LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska is off to the Big 12 championship game — and Bo Pelini won’t go kicking and screaming.
The Cornhuskers’ volatile coach was on his best behavior Friday while his 16th-ranked team beat Colorado 45-17 to lock up the Big 12 North without starting quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Pelini was the focus of the week after his foul-mouthed sideline rants during the loss at Texas A&M earned him a rebuke from the Nebraska chancellor.
If all the drama was any distraction, it didn’t show on the field.
“A lot of people tried to tear this team apart,” Pelini said, referring to the national media attention he attracted for his meltdown in College Station, Texas. “We weren’t going to let it happen. Enough said on that.”
Running back Rex Burkhead passed for two touchdowns and ran for 101 yards and another score in Nebraska’s final meeting with Colorado before they head to different conferences.
Nebraska (10-2, 6-2) will go to Arlington, Texas, next Saturday hoping to win its third Big 12 title, and first since 1999, before going to the Big Ten next year.
There was no North Division trophy presentation after the game. Athletic director Tom Osborne said through spokesman Keith Mann that Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe had safety concerns about traveling to Lincoln after his office received disconcerting correspondence from fans angry about the work of game officials in Nebraska games.
Colorado (5-7, 2-6), which played its third game under interim coach Brian Cabral, failed to become bowl eligible in its last season before joining the Pacific-12. The Buffaloes were 2-1 since Dan Hawkins’ firing.
“Would I like to be the next head coach? Yes, but that’s not up to me,” Cabral said. “I just had a wonderful ride these last three weeks. I had the best seat in the house for three weeks. There isn’t a Buff alive that wouldn’t give anything for that. I just feel so privileged to have been in this position. Where this goes, only God knows.”
With Martinez out because of injuries to his right ankle and left foot, the Huskers relied heavily on Burkhead to take pressure off backup quarterback Cody Green.
Burkhead went to the bench early in the second half, when the Huskers converted three turnovers into touchdowns to break open the game.
Before that, Burkhead, who finished with 19 carries, took handoffs and pitches from Green and direct snaps in the wildcat formation. He also showed he could still throw a little bit.
“Nothing Rex Burkhead does surprises me,” Pelini said. “He’s what a football player is supposed to be. They ought to put his picture next to it in the dictionary. He just does so many things to help you.”
Burkhead, who played quarterback as a high school sophomore, gave Nebraska a 17-3 halftime lead after he took a pitch and started running to his right. He pulled up and lofted a perfect spiral over Colorado’s Jalil Brown and into the hands of Brandon Kinnie for a 26-yard touchdown.
Burkhead’s other TD pass was worthy of the season highlight video. Lined up in the wildcat, he faked a handoff and ran right, pumping once before he reversed field and headed left. He pushed away defensive end Forrest West and, as he neared the sideline, flipped a short pass to Kyler Reed for a 4-yard TD.
“After those two touchdown passes, I looked at him and said, ‘Hey, slow down a little bit. I’m the one who’s supposed to be throwing them,’” Green said, laughing.
Green completed 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns, and Roy Helu Jr. ran 15 times for 77 yards.
Dan Hawkins watched from the press box as his son, Cody Hawkins, became Colorado’s all-time leading passer when he threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Will Jefferson. Hawkins was 10 of 26 for 163 yards and two TDs. He finished his career with 7,409 yards, breaking Joel Klatt’s record of 7,375.
For Nebraska, the victory was a happy ending to a tumultuous week. Chancellor Harvey Perlman on Sunday called out Pelini for his intense and animated outbursts directed toward officials and Martinez. Pelini publicly apologized for his behavior on Monday.
On Tuesday defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, Bo’s brother, apologized for knocking a video camera out of the hands of a reporter on the field after the A&M game and athletic director Tom Osborne issued a statement saying he expected Bo Pelini to tone down his antics.
Bo Pelini’s temper was tested early in Friday’s game when Burkhead dropped a short pass and officials initially ruled it a fumble instead of an incompletion. Pelini showed no visible reaction to the call, which was overturned on video review.
Later, he raised his hands but kept his cool as he talked to two officials about why no flag was thrown when Burkhead got bumped after appearing to have called for a fair catch on a punt.
The Nebraska student section played off Pelini’s complaints about penalties in the A&M game, showing up with yellow flags that they waved en masse whenever it looked like a penalty was or wasn’t warranted.
“I know a lot of people have their negative outlook on (Pelini),” Burkhead said, “but us, as players, we know who he is. He’s a great coach, and hands down he’s a great guy and we love playing for him.”
Green said, “We always say whenever coach Bo quits yelling at you, that’s when you need to worry because there’s a problem. We don’t care that he yells.”
The Huskers are in the Big 12 championship game for the second straight year. Last year they lost 13-12 to Texas after officials put 1 second back on the clock, enough time for the Longhorns to kick the winning field goal.
The Huskers have been fueled all season by the disappointment of that game.
“They earned it. They did a lot,” Pelini said. “They won 10 football games, and that’s not easy to do.”
One more and the Huskers will have the ultimate going away present from the Big 12.