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Nebraska dominates Arizona, 33-0

HOLIDAY BOWL

It's the first shutout in the 32-year history of the Holiday Bowl.

December 31, 2009|By Gary Klein
  • Arizona cornerback Devin Ross, left, and linebacker Sterling Lewis try to bring down Nebraska receiver Brandon Kinnie in the first quarter.
Arizona cornerback Devin Ross, left, and linebacker Sterling Lewis try… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)

Reporting from San Diego — Nebraska is finally leaving California with a victory.

But if the Cornhuskers keep playing the way they did Wednesday night at Qualcomm Stadium, they might not be invited back.

Not by the Holiday Bowl committee, anyway.

In case you missed it, the Holiday Bowl is not a Bowl Championship Series game. Its mission has nothing to do with determining a national champion or settling debates about the need for a playoff system.

It's supposed to be about entertaining games with gobs of points by both teams.

Nebraska, ranked 20th, ruined that tradition, dominating No. 22 Arizona, 33-0, in front of 64,607.

It was the first shutout in the 32-year history of the Holiday Bowl.

Not exactly the finish Arizona or the Pacific 10 Conference envisioned when the Wildcats defeated USC at the Coliseum to earn the Holiday Bowl bid.

"When you think you've arrived, that's when you're going to get whacked," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said.

Listening to Pac-10 coaches this season, the company line was that the league was stronger from top to bottom than at any time in recent memory.

However, the Pac-10 is 2-3 in bowl games, with Stanford and Oregon still to play.

Meantime, Nebraska, under second-year Coach Bo Pelini, looks the part of the program on the rise in the Big 12 Conference and beyond.

The Cornhuskers intercepted a pass on the first possession, led at halftime, 23-0, and cruised to a victory that helped them finish 10-4, the program's first 10-win season since 2003.

Expectations in Lincoln have changed some since then.

Consider: Former coach Frank Solich was fired after finishing the 2003 regular season 9-3, then-defensive coordinator Pelini coaching the team to an Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan State.

So these are happier times for Nebraska fans. They travel en masse, but the return trip from California has long been an issue.

In 1998, Nebraska fans vacationed and then watched their beloved Huskers lose to Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.

They helped fill the Rose Bowl in January 2002, when Miami routed their team, 37-14, in the BCS title game.

And they were a huge presence in the Coliseum in 2006, when former coach Bill Callahan played not to lose, or be embarrassed, in a 28-10 loss to USC.

But they enjoyed Wednesday, cheering All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's three tackles with a resounding "Suuuuuuuuu" every time the potential No. 1 pick in the NFL draft made a play.

Nebraska's defense, ranked ninth nationally, lived up to its billing, shutting down quarterback Nick Foles and the Wildcats' quick passing game.

And what about Nebraska's offense, which was ranked 101st out of 120 major college teams?

In one second-quarter sequence, running back Rex Burkhead took a direct snap and ran 34 yards. On the next play, receiver Niles Paul sprinted 20 yards on a reverse. Quarterback Zac Lee completed a strike to Paul over the middle, and Burkhead capped the drive by taking a direct snap and running five yards into the end zone for a 17-0 lead.

"I just know this," Pelini said. "Where we are right now, we can beat anybody in the United States."

Certainly in California.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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