Joe Ganz threw for 510 yards and seven touchdowns to set school records as Nebraska scored on 11 straight possessions en route to a 73-31 win over Kansas State Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers (5-6, 2-5 Big 12), coming off last week's 76-39 embarrassment at Kansas, had the program's highest point total since Tom Osborne's unbeaten 1997 national championship team beat Iowa State 77-14.
"The guys are just sick of hearing about how bad we are and we just came out and unleashed it," said Ganz.
It was the Huskers' first victory since they beat Iowa State on September 29th, ending a five-game losing streak during which NU was outscored 226-88.
"We thought we forgot how to win," said Cortney Grixby, who returned a kickoff 94 yards for Nebraska's first touchdown.
"Today we came out and everybody had a lot of enthusiasm and energy and we got it back. We just remembered how to win and how to finish a football game."
It was also the first win since Osborne returned last month as interim athletic director.
On this day, the Huskers looked like the Osborne teams of yesteryear that routinely throttled K-State. Coach Bill Callahan even called an option play for Ganz.
Nebraska's maligned defense pressured K-State QB Josh Freeman all day, sacking him four times. The Wildcats had 428 yards, but most came after the game was out of hand.
Linebacker Bo Ruud said he and his teammates are determined to finish the season strong. It also was important to send out the seniors with a victory in their final game at Memorial Stadium.
"As a unit, we haven't played well," Ruud said. "It wasn't just the D-line. We played poorly for six or seven games. We were harping that we've got talent and we just haven't used it. Today we used it."
The Huskers changed up a few things on defense, but not much. Rather than looking to changes, Ruud credited the play of the defensive line, which was able to get pressure on Freeman without requiring much blitzing help.
That let Nebraska's linebackers and defensive backs drop into passing lanes and stop the Wildcats' passing attack.
"We felt really good about the game plan against the run and the pass," said defensive end Zach Potter.
"We were real loose out there. It made it a lot of fun to play. Their O-line was good, but we've seen better. We felt we could do some things. Then we got up early and we kept playing looser."
This game was all about Nebraska's offense, whose 702 total yards were the most since the 1995 team had 776 against Iowa State.
Ganz, making his second start in place of the injured Sam Keller, completed 30-of-40 passes with no interceptions before leaving in the middle of the fourth quarter. His big day came after he threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns in last week's blowout loss at Kansas.
Ganz's seven TD passes, three to Frantz Hardy, were the most since 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch threw for five against Iowa State in 2000.
"Sometimes in this game it gets a little crazy and can go either way," Callahan said. "We've been on both sides of the spectrum now."
One of the biggest rounds of applause for Ganz came not for a pass but for a play he made with his legs late in the third quarter. Instead of punting on fourth-and-20 from the K-State 46, the Huskers went for it. Finding no one open, Ganz took off running, picking up 23 yards for the first down.
Ganz converted another fourth down with a pass to Maurice Purify before throwing seven yards to Terrence Nunn for a TD.
Nebraska scored almost at will after going three-and-out on its first series. Even with a 52-10 lead, Callahan kept calling downfield pass plays, even going for it on that fourth-and-20 from the K-State 46.
Did Callahan run up the score? "I didn't think about the score," he said. "We just kept playing."
Kansas State coach Ron Prince had no complaints about Callahan. "It's his job to coach his team. It's my job to try and stop him."
Kansas State (5-5, 3-4) hadn't given up so many points since a 75-28 defeat to Oklahoma in 1971. "That was as thorough a defeat as we've had as a program and personally," Prince said.
"As a professional you expect better of yourself and those around you. Clearly the game got away from us."
Grixby tied it 7-all with the 94-yard kickoff return, Nebraska's first for a touchdown since 1998.
The Wildcats went up 10-7 on Brooks Rossman's 31-yard field goal and then the Nebraska defense clamped down.
Ganz passed 26 yards to Marlon Lucky for the go-ahead touchdown. He pump-faked once to his left and then threw to his right to Lucky, who picked up a block from offensive lineman Mike Smith on his way to the end zone.
Andre Jones returned a punt 43 yards to set up Ganz's 36-yard TD pass to Hardy, who also caught eight-yard and 39-yard scoring passes in the third quarter.
Alex Henery's 27-yard field goal, Lucky's five-yard run and Ganz's 23-yard pass to Todd Peterson put the Huskers up 38-10 at halftime.
Kansas State's offense went almost dormant after generating 168 yards on its first 23 plays. The Wildcats gained just 31 yards on their next 23 snaps against a Nebraska defense that had given up no fewer than 459 yards in any of its previous five games.
The game was all but over by the time K-State started moving the ball again in the second half.
Freeman completed 26-of-44 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran for a four-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
James Johnson led K-State with a game-high 129 yards rushing. Lucky had 103 yards and two touchdowns for Nebraska.
For K-State, the lopsided loss followed a 31-20 defeat to Iowa State, the last-place team in the Big 12 North.
"It's embarrassing," free safety Marcus Watts said. "I'd like to apologize to our fans that I was a part of it. As a senior I never wanted to be a part of something like this, but sometimes things just happen. There's nothing you can really do about it. We didn't quit today, we just got outplayed."
Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove has been criticized this season for being unable to offer an explanation when things have broken down.
On Saturday, he couldn't pinpoint why things went right. "I really can't tell you," Cosgrove said. "We haven't coached any different. We practiced the same. I think they wanted to prove themselves."
Cosgrove said he sensed his charges were ready from the get-to. "I saw it right way, on the first play of the game. You felt the energy. The locker room was pretty quiet. Once we hit the field the energy was there."
Now, Ruud said, the Huskers are charged up to go to Colorado on November 23rd and get a win that would give them a .500 record and possibly get them to a bowl game.
"This lifts us up," said Ruud. "After USC, I feel we've been down in the dumps. It's got to really help our football team. You couldn't ask for a better way to go out at Memorial Stadium playing as bad as we did and then to come out and win like we did today."