Offensive line paves the way

2011-11-25T22:35:00Z 2011-11-26T22:59:47Z Offensive line paves the wayBy Josh Kaufman jkaufman@columbustelegram.com Columbus Telegram

LINCOLN — Rex Burkhead stole the show against Iowa Friday at Memorial Stadium, but without a solid line in front of him, none of it would have been possible.

Inconsistent and injured are two words that have described the Nebraska offensive front this season. But in the final game of the regular season, the Husker linemen were clearly the best on the field.

It is no secret that the rushing game is the key to the Nebraska offense. If the Huskers can’t run the ball, they can’t move it. Iowa knew this coming in, but couldn’t do anything about it.

Of Nebraska’s 385 yards of total offense, 222 of them came on the ground. The Huskers didn’t break many long runs — averaging just 3.6 yards per carry — but they were persistent, doing enough to move the chains and keep the offense on the field.

“We knew it was going to be a battle of the trenches between these two teams, two very physical, hard-nosed, well-coached teams,” Nebraska sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “I think that we rose to the challenge and did a really good job.”

The Nebraska offense was heavily criticized last week after holding the ball for just 18 minutes, 39 seconds against Michigan, but stepped up in a big way against Iowa. The Huskers flipped the script against the Hawkeyes, collecting 25 first downs and possessing the ball for 37:47 — more than 15 minutes more than Iowa.

All four of Nebraska’s scoring drives took at least 10 plays and covered at least 52 yards — with three covering 80 yards or more. Each took more than four minutes off the clock.

Like every team that has faced Nebraska this season, Iowa loaded up to stop the run and dared Taylor Martinez to throw. The quarterback made some plays with his arm, but the Huskers were intent on running the ball and stepped up to the challenge.

“They wanted to run the football today. It was important to them to run the football today,” Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. “Iowa has a very quality defensive front. Their D-line and their linebackers, that’s what Iowa’s always been known for. This game was a good, physical game for both of the lines.”

It was an impressive showing for a Nebraska group that has suffered its fair share of injuries this season. Credit has to be given to the upperclassmen for showing leadership through the tough times and the underclassmen for stepping up when needed. That combination allowed the Huskers to overwhelm the Hawkeyes up front.

For Sirles, sending the Nebraska seniors out with a win on Senior Day made the performance that much sweeter.

“When I stepped in, all I could think about was ‘This one’s for them.’ This was for Marcel (Jones) and (Mike) Caputo and Yoshi (Hardrick), and every senior really, but mainly those three guys,” he said. “I’ve never felt so close to a senior class since I’ve been here.”

The game was what most expected — a low-scoring, close affair. But when it mattered most, Nebraska won in the trenches.

Leading 3-0 late in the second quarter, Nebraska finished the half on a high note. The Huskers drove 80 yards in 15 plays, eating up 6:03 in the process. Nebraska also converted on a fourth down attempt, with Burkhead grinding out two yards on fourth-and-1 from the Iowa 29.

Martinez capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed with 32 seconds left, giving Nebraska a 10-0 lead at the half and all the momentum.

“It was a huge drive for us. Not only did it give us great momentum going into the half, it gave us a two-score lead,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Huskers marched 80 yards in 10 plays. Burkhead finished the drive with a 2-yard scoring run to increase the Nebraska lead to 20-0 and essentially put the game away. He had 160 yards and a school-record 38 carries.

Give an assist to the offensive line, which paved the way for Burkhead and helped keep the offense on the field. Nebraska converted on nearly half of its third down conversions, going 10-for-21. Despite a battered Burkhead and a wounded offensive line, Nebraska wouldn’t be denied.

“You’ve got guys banged up. Rex is banged up. We’re all banged up,” Sirles said. “It’s Week 13. I think it’s just the mental toughness of this offensive line that really helped it push through and helped Rex get that carry record.”

Attrition is to be expected in the Big Ten Conference this season, a league that is known for its bruising style. Coming from the pass-happy Big 12, Nebraska had to adjust to the physical nature of its new conference. But make no mistake about it, the Huskers live off running the ball, and at least against the Hawkeyes, proved they can exchange blows with the best of them.

“I’m impressed with the Big Ten Conference because I think it’s a football conference. It’s a physical conference, so we’re in a great conference,” Cotton said. “We like to think of ourselves as a physical team, and every year the Big Ten is going to be as physical as any league in the country. You’ve got to show up and be physical every week.”

LINCOLN — Rex Burkhead stole the show against Iowa Friday at Memorial Stadium, but without a solid line in front of him, none of it would have been possible.

Inconsistent and injured are two words that have described the Nebraska offensive front this season. But in the final game of the regular season, the Husker linemen were clearly the best on the field.

It is no secret that the rushing game is the key to the Nebraska offense. If the Huskers can’t run the ball, they can’t move it. Iowa knew this coming in, but couldn’t do anything about it.

Of Nebraska’s 385 yards of total offense, 222 of them came on the ground. The Huskers didn’t break many long runs — averaging just 3.6 yards per carry — but they were persistent, doing enough to move the chains and keep the offense on the field.

“We knew it was going to be a battle of the trenches between these two teams, two very physical, hard-nosed, well-coached teams,” Nebraska sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “I think that we rose to the challenge and did a really good job.”

The Nebraska offense was heavily criticized last week after holding the ball for just 18 minutes, 39 seconds against Michigan, but stepped up in a big way against Iowa. The Huskers flipped the script against the Hawkeyes, collecting 25 first downs and possessing the ball for 37:47 — more than 15 minutes more than Iowa.

All four of Nebraska’s scoring drives took at least 10 plays and covered at least 52 yards — with three covering 80 yards or more. Each took more than four minutes off the clock.

Like every team that has faced Nebraska this season, Iowa loaded up to stop the run and dared Taylor Martinez to throw. The quarterback made some plays with his arm, but the Huskers were intent on running the ball and stepped up to the challenge.

“They wanted to run the football today. It was important to them to run the football today,” Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. “Iowa has a very quality defensive front. Their D-line and their linebackers, that’s what Iowa’s always been known for. This game was a good, physical game for both of the lines.”

It was an impressive showing for a Nebraska group that has suffered its fair share of injuries this season. Credit has to be given to the upperclassmen for showing leadership through the tough times and the underclassmen for stepping up when needed. That combination allowed the Huskers to overwhelm the Hawkeyes up front. For Sirles, sending the Nebraska seniors out with a win on Senior Day made the performance that much sweeter.

“When I stepped in, all I could think about was ‘This one’s for them.’ This was for Marcel (Jones) and (Mike) Caputo and Yoshi (Hardrick), and every senior really, but mainly those three guys,” he said. “I’ve never felt so close to a senior class since I’ve been here.”

The game was what most expected — a low-scoring, close affair. But when it mattered most, Nebraska won in the trenches. Leading 3-0 late in the second quarter, Nebraska finished the half on a high note. The Huskers drove 80 yards in 15 plays, eating up 6:03 in the process. Nebraska also converted on a fourth down attempt, with Burkhead grinding out two yards on fourth-and-1 from the Iowa 29-yard line.

Martinez capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed with 32 seconds left, giving Nebraska a 10-0 lead at the half and all the momentum.

“I thought that was a huge drive. I thought, not only did it give us great momentum going into the half, it gave us a two-score lead,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Huskers marched 80 yards in 10 plays. Burkhead finished the drive with a 2-yard scoring run to increase the Nebraska lead to 20-0 and essentially put the game away. He had 160 yards and a school-record 38 carries.

Give an assist to the offensive line, which paved the way for Burkhead and helped keep the offense on the field. Nebraska converted on nearly half of its third down conversions, going 10-for-21. Despite a battered Burkhead and a wounded offensive line, Nebraska wouldn’t be denied.

“You’ve got guys banged up. Rex is banged up. We’re all banged up,” Sirles said. “It’s Week 13. I think it’s just the mental toughness of this offensive line that really helped it push through and helped Rex get that carry record.”

Attrition is to be expected in the Big Ten Conference this season, a league that is known for its bruising style. Coming from the pass-happy Big XII, Nebraska had to adjust to the physical nature of its new conference. But make no mistake about it, the Huskers live off running the ball, and at least against the Hawkeyes, proved they can exchange blows with the best of them.

“I’m impressed with the Big Ten Conference, because I think it’s a football conference. It’s a physical conference, so we’re in a great conference,” Cotton said. “We like to think of ourselves as a physical team, and every year, the Big Ten is going to be as physical as any league in the country. You’ve got to show up and be physical every week.”

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