Nebraska takes care of business as D shuts down Kansas

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska (No. 8 BCS, No. 9 AP) can rest easy knowing that Taylor Martinez is healthy again.

That was the bottom line in the Cornhuskers' workmanlike 20-3 victory over Kansas on Saturday night.

No, Martinez wasn't at his best. That was OK with coach Bo Pelini, who just needed Martinez to show he's capable of leading the Cornhuskers in the big games down the stretch.

Martinez and his right ankle passed the test.

"It was very important for me to get back out there," he said. "It's my team and no one else's team. For me, it's about establishing a rhythm for when we play Texas A&M and Colorado."

The Huskers (9-1, 5-1) can lock up their second straight Big 12 North title with a win at A&M next Saturday or a win over Colorado at home on the day after Thanksgiving.

Martinez was limited by design in the first half after missing all but one play of last week's game at Iowa State with an ankle sprain sustained Oct. 30 against Missouri. He came in averaging almost 100 yards rushing, and he showed glimpses of his dynamic running ability, finishing with 71 yards on 11 carries.

Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead carried the load, combining for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries.

The Huskers' defense dominated Kansas (3-7, 1-5), which was coming off a historic 28-point, fourth-quarter comeback to beat Colorado last week. A week after gaining 453 yards, Kansas managed just 87 yards and five first downs. Quinn Mecham was sacked six times.

"Front to back we executed well and tackled well," Pelini said. "I thought it was a really solid performance. You don't hold somebody under 100 yards without playing good football."

The teams played for the 105th straight year. The nation's longest continuous series ends with Nebraska heading to the Big Ten next year, and Pelini was anything but sentimental about it.

"I don't care," the third-year coach said. "It's part of the deal. We're moving on. I haven't been around the series very long, so it doesn't bother me much."

The game also marked the return of first-year Kansas coach Turner Gill, a revered figure in Nebraska football history for leading the Huskers to three Big Eight championships and a 28-2 record as starting quarterback from 1981-83.

Gill also was a Nebraska assistant for 14 years, all but one under Tom Osborne or Frank Solich. A video tribute 20 minutes before kickoff showed highlights from Gill's playing days and included comments from Osborne, now the athletic director.

Gill said the emotion didn't hit him until he brought his team to Memorial Stadium late Saturday morning.

"There was a little awkwardness to come into the stadium on the other side and being here as an opponent instead of being on the same side," he said.

Nebraska went three plays and out on its first two possessions, and Martinez was kept under wraps until the third quarter. Before that, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson mostly had Martinez pass and hand off.

At halftime, he told Watson his ankle felt good.

"I went up to them and told them to have me start running the ball," he said. "Obviously, they did."

He ran for 8, 1 and 18 yards on the first three plays of the third quarter, and he ran four more times the rest of the way.

"I thought he was a little rusty, especially at the start," Pelini said. "We tried to protect him a little bit. That was kind of the plan going in, to let him ease into it. I thought he did some really good things. A couple throws I think he'd like to have back."

Martinez was 14 of 26 for 167 yards passing, with one interception. He also fumbled, setting up Kansas' only points on Jacob Branstetter's 42-yard field goal.

Burkhead scored on a 4-yard run on the first of nine snaps he took out of the wildcat formation, and Helu scored from 20 yards to put Nebraska up 14-0 at half. Alex Henery kicked field goals of 42 and 24 yards in the second half.

"When things weren't going right, we didn't break or buckle," offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. "We stayed in there and kept swinging, and that's the main reason we came out on top."

Mecham was just 3 of 13 for 15 yards and Jayhawks freshman James Sims, who ran for a season-high 123 yards and a school record-tying four touchdowns against Colorado last week, was held to 24 yards on nine carries.

"We didn't see this as a homecoming for coach Gill or him coming back to Nebraska, we just saw Nebraska on our schedule. We game-planned for Nebraska to beat Nebraska," said Brad McDougald, who led the Jayhawks with 27 yards on four carries. "You've got to give credit to their defense. A very stingy defense. They did a great job of getting pressure in the backfield."