BOULDER, Colo. — Niles Paul has always felt the Huskers were just a block or two away from breaking a punt return for a touchdown.
The payoff finally came in Nebraska’s 28-20 win against Colorado on Friday.
The junior delivered what would prove to be one of the game’s deciding plays when he took a first-quarter return 59 yards for a touchdown and the game’s first points.
“I just (saw) a hole and I gashed it,” Paul said. “I thought I had it. They were sitting there waiting for me to make a move, and I just took it straight up the field.”
On a day when Husker coach Bo Pelini was not particularly impressed with his team, he was pleased with one area.
“We played well on special teams and that’s about it,” Pelini said.
It wasn’t just Paul who produced. Alex Henery continued to be masterful punting, averaging 50.7 yards in the thin air with a long punt of 63 yards. Four of his punts pinned CU inside its 20-yard line. And one of those punts — which came in the first quarter — was downed at the Colorado 2.
Eight Henery punts have been downed inside the opponent’s 3 this season.
“A huge weapon. He’s a big part of us having the success we’ve had defensively,” said John Papuchis, who works with NU’s special teams.
“We want to make an impact on the game,” Papuchis said. “We talk about our core principles every week. We want to control field position, control the momentum of the game and, hopefully, score points.”
Husker fans held their breath early in the third quarter when junior quarterback Zac Lee had to leave the game.
Lee was injured when he got crunched on a busted play. He was down on the field for a couple minutes. Freshman Cody Green came in for two snaps.
Lee had his ankle re-taped, returned on the next series and finished the game, though he was seen hobbling after a few plays.
“I’ll be fine,” Lee said. “I just got twisted up on. I had a few bodies laying on top of me and I went a different direction.”
Jones for Jones
Husker junior D.J. Jones got the start and played the whole game at right tackle despite limping off the field after one series early in the first quarter.
Marcel Jones has seen most of the action there but didn’t play after being injured on the third play last week against Kansas State.
“D.J.’s basically been a starter the whole year,” senior center Jacob Hickman said. “Marcel’s been getting the nod, but every game it’s (viewed that) Marcel and D.J. are the starters at right tackle. I don’t even notice any difference.”
A big catch
It won’t be a play most people remember, but Paul had a major catch on NU’s key fourth-quarter drive.
Facing a third-and-5 at the CU 32, Lee found Paul for a 10-yard gain. The only thing Paul wishes he had done is kept his feet. He might have scored.
Still, it was a big first down and helped make up for a ball Paul thought he should have caught in the second quarter that also would have gone for a big play.
“My coach (Ted Gilmore) got on me about that one,” Paul said of that second-quarter drop. “It’s a problem I’ve been having all year. I just kind of try to take off before I catch the ball. … I was upset, because if I had caught it, I would have been gone.”
A Millard North grad scored against the Huskers. Jake Behrens, a senior fullback from Omaha, scored CU’s first touchdown on a 2-yard reception. It was Behrens’ first score this season.
“I got my play called, and I got pretty excited,” Behrens said. “I will remember that forever.”
Nebraska sacked Colorado QB Tyler Hansen just once, for 17 yards.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some good pressure at times. But Husker senior nose tackle Ndamukong Suh said Hansen was quick on his feet.
Hansen’s greatest escape came early in the third quarter when he spun away from Suh, then avoided rushers coming from the other side and completed a 9-yard pass to Demetrius Sumler.
“He’s a bit more elusive than other quarterbacks that we have seen,” Suh said. “We still got back there. We just needed to make sure we got good shots on him.”
This and that
This is the first time the Huskers have won nine games in back-to-back seasons since 2000-2001. … NU’s five-game conference winning streak is its longest since 2001. … Matt O’Hanlon’s five interceptions this season are the most by a Husker since Daniel Bullocks had five in 2004. … Ben Cotton’s 24-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was the first TD reception of his career. … Nebraska was plus 2 in turnover margin. It’s the fifth straight game NU has held an edge in turnover margin. … Larry Asante now has 215 career tackles, third in Nebraska history among defensive backs. … Senior David Harvey started at defensive end, the first start of his career. Barry Turner entered the game on the second play.
Reach Brian Christopherson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 473-7439.