Game Ticker | Box Score
LAWRENCE, Kan. - For Nebraska, it came down to finishing what it started on Saturday, and that's exactly what it did.
Behind the best offensive performance in more than a month, the Huskers were able to pull off a huge Big 12 North victory on the road over Kansas, 31-17. Junior running back Roy Helu was stellar once again, rushing 28 times for a game-high 156 yards and three touchdowns.
After giving up a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass to fall behind 17-16 with 7:34 left to play, Nebraska rode Helu for 15 unanswered points and improved to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in Big 12 Conference play.
"It was a great win on the road," head coach Bo Pelini said. "We found ourselves down one with about seven minutes to go, (and) we won the football game. We did what we needed to do in the fourth quarter. I was proud of the team. I'm proud of the way they hung together and finished the game."
After Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing hit Dezmon Briscoe on a 21-yard touchdown pass to take a 17-16 lead, Nebraska was forced to put the game in the hands of an offense that had done little to give anyone any confidence in its chances the past five games.
However, the ensuing drive got off to a great start for NU when junior Niles Paul ran back the kickoff 44 yards to the Kansas 36, and then a 5-yard offsides penalty was tacked on to give the Huskers first-and-10 at the KU 31.
The offense failed to do anything with the ball the first three plays of the drive, but Kansas's Justin Thorton was flagged for a crucial roughing the quarterback penalty that extended the drive and gave the Huskers a first down at the 20.
On the very next play, Helu broke a run outside and scampered all the way in for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:19 remaining. Needing to increase their lead to make it a seven-point game, junior quarterback Zac Lee hit Paul on the run in the corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion to make the score 24-17.
The Blackshirts stuffed the Jayhawks for a three-and-out on their next possession, giving the offense a chance to seal the victory with a score. On a third-and-10 with a little more than three minutes to play, Helu took a toss around the right side and broke loose for a 30-yard gain that all but locked up the win.
In hindsight, Helu said he probably could have scored on the play, but instead dropped to the ground at the KU 33 because he wanted to make sure he didn't make a mistake and cost his team.
"I did it because I was tired," Helu said. "When I made the cut, I just didn't trust in where I was going, and I didn't know the situation that well. So I just fell on the ground and probably spoiled a good run."
Either way, it ended up being a moot point, as Helu eventually barreled his way into the end zone on a 14-yard run up the middle with 29 seconds left in the game to officially put the nail in the coffin.
For the offense, 31 points and 410 total yards were the perfect ways to rebound from a frustrating slump it's been trying to bust since the start of Big 12 play.
"We went through a tough stretch, and everybody's felt terrible about it," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "The thing I love about these kids is they're relentless. They had a sense of responsibility to everybody, and they found a way out of it and they just keep fighting. I couldn't be prouder of a group I've ever coached, to be honest with you.
"I've had a lot of really talented teams I've been a part of, and this group - because they're young and what they've been through and how they've stayed together - it's just a great team that we've got."
Nebraska took control to start the game, as Lee led the Huskers on a 6-play, 58-yard touchdown drive on the game's first possession to take a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the first quarter.
On the drive, Lee connected with Paul for a 35-yard pass on the first play. With a first-and-goal from the 3, Lee tried to run it in on an option keeper but fumbled before he crossed the goal line. Luckily, Helu was there to scoop up the ball and save the touchdown for NU.
The unorthodox score marked the first time Nebraska had scored on the game's opening possession since its win over Arkansas State on Sept. 12.
While the defense held firm, Nebraska extended its lead to 10-0 when Lee scrambled for 32 yards and then hit Paul again on a 37-yard pass on the drive's first two plays. Junior Alex Henery finished the drive with a 25-yard field goal with a little less than 11 minutes left to go.
Just when it seemed Nebraska would go into halftime in full control, Kansas came storming back in the half's final minutes. Reesing finally got the Jayhawks on the board by engineering a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took up 5:49 and was capped off with a 5-yard scoring run by Reesing.
On Kansas's next possession, Reesing completed 5-of-8 passes for 66 yards to help set up a 33-yard field goal by Jacob Branstetter as time expired to send the game into halftime tied up at 10-10.
With the win, Nebraska is now faced with a Big 12 North championship game of sorts next week when Kansas State comes to town. The Wildcats, who lost to Missouri on Saturday, are in second place in the division standings with a conference record of 4-3.
If the Huskers can pull off the win, they will clinch the division title and punch their ticket to play in the Big12 Championship game on Dec. 5.
"The thing we wanted to say (coming into the game) was that we got our mojo back," Watson said. "We've been nicked up, and the kids have been just resilient. They keep coming back and they keep working. They've never questioned or doubted themselves at all. I think it just shows that they're resilient, they persevered, they found a way to fight through it all. It's going to make us a great team in the future."
- Robin Washut