchdown in every single game. No one had ever done that before. We might never see it again.

If nothing else, that might put Blackmon over the top.
Last month, Nebraska quarterback Cody Green announced his plans to transfer.

[+] EnlargeCody Green
Brett Davis/US PresswireCody Green is leaving Nebraska and a few Big 12 schools are on his list of possible landing spots.
Now, in an interview with HuskerOnline.com, Green says he could end up staying in the Big 12. Texas A&M, Baylor and Kansas State joined Tulsa and Houston as schools Green is considering.

"Mostly the guys who already I had a previous relationship with through high school. They were all right there the minute I declared I was going to leave," he said. "I made a visit to Kansas State this week and it went well. Coach [Bill] Snyder and those guys are a class act. When you have a legend like coach Snyder, everything feeds off of him. He's like coach [Tom] Osborne in that way."

Green signed with Nebraska in 2009 as the nation's No. 32 athlete. Rivals.com ranked him as the nation's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback. Since coming to Lincoln, he's started four games and appeared in 18 in two seasons on the field.

In 2009, he spent most of his time backing up Zac Lee, and in 2010, freshman Taylor Martinez.

The Dayton, Texas native has completed 66-of-122 passes for 657 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Green told the site he had been considering transferring for a year, and planned to switch to wide receiver or tight end until injuries to Martinez and Lee forced him back into a starting role in a win against Iowa State. He also admitted that he played most of the game after suffering a concussion.

"I don't think I got as many quality chances as I could have had. It was just one of those things where I'd go in and make a mistake and get pulled. It was frustrating," he told the site.

Early last season, with Martinez becoming a star and the Huskers getting commitments from 2011 signees Bubba Starling and Jamal Turner, I heard from a few unhappy Nebraska fans when I suggested Green's future as a Husker might be abbreviated. Now, that's the case.

As for his future home, I could see him staying in the Big 12. If he sits out next season per NCAA rules, he'll have two years of eligibility remaining.

Texas A&M is a bit of a stretch. Johnny Manziel and Jameill Showers are the likely favorites to replace Ryan Tannehill next year, and even with Green's experience, I doubt his ability to unseat either of them.

As for Baylor and Kansas State, those could both be attractive options. He'd have to beat out some competition at Kansas State, but the Wildcats haven't had a quarterback with his experience or credentials on its roster. Unless Collin Klein, Sammuel Lamur or Justin Tuggle gets a firm grasp of the job this season, the job could be open again next spring.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III, a junior in 2011, has indicated to me on a couple of occasions that he plans to stay in Waco for all four seasons. Behind him, the Bears are thin at quarterback beyond Nick Florence, who started nine games for Baylor in 2009 with mixed results during a 4-8 campaign. Florence, however, is a junior like Griffin and will be gone after the 2012 season. Green could add a lot there if he's willing to wait out both. Like Griffin, Green is a mobile quarterback who Art Briles could build his offense around, though Griffin is clearly a much more talented passer.

Green's future is definitely something to keep an eye on, so even though the Huskers are heading to the Big Ten, we could see a former Nebraska quarterback back in the league very soon.

Lunch links: Going back in time

December, 27, 2010
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Do you have one really funky sequined space suit, Bowie? Or do you have several ch-ch-changes?

Lunch links: Top coordinator talks future

December, 16, 2010
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Don't skimp on linens. Don't compliment a teacher on her figure. And when it comes to my mom, never ask questions I don't want the answers to.

Burkhead gives Huskers QB play a boost

December, 2, 2010
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Nebraska's game Saturday will begin the same way its season did: with everyone in attendance waiting to see who trots out to quarterback the offense on the opening series.

Taylor Martinez broke a 46-yard run in that game on his first career carry, and ran his way into the midseason Heisman conversation before being slowed by injuries and better defenses. A gimpy right ankle and nagging turf toe on his left foot kept him out of last week's North-clinching win over Colorado, and could slow him on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Rex Burkhead
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesRex Burkhead rushed for 101 yards last week against Colorado, but also threw two touchdown passes.
Martinez was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, but left the field with his left foot in a protective boot.

Zac Lee and, most recently, Cody Green, have filled in for Martinez. Green has yet to top 100 yards passing in a game this year, but made his best start of the season with plenty on the line against the Buffaloes, completing 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Martinez torched Oklahoma State for 323 yards in a 51-41 win earlier this year, but since then he Martinez topped out at 167 yards passing against Kansas -- one of just two teams in the Big 12 giving up over six yards per play on defense.

In short, as conference play has progressed, the Huskers quarterbacks have been uninspiring through the air. Nebraska's offensive line and the Huskers third "quarterback" might make that deficiency irrelevant.

"He has an impact on the game in a lot of different ways," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini of running back/part-time quarterback Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead saw plenty of snaps out of Nebraska's Wildcat package against Colorado, and finished with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown. Defenses are forced to respect the high school quarterback's arm, too.

Burkhead threw his first two passes of the season against the Buffaloes. Both went for touchdowns, including a 26-yard rainbow down the right sideline to Brandon Kinnie.

"Nothing he does surprises me," Pelini said. "He does so many things to make a football team better."

Most of the time, that's playing a role as a traditional running back alongside Roy Helu Jr.

"Everyone focuses on the Wildcat, but he runs the ball hard, he's efficient, he can run inside or outside," Pelini said. "He's just a tremendous football player who's continuing to develop and get better."

Running the ball got Nebraska into the Big 12 title game; with 178 yards, Burkhead could become the Huskers third 1,000-yard rusher this season. If it beats Oklahoma for the Big 12 title game, it'll probably be because of that run game.

But if Burkhead has to take snaps in lieu of ineffectiveness from Green or Martinez, it should make running the ball significantly easier.

"They’re physical. It’s going to be a real physical game. They like to run the ball," Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal said, "and we’ll have to stop the run to win the game."
Landry Jones has never experienced a night worse than the one he did the last time he lined up across from the Blackshirts. When he wasn't getting chased by all-everything superstar defender Ndamukong Suh, he was throwing it to the wrong guys in red.

The Oklahoma quarterback threw for 245 yards. His counterpart, Zac Lee, threw for 35 yards. The Sooners outgained Nebraska 325-180.

But, and it was a big but, Jones finished with five interceptions. Oklahoma lost 10-3.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesLandry Jones will face a stiff test in the Nebraska defense Saturday.
His first interception was deep in Oklahoma territory and returned 22 yards to the Sooners' 1-yard line. Nebraska scored the game's only touchdown on the next play.

Three more came in Nebraska territory and the fifth came on an odd, early Hail Mary on second down with time for a few more plays from midfield.

"We moved the ball well against them when we played them in Lincoln, but they really stuffed us and we didn’t get a lot out of it once we neared the red zone," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "They made more plays and stopped us."

Nebraska finished last season as the nation's No. 18 pass defense. The Blackshirts are at No. 2 this year.

"They do a great job in their structure, they’re very disciplined, how they play," Stoops said. "Their coverage is outstanding, in how they cover you and work their coverage. So, they really make you work to execute to play well to move the football."

Nebraska is better, but Jones is, too.

He's a sophomore with 22 starts under his belt, no longer a freshman learning how to fill a Heisman winner's shoes on the fly.

"He's got a huge arm. He's got a quick release. What I love here in this last half of the season is he's really feels his way in the pocket really well," Stoops said. "He's been really stepping up and buying himself more time in a good way. He's smart in what he's doing."

And in the past two weeks, he's been able to do what he couldn't do as a freshman: be the same quarterback away from Owen Field. His quarterback rating was a plump 160.04 at home in 2009, but slimmed to 110.25 on the road.

His touchdown-to-interception ratio was particularly skewed. In six home games, he threw 18 touchdowns to four interceptions. In seven games away from home, he threw just eight touchdowns to 10 picks, including the five in Lincoln.

Jones struggled early with interceptions against both Baylor and Oklahoma State, but rebounded particularly well against Oklahoma State, tossing a pair of long touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter to help Oklahoma clinch the South on its rival's home field. He also tied a school record with 468 yards against an improving Oklahoma State secondary.

Now, he'll face the toughest secondary in the Big 12, with more on the line than any game this season. Nobody will blink at a pick or two, but if Jones makes the plays necessary for Oklahoma to win and reach a BCS bowl once again, that nightmare in Lincoln as a freshman will be a hazy memory in the minds of Sooners fans.

"That’ll be a big key, if we can move the ball, but also in the red zone," Stoops said. "Are you able to score?"

Big 12 Stock Watch: Week 11

November, 10, 2010
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Time for another round of stock tips, courtesy of yours truly:

Rising: Starting "backup" quarterbacks

Last week, six teams across the Big 12 started a different quarterback than they did in the season's opening week. Only Colorado (Cody Hawkins) lost, and they did against Kansas, who trotted out junior Quinn Mecham and made a furious fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Buffaloes.

Nebraska survived a 31-30 game at Iowa State with Cody Green, forced to play because of injuries to Taylor Martinez (ankle) and Zac Lee (hand).

Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill helped the Aggies upset then-No. 8 Oklahoma, making his second start after Jerrod Johnson was benched.

Kansas State beat Texas with Collin Klein at the helm, making a surprise start in place of Carson Coffman.

Texas Tech beat then-No. 12 Missouri. The Red Raiders had to push Week 1 starter Taylor Potts back on the field in the second quarter after backup Steven Sheffield, making his first start after Potts' benching, struggled early.

Falling: Away teams

In Week 7, Oklahoma was the only team out of six Big 12 schools that won at home when it beat Iowa State 52-0. Texas won at Nebraska, Oklahoma State won at Texas Tech, and Missouri won at Texas A&M, among others.

No such luck this weekend. Five of six home teams protected their house on Saturday, and Iowa State was within one failed fake extra point of making it 6-for-6. Missouri lost at Texas Tech, Oklahoma lost at Texas A&M, Texas lost at Kansas State, Baylor lost at Oklahoma State and Colorado lost at Kansas.

Rising: Colorado running back Rodney Stewart

Don't look now, but 5-foot-8, 175-pound Speedy Stewart is third in the Big 12 in rushing after a 175-yard, three-touchdown performance against Kansas. Suiting up for the downtrodden Buffs means Stewart is perennially underrated, but he's got 910 yards (No. 15 nationally) and eight touchdowns so far this year, and has topped 85 yards in six of nine games so far this year.

Falling: Oklahoma State kicker Dan Bailey

Whoops. Bailey pushed a 31-yard field goal wide right at the end of the half on Saturday, his first miss of the season and first miss in 19 attempts this year. Bailey's miss means there are only two kickers left in college football with perfect records. Oregon's Rob Beard is 8-for-8 and Notre Dame's David Ruffer is 13-of-13. Bailey still has the next-best percentage of any kicker in the nation (94.7) and has made more kicks than any other kicker in the nation, except Southern Miss' Danny Rhapmann, who has made 21 of 23 kicks. Bailey's still got a good shot at the Lou Groza Award, as well as All-Big 12 honors.

Rising: Big leads

Kansas State and Oklahoma State raced to huge leads early, Kansas State going up 39-0 on Texas and Oklahoma State opening the game with a 34-0 lead against Baylor. Both won convincingly.

Colorado? Not so much. The Buffs famously blew a 45-17 fourth-quarter lead in a 52-45 loss to Kansas. Meanwhile, Missouri led 17-3 with a pair of early long touchdown runs, but eventually lost 24-17.

Falling: Nebraska's ball security

The Huskers added five more fumbles on Saturday against Iowa State, losing two. They now have a staggering 31 fumbles on the year, though they've lost just 11 of those. No team in the Big 12 has more than 22. Texas A&M has lost the same number of fumbles, with 11. Those 31 fumbles are three more than the next-most in the country, 2-7 Vanderbilt's 28.

Big 12 weekend injury update

November, 8, 2010
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A couple injury notices from the weekend to follow up on:
  • Nebraska quarterbacks Taylor Martinez (ankle) and Zac Lee (hand) sat out Saturday's game, but both were expected to practice Monday. Pelini said he expected Martinez to start Saturday's game against Kansas. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (concussion) was also expected to practice on Monday.
  • Texas lost senior cornerback Chykie Brown for the season after he broke his forearm on Saturday night. Aaron Williams replaced Brown on Monday's depth chart, and safety Kenny Vaccaro moved to nickel back to replace Williams. Texas hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Huskers go (Cody) Green

November, 6, 2010
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Nebraska's quarterback carousel made another stop on Saturday, with Cody Green making his first start of the season in Nebraska's game in Ames against Iowa State.

Taylor Martinez has started every other game this season, but Zac Lee has gotten substantial time after an injury to Martinez last week and the freshman getting benched against Texas.

Green has played only sparingly, but had been given a series sporadically earlier in the year.

Both Lee and Martinez are dressed for the game, but Martinez was limited in practice this week. He also sat out Monday's practice with what coach Bo Pelini said was a sprained ankle on Monday.

Winds are high in Ames on Saturday, so with the quarterback uncertainty, look for plenty of touches for running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. Burkhead, a former high school quarterback, should see some time in the Wildcat, too.
Nebraska will decide on quarterback Taylor Martinez's status on Saturday, but the freshman has practiced each of the past three days.

"He's getting better each day," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told reporters after Thursday's practice. "It will be probably a game-time decision, but he's getting better every day."

Martinez's lower body took a hard hit late in the second quarter of last Saturday's win over Missouri, and was diagnosed with a sprained ankle. He left the facilities in a walking boot after sitting out the entire second half.

Zac Lee replaced Martinez in the game.

Martinez sat out Monday's practice, but on Tuesday offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said Martinez had no swelling or discoloration in the ankle.

Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard also returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out most of the week with a concussion suffered early against the Tigers. Pelini said Dennard hasn't been ruled out of the game.

Dennard was replaced by freshman Ciante Evans on Saturday.

The Huskers play at Iowa State on Saturday.

Nebraska nabs a meaningful win

October, 30, 2010
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- There were 10 months of anticipation leading up to Nebraska's previous outing on this field. A summer kerfuffle that ended with Nebraska packing its bags for the Big Ten poured gasoline on a fire white-hot from a controversial end to the Big 12 title game.

The Huskers wanted to beat Texas, and wanted to do so badly. Probably more than Missouri, a rivalry that in some ways stretched the definition of the word since it was one-sided for so much of the past three decades.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Dave WeaverBo Pelini's Nebraska team rebounded from their home loss to Texas earlier this month and took down No. 6 Missouri.
Nebraska wrote the final chapter of a rivalry more than a century old with a flurry of long runs and a quarterback-flustering defense, beating Missouri 31-17 and taking a firm grasp of the Big 12 North.

For all the sweet satisfaction that would have come with slapping around the Longhorns on the way out the door, a win against Missouri was the parting shot Nebraska needed. For the here and now, the Tigers were the team standing between Nebraska and a substantial 2010 season.

Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. broke through the line untouched on the Huskers first offensive snap. His 66-yard run was only part of a 24-0 first quarter pounding that was enough offense for the game. Nebraska hung 31 points on the board without taking a snap in Missouri's red zone.

"You're not doing anything magical," said coach Bo Pelini of his team's start. "It's just by executing -- doing what you've been coached to do."

Injuries to a pair of stars, quarterback Taylor Martinez and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (both plan to return next week), didn't change the outcome. Martinez's replacement, Zac Lee, only needed to throw three passes and run twice to secure the win in the second half. Dennard's replacement, true freshman Ciante Evans, mostly went unnoticed by everyone but Missouri's offense, which is exactly what happens when good cornerbacks play well.

Gone were the fumbles and dropped passes that ended many Nebraska drives against the Longhorns here two weeks ago.

"We've been working on it, can't you tell?" said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. "It's good to see their freakin' hard work finally pay off. It means practice pays off."

Said Pelini: "The big part of the football game was no turnovers ... You win the takeaway battle in a game like this and that's big."

Helu finished with a school-record 307 yards rushing -- the best performance by a runner in college football this season -- after two more long touchdown runs and a handful of punishing runs up the middle. Helu had to be notified, along with the rest of the 85,907 in attendance, of his record by the public address announcer. After the game, teammates gave him a water bottle bath, the little brother of the 20-gallon Gatorade bath reserved for championship-winning coaches.

"They were acting like we won the Super Bowl or something," Helu said with a laugh.

So maybe this didn't provide the state-wide pleasure a win over Texas might have, but it meant a whole lot to the Huskers on the field. While Missouri will have to spend postgame Saturday nights checking the scoreboard in hopes of some luck, Nebraska knows that if it does what it did on Saturday for the next four weeks, it'll get another chance at the Big 12 title game that so narrowly eluded it a season ago.

[+] EnlargeRoy Helu Jr.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikRoy Helu Jr. set a school record after rushing for 307 yards against Missouri.
"You have to go earn it every Saturday," Helu said. "We know that as an offensive unit, and whoever we play has to earn it as well."

Said Lee: "The Texas game was very unlike us, and I think this is us. This is just how we play. You can call the Texas game an outlier, probably. It's just one of those things that happened, and we learned from it."

Nebraska's early sprint out of the gates wouldn't have meant much against a Missouri offense that hadn't been held below 24 points this season since their opener. The Blackshirts dropped back into coverage and rushed just three or four linemen most often, forcing Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert to buy time with an unsure shuffle in the backfield and run when he would rather have passed.

Sometimes Nebraska got to him with those three or four up front, thanks to a defensive backfield that was dominant for 60 minutes. When the Huskers did blitz, they often got to Gabbert quickly -- including a big hit from the front he never saw coming.

"When we saw indecision on his face, you definitely know you've got him, but you can't quit pushing," said defensive lineman Jared Crick.

The Huskers sacked Gabbert five times with no Nebraska defender getting more than one. Plenty of the sacks were a result of blanket coverage downfield, giving Gabbert no place to go with the ball.

"I though the defense played well. They played inspired. They executed," Pelini said. "They played hard and they played with passion. That's all you can ask for from them."

That passion was never on display more than during the Huskers' goal-line stand in the third quarter. They stopped Missouri three times from gaining the final yard before a false start forced Missouri to settle for a field goal that brought them to within 14 points. The third stop set off a raucous Blackshirt celebration and a few fist pumps from a happy coach on the sideline.

"That was a heck of a deal. A lot of times teams get into that situation and it's almost like it's conceded," Pelini said. "Our players, yeah, they weren't conceding anything out there."

Nebraska doesn't plan on conceding the North division in its final year of membership either.

"I'm always emotional," Pelini said of the win, "but I was excited."
LINCOLN, Neb.--Before Missouri's last drive, neither team had converted a third down.

Long drives are pretty impossible without them, but Missouri converted four on a 12-play, 78-yard drive that brought the Tigers to within 24-14 after taking a Husker haymaker in the first quarter.

No conversion was bigger than the last one, when Missouri sent slot receiver T.J. Moe in motion and completed a 23-yard touchdown pass over the middle to the sophomore.

Just when Missouri looked like it might turn the corner with Nebraska star Taylor Martinez on the bench and the offense finding a rhythm, flashes of the first quarter resurfaced once again from the Huskers.

Roy Helu Jr. took a shotgun handoff and sprinted through the middle of Missouri's defense for a 53-yard touchdown -- his shortest of the day -- to put the Huskers back up by three possessions with a 31-14 lead.

Lee in for Martinez, struggles early

October, 30, 2010
10/30/10
5:47
PM ET
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Taylor Martinez took a hard shot to his lower body late in the first half, but came back on the field to finish the half.

Bo Pelini made the switch to Zac Lee for the second, but a rough start for Lee has the Huskers fans a little nervous early in the second half.

He overthrew a deep ball on his first attempt, which was nearly intercepted by a pair of Tigers. Penalties dug the Huskers in a deep hole on third down, but he overthrew another short pass to send the Huskers to a three-and-out.

Lee played well in relief of Martinez against Texas, but he hasn't looked like he did in that game -- his first action since the season opener -- today.

Pelini looks back on benching Martinez

October, 18, 2010
10/18/10
4:45
PM ET
Nebraska's coaches pulled Taylor Martinez midway through the third quarter of the Huskers' loss, with the team trailing, 20-3.

"We made a decision together," Pelini said of the call between himself and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, "but it was more my decision."

It looked questionable at the time, but Pelini reflected on the call on Monday morning.

"You look back, Taylor wasn't the only problem. We were just looking for a spark," Pelini said. "It's a tough situation. He's a young guy. You live and learn as a head coach. You don't know if that's the right decision to make, but it was a decision that was made and you move forward."

Martinez's replacement, Zac Lee, hadn't played since mop-up duty against Western Kentucky in the season opener. He put together a drive deep in Texas territory that culminated in a field goal, and completed 4 of 9 passes for 14 yards. He whipped a pass over the middle to Brandon Kinnie that looked catchable and would have brought the Huskers to within a touchdown, but Kinnie couldn't haul it in.

Pelini emphasized after the game that Martinez remained the team's starter.

"He's in good spirits," he said. "He's ready to go."

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