33-0 victory over No. 20 University of Arizona on Dec. 30 at Qualcomm Stadium.
“Finishing with a win makes it pretty special,” said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. “We took the momentum early and I thought we executed our plan from start to finish. It was a complete win against a really good football team.”
Nebraska won the opening coin toss and deferred, putting their defense on the field. On the game’s third play from scrimmage, Huskers defensive back Matt O’Hanlon intercepted a pass from Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and returned it to the Wildcats’ five-yard line.
“That was a huge way to start the game,” Pelini said. “It set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Two plays after the interception, Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee ran for a four-yard touchdown for the game’s opening score. Lee’s score came 1 minute and 15 seconds in, the fastest score in Holiday Bowl history.
Nose tackle Ndamukong Suh and the Huskers’ defense dominated the rest of the first half, keeping Arizona off the scoreboard and holding the Wildcats’ offense to 32 yards and just one first down. Arizona’s spread attack could not find a rhythm.
“They did everything we expected them to do,” Foles said. “It just came down to them outplaying us.”
On the other side of the ball, the Nebraska offense that came in ranked 102nd in total offense could seemingly do no wrong. The Huskers got points on five of their six drives in the first half and led 23-0 at intermission.
“We came out there and showed them that we can play ball,” said Nebraska receiver Niles Paul. “Everybody doubted the offense but we just wanted the opportunity to go out there and show them what we can and will do.”
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Nebraska drove deep into Arizona territory and Huskers kicker Alex Henery nailed his Holiday Bowl record fourth field goal of the game. After a Wildcats punt, the Huskers put an exclamation on their victory when Lee found Paul for a 74-yard touchdown strike midway through the third quarter.
“The corner was biting on a lot of the short routes and he was just sitting there,” Paul said. “We talked to coach about running a double move route and it worked.”
Nebraska’s 396 yards of offense would be more than enough for their defense. The Huskers’ blackshirt defense kept Arizona off the scoreboard, recording the first shutout in Holiday Bowl history.
“We wanted the opportunity to do that,” Suh said. “It’s a great offense that we went against, but we’re a great defense as well. We wanted to hold them to (limited) yardage and hopefully keep them out of the end zone. That was a part of our gameplan.”
Nebraska (10-4) won its fourth straight bowl game and first Holiday Bowl, having lost to Arizona in 1999 in their only previous appearance here. In the win Dec. 30, the Huskers played their most complete game of the season.
“I think this program has come a long way,” Pelini said. “Where we are right now, we can compete with anybody in the United States. I’m excited about the future of this.”
Arizona (8-5) finished with eight wins for the second season in a row, including victories over University of Southern California and Stanford University. The Wildcats are 1-1 all-time in the Holiday Bowl, with this trip resulting in a bit of a setback on an otherwise great 2009 campaign.
“It has been a long time since we played like this. I don’t know if we were just content getting here, but we certainly didn’t show up in any way,” said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. “I can’t remember the last time we were dominated like this.”