No. 6 Huskers' ground game churning out big yards

BY foxsports • September 20, 2010

Whether it was Roy Helu Jr., Rex Burkhead or quarterback Taylor Martinez, No. 6 Nebraska again showed its running tradition is back.

It was one thing a week ago at home against Idaho. But it's been nearly two years since the Cornhuskers' run game was as good as it was Saturday against an opponent like Washington.

Nebraska's bulky offensive line toyed with the Huskies defense, opening huge gaps for a trio of runners who all topped the 100-yard mark and helped the Huskers roll up nearly 400 yards.

And the numbers are likely to be just as good next Saturday against South Dakota State, the Cornhuskers' final tuneup before starting Big 12 play.

While Martinez stole the show with his 137 yards rushing and four combined touchdowns - three running, one passing - while making the first road start of his career, the rest of the run game did its part.

Helu added 110 yards and two scores, while Burkhead ran for a quiet 106 yards and a 19-yard TD of his own. It was the first time since 2001 the Cornhuskers saw three backs top the 100-yard mark, and fifth time in school history.

''Eventually coach (Shaun) Watson started calling more downhill stuff and we just played smash mouth,'' Helu said. ''It's good especially when the line is as confident as they are right now and Rex is running as well as he is.''

The drive that defined the Huskers' control of the line of scrimmage and ability to run with ease came at the end of the first half. Washington had scored off a Nebraska turnover to cut the lead to 21-14 and had the crowd re-energized. The Cornhuskers quieted some of the excitement with Brandon Kinnie's 39-yard kickoff return that started the drive at the Washington 48.

Then came 48 yards of straight pounding by the Nebraska backs. Burkhead carried the first four times for 29 yards. Helu took the next three, getting tripped up at the Washington 1. Martinez went the final yard for his second touchdown.

Outside of Martinez's final plunge, the Huskers pounded with straight ahead dive plays. As was the case for most of the afternoon, Washington's defensive line was knocked a few yards off the ball by Nebraska's bulky front, clogging up their linebackers and giving the backs huge holes to dart through.

''Going in to the possession we knew we were just going to run the ball,'' Burkhead said. ''Coach Watson keyed that down from the press box; that was kind our goal for the drive, just really set the tempo for the run game. The offensive line kind of got into a rhythm and was really confident in the run game at the time.''

The streak of runs continued when the second half began. After seeing seven straight dive plays at the end of the first half, Washington's defense over committed on the first play of the second half. That left the outside open for Martinez to sprint 80 yards for his third score - and the second longest touchdown by a quarterback in Nebraska history.

By the time all the runs finally ended, Helu was in the end zone after a 65-yard dash.

''It was a great feeling that our offensive line did such a great job and Roy and Rex did an awesome job running the ball,'' said Martinez, who in his first three games has 421 yards rushing, just 38 shy of Eric Crouch's record for yards rushing by a Nebraska freshman.

Nebraska finished with 383 yards rushing, its highest total of the season. The Huskers posted consecutive 300-yard running games for the first time since 2002, and their 56 points were most on the road since scoring 59 at Illinois in 1986.

It's not likely to get any tougher for the Cornhuskers until October arrives. After taking on South Dakota State, the Huskers get a 12-day break that leads into their final season of Big 12 play on a Thursday night at Kansas State.

''We are getting better,'' Pelini said. ''This was a good step for us, being on the road against a national program, but we still have a lot more to do, we can still get a lot better.''

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