Bo Pelini ran his Nebraska bowl record to a perfect 3-0 Wednesday night in a rainy San Diego at the Holiday Bowl, demolishing childhood friend Mike Stoops’ Arizona Wildcats by a 33-0 score.
In those three games Pelini’s Blackshirts have surrendered a total of 24 points, which is an impressive number.
This was as dominant a bowl game victory as the Cornhuskers have had in a while. They rose to the occasion even more than they did in the Big 12 championship. The Blackshirts held the Wildcats to a total of 109 yards, a truly phenomenal number.
Arizona, which averaged 167.5 yards rushing for the season, finished with a paltry 63 yards on the ground. The Wildcats' passing attack was even worse, going 10-of-31 for 46 yards, compared to 240 yards per game; they amassed a total of six—yes, six—first downs, with three of them coming on the Wildcats' final drive of the game.
This was the Huskers' first shutout in 46 bowl games as well as the Holiday Bowl's first in 32 years it has been played. It was also the Huskers' fourth-largest margin of victory in those 46 bowl games.
Nebraska's seniors got the bitter, one-second game taste out of their mouth with perhaps their greatest game in their final curtain call. Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Matt O’Hanlon, and Co. earned their Big Red respect on this night.
O’Hanlon’s interception on the game's third play, which he returned 37 yards to the 5-yard line, set the tone for the entire game. Because of that pick and another pass defended and five tackles, O'Hanlon was named the defensive MVP.
This game, for once in a long time, was more than just the Blackshirts. The offense finally showed up and showed off. Zac Lee, he with the hidden injured arm, was 13-of-23 for 173 yards and a touchdown.
Lee also showed off his running by rushing for 65 more yards, as the Huskers ran for 223 and finished 50 percent (9-for-18) on third-down conversions. The Huskers even unveiled their version of the “Wildcat” formation with T-Rex Burkhead running the Huskers' version very efficiently, including a nifty 34-yard run on the first play of the second quarter.
Not to be outdone, the Huskers' special teams shined tonight, led by kicker Alex Henery, one of the most recent recipients of a Blackshirt, set a Holiday Bowl record with four field goals, three more than 40 yards, including a 50-yarder. Henery also punted four times, three of which pinned the Wildcats inside their own 20.
Then, to top things off, junior receiver Niles Paul, who was named the Holiday Bowl offensive MVP scored on a season-long 74-yard pass from Lee late in the third quarter. Paul also had a 49-yard kickoff return and three punt returns for 45 yards, totaling 237 all-purpose yards.
As Pelini addressed the crowd after accepting the Holiday Bowl trophy, he showed his pride in his Huskers’ performance by stating "Thanks to all of our great fans for coming out and supporting us here...Nebraska's back, and we're here to stay."
The only thing that I missed from the game was Roy Helu Jr. Through the entire contest I never heard one mention as to why Helu was not playing; it was unclear whether he re-injured his shoulder or not, but T-Rex and Co. more than made up for his absence.
For us long-time Husker fans (those of more than 30 years), it was a definite reminder of games we had seen many times before. When the Huskers rolled to a big lead and allowed the Blackshirts to suffocate the opponent, the announcers struggled to find things interesting to say to keep the viewers' attention.
But also for us “old-timers,” it was different than when Dr. Tom ran things. Yeah, we had eight different ball carriers gain yards, just like them good ol’ days, but we also had six different receivers catch a pass in the rain, no less—remember the ugliness of the Missouri game.
If Watson and Pelini can get 200-plus rushing yards running the spread, who needs the two-back, two-tight end alignment? Not to mention the attractiveness that offense brings to the recruits. Yes, we are on the right track.
Pelini also promises that next year’s defense will be even better than this year’s. It will be another year into it; it will be deeper and more versatile with more options.
So our Huskers finished the 2009 season with a 10-4 record and came within four points of going 12-1. All in all it was a good way to go into the offseason and get ready for spring. I enjoyed this season more than any other in a long time, GBR!
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