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Thursday, December 31, 2009
Holiday Bowl instant analysis: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0

By Tim Griffin

Nebraska's 33-0 victory over Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl was much easier than anyone would have ever expected. It pushed the Cornhuskers to their 10th victory in a season for the first time since 2003.

Here’s how the Cornhuskers were able to produce their impressive victory.

How the game was won: Nebraska’s defense dominated the game from the opening snap. But the real reason the Cornhuskers cruised to an unexpectedly easy triumph over Arizona was the return of their offense. Nebraska scored on seven of its first eight possessions as they charged to their most one-sided bowl victory since the 2000 Alamo Bowl whipping of Northwestern.

Turning point: On the third play from scrimmage, Matt O’Hanlon stepped in front of a pass from Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and returned it 37 yards to the Arizona 5. Zac Lee scored two plays later and the Nebraska rout was on.

Stat of the game: Nebraska’s shutout was the first ever posted by a Big 12 team in the 94-game bowl history of the conference since it started play in 1996.

Player of the game: Ndamukong Suh was playing until the end of the Cornhuskers’ victory -- long after the game’s result was settled. But considering the relentless drive and determination that Suh has always shown, it wasn’t surprising he was out with the Blackshirts until the final defensive stop. He produced only three tackles, but was a force on nearly every play for Nebraska.

Best call: Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was determined to juice production in the offense after its struggles against Texas in the Big 12 title game. He had a few wrinkles Wednesday night, like having I-back Rex Burkhead get direct snaps in Wildcat formations. On one of the first Wildcat plays, Burkhead charged in for a 5-yard touchdown run. It helped spark him to a game-high 92 rushing yards on 17 carries.

What it means: Nebraska likely has staked a top-10 position in preseason polls next season. And that’s even without Suh, safeties O’Hanlon and Larry Asante, center Jacob Hickman and defensive end Barry Turner. But the Cornhuskers return 10 offensive starters, six on defense and kicker/punter extraordinaire Alex Henery. Bo Pelini should be loaded for a run at the Big 12 title next season.

Worth remembering: “Nebraska is back and we’re here to stay,” Pelini’s comments when he accepted the winning trophy after the Holiday Bowl.