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Burkhead scores 3 TDs as Nebraska routs Michigan State

Oct 30, 2011 - 1:02 AM Lincoln, NE (Sports Network) - Rex Burkhead's first touchdown in the third quarter came after he appeared to fumble, and the second occurred only a few plays after he hobbled off the field, favoring his left leg.

Convention had little to do with either of Burkhead's scores in that period, but they provided breathing room as No. 13 Nebraska shut down ninth- ranked Michigan State, 24-3, at Memorial Stadium.

Burkhead scored three times -- twice on the ground -- and ran for 130 yards for the Cornhuskers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten), who have won their last three games.

While Burkhead's touchdowns provided the points, Nebraska's defense played a big part in turning the game into a rout. It limited Michigan State to 187 yards and forced Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins into his worst passing game of the season.

Cousins completed just 11-of-27 throws for a season-low 86 yards, didn't have a touchdown, and was intercepted once.

"We never got in a rhythm," Cousins said. "First off, we have to give credit to Nebraska. They had great coverage. They did a nice job covering us in space, and I think they have great athletes to do that. We had a hard time getting separation."

Michigan State (6-2, 3-1) was coming off last week's thrilling victory against then-No. 4 Wisconsin, when Keith Nichol caught a fortunate bounce on a Hail Mary attempt to score with no time left, lifting his team to a 37-31 victory.

But thanks to Burkhead, the Spartans never got a chance to shock Nebraska on Saturday.

The Cornhuskers held a 10-3 edge at halftime and used the opening possession of the third quarter to widen the lead. They started at their own 20 and worked their way up the field, converting three third downs.

Burkhead picked up a key one when he ran for 13 yards on 3rd-and-10, bringing the ball to the Michigan State 29. On the next series, Taylor Martinez found Brandon Kinnie for 12 yards to convert a 3rd-and-2.

The play gave Nebraska a 1st-and-goal at the Michigan State nine-yard line, and Burkhead did the rest. He ran for eight yards before getting the ball again and pushing his way toward the goal line.

The Spartans' defense pushed back and appeared to bring him down short of a touchdown. It appeared to create a fumble when the ball popped loose as Burkhead fell to the ground, and the Spartans celebrated as they were initially given possession.

But the play was reviewed, and replays showed that Burkhead's carrying hand crossed the plane of the end zone before the ball came loose. Instead of Michigan State taking over and trailing by one touchdown, Nebraska held a 17-3 lead with 9:32 left in the quarter.

The Cornhuskers took complete control after holding Michigan State to a punt. They again began a drive deep in their own territory -- at the 11 -- but again reached the end zone.

Several Michigan State infractions kept the drive going, but it appeared to stall when consecutive Nebraska penalties set up a 2nd-and-15 near midfield. Making matters worse, Burkhead left the field after rushing for a short gain. He favored his left leg because of calf cramping and needed the help of a trainer to reach to the sideline.

However, Martinez connected with Kenny Bell on a slant pattern for a 19-yard gain, giving Nebraska a first down at the Michigan State 27. Two plays later, Burkhead was back on the field and got past the Spartans' defense up the left sideline, hauling in Martinez's pass for a touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the quarter.

"At the time I was hoping I didn't cramp up again, because it was only a few plays after," Burkhead said. "Once I was in the open field, all I was thinking about was, 'Please don't cramp up right now.' Right when I caught it and turned I started feeling the tightness a little."

Nebraska's defense closed the victory in the fourth quarter, when it twice forced the Spartans to turn the ball over on downs.

The Cornhuskers defense also helped create the first points of the game. Lance Thorell intercepted Cousins on the opening possession and returned the ball to the Michigan State 25.

From there, Nebraska needed seven plays, including Burkhead's one-yard touchdown run, to reach the end zone.

Brett Maher drilled a 20-yard field goal late in the first quarter to give Nebraska a 10-0 lead, but Spartans kicker Dan Conroy hit a 28-yard try with 1:38 left in the first half.

Game Notes

Nebraska improved to 6-0 all-time against MSU. The teams hadn't met since the 2003 Alamo Bowl, when Nebraska posted a 17-3 win. Their last regular-season meeting was in 1996...Martinez threw for 80 yards on 7-of-13 passing.