Sept. 24, 2011
LARAMIE, Wyo. - Playing in the most anticipated game in program history, the University of Wyoming football team went into halftime trailing No. 9 Nebraska by just seven points, but the Huskers out-executed the Cowboys in the second half to come away with a 38-14 victory. UW played in front of the third-largest crowd in War Memorial Stadium history and gave the 32,617 boisterous fans a show on both sides of the ball, before dropping their first game of the season.
Wyoming (3-1) went blow-for-blow with the Huskers (4-0) in the first half, as freshman quarterback Brett Smith hit senior wide receiver Mazi Ogbonna for a 48-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter to go in at halftime down 14-7. Nebraska rattled off 17 unanswered points, though, and kept the Cowboys out of the endzone until midway through the fourth quarter.
"I was pleased that our kids came out and certainly competed against the ninth-ranked team in the country," UW head coach Dave Christensen said. "There are a number of things that we can correct and we will become a better team because of this game. Certainly not disappointed in their willingness to compete and try to win the game."
Smith paced UW's efforts with a 17-for-33 effort for 166 passing yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Robert Herron had four catches for 35 yards and a touchdown, while Ogbonna added 54 yards and a touchdown as well. Junior running back Alvester Alexander contributed 55 rushing yards on 14 carries.
"I was pleased that the offense kept coming back and put up a fight," Christensen said. "Brett (Smith) had a nice game, to play the way he did against a team like Nebraska as a true freshman, I thought he handled the game well."
Defensively, senior defensive end Josh Biezuns notched eight tackles, while sophomore linebacker Devyn Harris and senior linebacker Brian Hendricks each contributed seven stops. Defensive tackle Gabe Knapton earned a sack to go with six tackles, as the senior moved into 10th all-time on UW's career tackle chart. Senior corner back Tashaun Gipson forced a fumble and recovered it.
"I thought we played hard," Knapton said. "Once again, it was a few big plays and breakdowns in the defense where they got some yards on us. Never happy with a loss, especially one like this, but everyone is working hard. We came away with some positives and now we need to move on and get ready for the next game."
It was a defensive battle to start the game. The squads exchanged punts and field position until NU running back Rex Burkhead scored the first touchdown of the game on a 45-yard flash down the left side of the field. The run put the Huskers up 7-0 with 8:29 to go in the first and that's how the teams would enter the second quarter. The Cowboy defense held the Nebraska offense to two plays over 10 yards in the first quarter.
The Wyoming offense showed signs of life to start the second quarter with a drive into NU territory, but a personal foul penalty backed UW up and the NU defense held. The Huskers quickly moved into the UW side of the field on their ensuing drive with a 30-yard toss from quarterback Taylor Martinez to Quincy Enunwa. Burkhead followed with a 22-yard rush on the next play and Nebraska was in business. Four plays later Martinez rushed in from eight yards out and NU went up 14-0 with 6:28 left in the half. The eight-play, 80-yard drive took 2:50.
The Cowboys got on the board with a big play of their own to swing momentum back toward UW. Smith crafted a methodical drive to the NU 48 before hitting Ogbonna over the middle. The senior wide receiver broke two tackles down the left side of the field en route to the endzone to bring UW within 14-7. The seven-play, 80-yard drive took 2:51 and left 3:37 in the half.
Nebraska drove to UW's 32 with the remaining time and attempted a 50-yard field goal, but the kick sailed just wide right to send the teams into the break at 14-7. Smith went 8-of-15 in the first half for 91 yards, while Alexander had 31 rushing yards and Ogbonna added 54 receiving yards. Junior safety Luke Ruff led the UW defense with four tackles. NU held a 205-170 advantage in total yards at the break.
The Huskers pushed the lead right back to 14 with a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. The UW defense had held on a third-down play, but a late-hit penalty gave NU a first down and Burkhead rushed in from 16 yards to put Nebraska up 21-7 two minutes into the third quarter.
The Cowboys compiled a drive to near midfield and tried a fake punt to earn some momentum, but came up just short. Senior punter Austin McCoy completed a pass to Ghaali Muhammad, but NU tackled him just short of the first down. Martinez hit tight end Kyler Reed on the next play for a 44-yard strike to UW's six-yard line, but the Cowboy defense held NU to a 20-yard field goal. On the drive, Knapton moved into sole possession of 10th all-time on UW's career tackle chart. The kick put NU up 24-7 with 8:06 left in the third quarter.
Wyoming went three-and-out on its next drive, but the Cowboy defense came up big with a fumble recovery near midfield on NU's ensuing drive. Gipson forced the fumble and recovered it at midfield. UW drove to Nebraska's 15, but failed to convert on a 32-yard field goal that sailed wide left.
Nebraska made Wyoming pay for the misstep with a systematic 10-play, 80-yard drive in 3:51 that was capped with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Kenny Bell. The march put NU squarely in control, 31-7, with 13:55 left in the game.
Wyoming held out hope with an extended drive of its own through the air. Smith went 7-of-11 on the drive to guide the Cowboy 80 yards in 14 plays. He hit Herron for a 10-yard touchdown on a fourth-down play to put the game at 31-14 with 8:13 left.
Nebraska went to the ground to seal the game with an 11-play, 80-yard drive in 4:16. The Huskers didn't attempt a pass on the drive and effectively sealed the game with 11-straight rushes for the touchdown to go up 38-14 with 3:57 to go.