'Nothing fancy' proves good enough as defense sets tone - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 1:26 am / Updated at 8:41 pm
Holiday Bowl
'Nothing fancy' proves good enough as defense sets tone
2009 in Review
• Nebraska 49, Florida Atlantic 3

• Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9

• Virginia Tech 16, Nebraska 15

• Nebraska 55, Louisiana-Lafayette 0

• Nebraska 27, Missouri 12

• Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10

• Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7

• Nebraska 20, Waco 10

• Nebraska 10, Oklahoma 3

• Nebraska 31, Kansas 17

• Nebraska 17, Kansas State 3

• Nebraska 28, Colorado 20

• Texas 13, Nebraska 12

• 2009 Holiday Bowl: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0

SAN DIEGO — It had never rained at the Holiday Bowl. Until Wednesday.

And the folks here, in 32 years of postseason play, have never seen quite that kind of a defensive performance, either. The Blackshirts bucked trends all night, turning this annual shootout at Qualcomm Stadium into a total domination of Arizona.

Nebraska blasted the Wildcats 33-0 before a sellout crowd of 64,607, capping a season that served as validation for NU progress in coach Bo Pelini's second year.

With their fourth-largest margin of victory in 46 bowl games, the 20th-ranked Huskers secured a 10th victory for the first time since 2003 and assured an offseason filled with optimism.

That smothering defense, as usual, was primarily responsible.

“It was nothing fancy,” Pelini said. “Our kids did what they needed to do.”

Nebraska limited Arizona's pass-happy attack to 109 yards and six first downs, pitching its first postseason shutout, the first in 14 years of Big 12 bowl-game history and the first in Holiday Bowl history.

Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Matt O'Hanlon and Co. played perhaps their greatest games in their last as Huskers.

“I'm eager to come back and watch this team win a national championship,” said Suh, the senior defensive tackle who won nearly every award imaginable and heads off to the NFL as the potential No. 1 overall draft pick in April.

That's for later.

On Wednesday, Nebraska (10-4) took the role of intimidator from the start, forcing Arizona quarterback Nick Foles to throw an opening-possession interception. O'Hanlon returned it 37 yards to the Wildcats' 5.

For it and his five tackles, the senior from Bellevue East was named the defensive MVP in San Diego.

“It kind of set the tone for the rest of the game,” Pelini said.

Seventy-five seconds into the game, quarterback Zac Lee found the end zone from 4 yards out on a second-down roll to his right — the fastest touchdown ever scored in the Holiday Bowl and an ominous sign for Arizona.

“I can't remember the last time we were dominated like this,” UA coach Mike Stoops said.

Lee played his best game in three months, completing 13 of 23 passes for 173 yards and rushing for 65 more. The junior quarterback revealed after the season finale that he's played with a torn flexor tendon in his throwing arm for the past 12 games.

He said he suffered the injury Sept. 12 against Arkansas State and that he would undergo surgery next week, missing 10 to 12 weeks of throwing drills this winter.

He led an offense that gained 396 yards — 223 on the ground — and converted 9 of 18 third-down opportunities.

“We wanted to get back to trying to be us,” Lee said.

Rex Burkhead rushed for a game-high 89 yards, the majority from the “Wildcat” formation. The freshman I-back took direct snaps from center, starting with a 34-yard run on the first play of the second quarter.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, completed an 8-5 season in which their other four losses came by a total of 24 points.

Nebraska got a Holiday Bowl-record four field goals from Alex Henery, including a 50-yarder midway through the second quarter to make it 20-0.

By then, it was essentially over. NU allowed more than 20 points in just one game this year, and it wasn't about to happen on this damp night near the beach.

NU led 23-0 at halftime. Arizona gained just one first down in the first 30 minutes and did not produce a play longer than 7 yards.

“I really can't explain what happened,” said Foles, the sophomore QB who was benched in favor of Matt Scott in the second half.

Arizona drove 72 yards to the 8-yard line in the final six minutes, accounting for two-thirds of its offensive output. But Nebraska safety P.J. Smith deflected Scott's fourth-down pass with 1:41 left to preserve the shutout.

NU completed its scoring on Lee's pump fake and 74-yard strike to Niles Paul with 3:39 to play in the third quarter. It was the longest play from scrimmage this year for the Huskers.

Paul, the offensive MVP with 123 receiving yards, spiked the football in the end zone and flexed, drawing a 15-yard penalty and a chewing on the sideline.

There wasn't much more reason to complain about anything.

Contact the writer:

402-473-9587, mitch.sherman@owh.com

Video: Postgame press conference with Bo Pelini and selected players:

VIdeo: Postgame press conference with Arizona coaches, players:

Omaha police investigate two nonfatal shootings
Easter Sunday temperatures climb into 80s in Omaha area
City Council to vote on adding Bluffs pedestrian safety lights
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Midlands runners ready for Boston Marathon
Families from area shelters treated to meal at Old Chicago
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
< >
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »