Chip Scoggins: Just 'another day at the office' for Big Red

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2011 - 1:16 AM

Nebraska used its stampede of the Gophers as a tuning-up session for bigger challenges that lay ahead.

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Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead (22) jumped over a blocker and stepped into the end zone for a first-half touchdown against the Gophers on Saturday.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The Nebraska Cornhuskers played one good half of football Saturday. That's all that was required.

The rest was just an exercise in clock-killing and an opportunity to practice in an actual game setting.

The Huskers' 41-14 victory against the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium was remarkable in that it looked so pedestrian, so textbook. So boring?

The formula was simple: a handful of big plays by the Huskers, a lot of mistakes by the Gophers and an ocean-sized difference in talent level.

There was no real drama or suspense, other than what the final margin would be. It was a workmanlike display of dominance in a stadium half-filled with Big Red fans.

"You saw a team in there [locker room] that wasn't hooting and hollering," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "They were happy. Another day at the office is kind of their approach."

It helps, of course, when the opponent is beaten down to the extent that the Gophers are right now. The Gophers make one mistake or have one thing go wrong, and the whole house of cards crumbles.

Not that it really mattered. The Huskers obviously have a different caliber of athlete. Any time they needed a play, they typically made it.

The Huskers posted a season high in rushing yards (346) and total yards (515), and their 34-0 halftime lead tied for the largest halftime lead in Pelini's four seasons.

Afterward, they just kind of shrugged and promised to play better.

"I thought we played a good football game," Pelini said. "I thought we did a lot of good things, but there's still a lot of things we can do better, obviously. But I thought it was a pretty complete effort in the first half. In the second half, we played a little differently, a little bit by design."

Translation: They were in no danger of losing, so they worked on different wrinkles while the team bus idled in the parking lot.

The Huskers toyed with the Gophers at the start of the second half. After moving the ball to the Gophers 34, they tried three deep throws that went incomplete. Quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has some of the worst mechanics you'll ever see, looked like he was throwing pop flies to his receivers. The Huskers then attempted a 51-yard field goal that fell well short.

The game basically became a glorified practice to them.

Pelini gave his team a "B" for its performance in the run game and noticed things that need to get "cleaned up."

"I'll put it this way: We left a lot of big plays out there on the field, in my opinion," he said.

Nebraska put the game away with a flurry of big plays in the second quarter.

Kenny Bell took a reverse 82 yards for a touchdown, the longest touchdown run by a freshman in Nebraska history.

"I think he is the fastest player in the NCAA," Martinez said.

Brandon Kinnie took a screen pass a career-high 61 yards, setting up a field goal.

Safety Austin Cassidy picked up a fumble by Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown and 27-0 lead.

Ballgame.

"I think we have a lot of momentum and a lot of swagger," Martinez said.

That's what a 34-0 halftime lead will do for a team. The Huskers had 330 total yards while holding the Gophers to 9 measly yards passing in the first half.

The Huskers, who haven't lived up to preseason expectations on defense this season, talked about gaining confidence from their performance. That should be tempered some be the reality of the caliber of competition they were facing. Everybody plays well defensively against the Gophers.

But Pelini liked the way his players handled the situation. They went on the road, jumped on a bad team early and left little doubt about the outcome. This was merely a tuneup for tougher challenges down the road.

"I love our approach right now," Pelini said. "We're going to get what we earn."

They needed only one half to determine that on Saturday.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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