LINCOLN, Neb. - There wasn't anything particularly fancy about the way Nebraska dismantled the Iowa football team Friday.
One snap, one handoff at a time, the 22nd-ranked Cornhuskers piled up yards and possession time to manufacture a methodical 20-7 victory over the Hawkeyes in the inaugural Heroes Game.
Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead carried the ball a school-record 38 times and the Cornhuskers erased the sting of last weekend's 28-point loss at Michigan by putting together three scoring drives of 80 yards or better in front of a crowd of 85,595 at Memorial Stadium.
"There were times when we couldn't get off the field," Iowa linebacker James Morris said. "That's a failure on our part. That's the defense's job."
Forcing that issue was part of the Cornhuskers' plan against a Hawkeyes defense that surrendered 222 rushing yards, the second-highest total allowed by Iowa this season.
Burkhead covered 160 of them and by one point early in the fourth quarter, his 37 carries totaled one more than the number of plays Iowa had run as a team.
"The plan today was to kind of pound the rock and get off the play-action passes when we needed to," Burkhead said. "The offensive line did a tremendous job up front opening up holes."
That led to a series of long scoring drives which scripted the Hawkeyes' fate.
The Cornhuskers were clinging to a 3-0 lead late in the second quarter before quarterback Taylor Martinez orchestrated a 15-play, 80-yard march that ran 5 minutes, 58 seconds off the clock and ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed.
"That drive went 80 yards, but it felt like 80 plays," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It really proved to be a turning point."
For an encore, the Cornhuskers put together drives of 82 and 80 yards in the second half to leave the Hawkeyes in a 20-0 hole after Burkhead scored on a 2-yard run with 11 minutes, 25 seconds left in the game to complete a 10-play march.
Nebraska (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) converted 11 times on third- and fourth-down plays, including on eight occasions on the three lengthy scoring drives, including one which covered 82 yards on 12 plays and ended with the second of Brett Maher's two field goals.
"I always say, ‘The best defense is when you're standing on the sideline watching your offense go,' and that was a pretty good team offensive effort by our guys," Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said.
The drive at the end of the first half, which started with four straight carries by Burkhead following a pass interference call on Jordan Bernstine, set the tone for the rest of the game.
"It gave us great momentum going into the half. That's why I went for it on fourth down, I thought that could be a statement drive for us," Pelini said, referring to a 2-yard gain by Burkhead on a 4th-and-1 play that moved the ball to the Hawkeyes 27-yard line.
Burkhead's rushing effort was complemented by a 12-of-22 passing performance by Martinez, who threw for 163 yards and hit Kenny Bell with five passes for 93 yards.
"Martinez stepped up and made some plays," Hawkeyes defensive back Shaun Prater said. "Especially on third down, it seemed like he always made the right decision."
That only added to the frustration felt by Iowa (7-5, 4-4), which needed a 2-yard touchdown run by Marcus Coker with 3:26 remaining in the game to avoid being shutout for the first time in 143 games dating to a midseason loss in 2000 at Illinois.
"We had a good week of practice, felt good about where we were at coming into the game, but we couldn't get them off the field when we needed to the most," Bernstine said.
"Some of the credit goes to Nebraska, they played well, but we didn't play our best on a day when we needed to make that happen. We didn't play the way we're capable of and that's what hurts."