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Huskers run wild at K-State

Nebraska's Ryan Hill (80) and Jaivorio Burkes (72) make a massive hole for Roy Helu to run through Saturday in the Huskers' win at Kansas State. (Ted Kirk)

MANHATTAN, Kan. — You want a snapshot of one team imposing its will on a cold day in November? Here’s a picture for you:

It’s the fourth quarter. Nebraska sophomore running back Quentin Castille was charging ahead and Kansas State cornerback Otis Johnson was closing in.

A thought crossed Castille’s mind: What if I jump over him?

The thought passed.

“I’m like, ‘Man, I’ll leave that to Roy.’”

So instead of hurdling like Roy Helu, Castille faced Johnson head-on. The oohs and aahs from  the Husker fans told you who won the battle.

Nebraska (7-4) came out ahead in those collisions Saturday afternoon in a 56-28 win that was both statistically dominating and rough K-State quarterback Josh Freeman.

The Wildcats (4-7) returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown and a kick return 98 yards for a score, but that didn’t matter much when you are outyarded 610 to 247.

Nebraska owned the line of scrimmage and continually bamboozled the Wildcats with the zone-read play.

It wasn’t just the Nebraska running backs who were having a good time running the ball. Quarterback Joe Ganz was, too, picking up 95 yards on 11 carries, running for two touchdowns in the second half, setting a record for most total yards in a season by a Husker in the process.

“We just wanted to go out there and impose our will and be dominant, and we were able to do that,” said Marcel Jones, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman. “We strive for it, and after we kept going at them and going at them, you kind of smell the blood in the water.”

The Huskers had 340 yards rushing, averaging 6.4 yards per  carry. Nebraska’s top four running backs — Helu, Castille, Marlon Lucky and Marcus Mendoza — combined for 228 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

“We didn’t want to let up. We just wanted to stay on them,” Jones said. “Coach kept telling us, ‘Don’t give in. Don’t give an inch.’”

Sure, there was some sloppiness. Nebraska found trouble early when Ganz misfired on a pass to Nate Swift. The ball bounced off Swift’s left hand and right into the arms of K-State’s Courtney Herndon, who returned it 57 yards for a touchdown.

The people in purple roared. The Huskers didn’t sweat it.

“Obviously, it wasn’t the way we wanted to start,” NU coach Bo Pelini said. “But that’s one thing, they have not panicked or pointed the finger or done anything like that. We always say at some point in every game you’re going to face some adversity. And our kids just came back and our offense responded real quick.”

Helu scored, then Castille, then Helu again — that one coming two plays after NU recovered a fumbled punt at the K-State 30-yard line.

Ganz finished the half with touchdown passes to Todd Peterson and Mike McNeill. It was 35-14 at the break.

“They showed what very good teams do,” said Ron Prince, who now has just one game remaining as head coach of the Wildcats. “They were able to put a drive on and score in a very physical way, and that’s what really good teams do.”

For the Wildcats to pull out the win, it was thought that Freeman would have to really get it going. He didn’t.

Once a Husker recruit, Freeman was sacked four times — Kansas State had given up just 11 sacks coming into the game —  and had to leave the game midway through the third quarter after suffering an apparent concussion.

He finished a lackluster 7-of-18   passing, for just 114 yards.

While always in firm control, Nebraska hit a third-quarter lull and the Wildcats tried to make it interesting, getting an impressive drive directed by backup quarterback Carson Coffman, brother of Missouri tight end Chase Coffman.

On Coffman’s first series, the Cats went 92 yards in nine plays, with Coffman scoring on a sneak on a fourth-and-goal to cut the deficit to 35-21 with 3:08 left in the third quarter.

Danger? Ganz thought not, leading his team back on an 84-yard drive, finishing it with a 25-yard touchdown run on a zone-read play.

Brandon Banks then returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.

But Ganz answered again, leading NU on a 72-yard drive, this time scoring on a 14-yard run on a zone-read play to make it 49-28.

“In the zone-read play, you take what they give you,” Pelini said. “They were giving us the run and we know Joe is very capable of hurting people with his feet.”

Mendoza added the final score with a 31-yard run late and Huskers went to the locker room on a cold day knowing that warmer destinations are in their future.

“It’s just a great feeling. It really does say a lot about this team,” Husker senior linebacker Tyler Wortman said.

“We’ve had some kind of growing pains coming along here. But I think just every game we’ve been getting better. Coach Pelini will tell you we still haven’t played our best game. But I think we’re getting closer and closer.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at 473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com.

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