Winning style points no concern to No. 9 Nebraska
OMAHA, Neb. -- As far as ninth-ranked Nebraska's concerned, there's no shame in a one-point overtime victory at Iowa State.
Playing with their third-string quarterback because of injuries, the Huskers strengthened their hold on the Big 12 North race Saturday with a 31-30 victory that wasn't secure until Eric Hagg's interception foiled Iowa State's two-point conversion try on a fake extra point.
"You win a football game -- I don't care how you do it -- you enjoy it," coach Bo Pelini said. "I don't care if you win 101-100. In the end, you have to win. You find a way."
The Huskers were forced to get creative in this one with quarterback Taylor Martinez on the sideline. Pelini said Martinez, who sprained his right ankle against Missouri on Oct. 30, could have played in an emergency, and he was on the field for one play -- as a decoy at receiver.
"We didn't think it was the right thing to play him," Pelini said. "He wasn't 100 percent, but I think he's feeling better each and every day. I think he's pretty close. We'll have a lot better idea come Monday, but I feel a lot better about where he is."
The Huskers also were without top backup Zac Lee, who injured his right (throwing) hand against Missouri and aggravated it in practice.
That left Cody Green to start. He completed several big passes in the third quarter, but it was apparent offensive coordinator Shawn Watson wanted to minimize Green's margin for error.
So Watson had running back Rex Burkhead take a good number of direct snaps out of the wildcat formation. Burkhead rushed 20 times for 129 yards, and the offense scuffled its way to 314 total yards.
"It was a Rex kind of day," Watson said.
Nebraska squandered a 24-10 lead entering the fourth quarter. Austen Arnaud drove the Cyclones 75 yards in 13 plays to make it a seven-point game, and after Niles Paul fumbled on the ensuing kick return, Arnaud tied it with a 14-yard pass to Alexander Robinson.
The teams matched touchdowns in overtime, and Nebraska won when Hagg picked off holder Daniel Kuehl's poorly thrown pass intended for Collin Franklin on the fake extra point.
"We executed about as well as we could against the No. 9-ranked team in the country to give ourselves an opportunity to win," ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. "I made the decision to go for the two-point play. We studied what they had done throughout the game. The play was there. Collin Franklin was wide open on the play, but we were not able to execute it."
Nebraska's narrow escape against the 19-point-underdog Cyclones, combined with Missouri's loss at Texas Tech, gave the Huskers a one-game lead over the Tigers in the Big 12 North.
The Huskers play Kansas at home this week, followed by Texas A&M on the road and Colorado at home. Nebraska could lose one of those three and still reach the Big 12 championship game because it holds the tiebreaker over Missouri.
"I'm not taking anything away from Iowa State," Pelini said. "When we play the way we're capable, we're a good football team. If not, we're going to be in some dogfights."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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