Joe Ganz passed for 328 yards and a touchdown and Marlon Lucky ran for two more scores to lead the Huskers past Iowa State 35-7 Saturday afternoon in Ames.
Nebraska (4-3, 1-2 Big 12) broke a three-game losing streak and avoided its first 0-3 start in conference play in 63 years. It was just the second victory for the Cornhuskers in their last 10 Big 12 games.
"I would say it was a must win," said Nebraska wide receiver Nate Swift, who caught eight passes for 112 yards and scored the first touchdown. "We needed this one. And it's always fun to get a win on the road."
Iowa State (2-5, 0-3) lost for the fifth straight time and for the second week in a row, did virtually nothing on offense. They lost to Baylor 38-10 a week ago and have been outscored 108-30 since leading Kansas 20-0 at halftime on October 4th.
"As a football team, we have gone backward," said ISU coach Gene Chizik. "We're hit and miss in so many areas of our football team right now. We've got to find a way to put our fingers in the holes in the dam."
ISU had a chance to get back into it after trailing 21-0 at halftime. Alexander Robinson ran 67 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the third quarter to finally give the Cyclones some life. But they had to punt on their next two possessions, Grant Mahoney missed a 40-yard field goal attempt and their final hopes ended when Devin McDowell fumbled the ball away returning a punt.
Nebraska capitalized with Ganz's one-yard sneak for a touchdown to put it out of reach. Ganz was almost flawless in the first half when it looked as if he and his receivers were playing catch in the backyard, going 21-of-26 for 283 yards. He finished 27-of-37 with no interceptions, his sixth 300-yard game in 10 career starts.
"Iowa State, they view this as a rivalry game, so we knew we were going to get their best effort and we knew we had to match the intensity and I think the guys did that," Ganz said. "We matched them punch for punch."
Ganz passed Vince Ferragamo, Turner Gill and Tommie Frazier to move into fifth place on Nebraska's career passing list with 3,524 yards. In the last two games, quarterbacks have completed 79 percent of their passes against Iowa State, 48-of-61. Baylor's Robert Griffin was 21-for-24 in a 38-10 victory over the Cyclones a week ago.
"They were giving up some things in the passing game," said Ganz. "We caught them off guard and they tried to blitz to answer it, but we had a great kill package to answer the blitz."
Nebraska scored on first-half drives of 92, 85 and 71 yards while Iowa State struggled to run any kind of successful play at all. The Huskers led 21-0 before Iowa State got its second first down, which came with 2:09 left in the half.
Ganz was 14-of-15 for 193 yards on the three drives, including a 19-yarder to Nate Swift for the first touchdown. Swift, who had eight catches for 112 yards, caught the ball at the five, bounced away when defensive back Leonard Johnson tried to push him and dove into the end zone.
Consecutive 11-yard completions to Todd Peterson and Swift set up the second TD, Lucky taking an option pitch from Ganz and zipping in from 15 yards.
The next time the Huskers got the ball, Ganz bailed them out of a second-and-17 hole at his own 22 with a 27-yard completion to Roy Helu Jr., who did most of the work himself after catching a short dump-off pass. Lucky finished that drive with a four-yard TD run on an direct snap.
"I thought we had a good run/pass mix," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. "I thought Joe ran the offense well and got us in and out of the right plays. We're hard to defend right now because we're keeping the defense off balance."
Only a fumble deep in ISU territory prevented Nebraska from making it 28-0 at halftime. Iowa State's Brandon Hunley jarred the ball from receiver Menelik Holt at the 10 and the Cyclones' Jesse Smith plucked it out of the air.
Even on that drive, which started with 1:08 left in the half, Nebraska totaled 59 yards. Iowa State managed only 45 yards in the entire half despite starting two possessions in Cornhusker territory.
The Cyclones finished with a season-low 218 yards and were 2-for-13 on third-down conversions. "This offense is always anxious because we've had our times this year when we've moved the ball," said Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud. "But as an offense and as a whole team we've got to find that even keel, that medium zone when we can ride out the bad times and play through it, fight through it."
Iowa State's seven points were the fewest Nebraska has given up in a conference game since a 21-3 victory at Kansas State on October 14, 2006.
"The players feel themselves getting better," said Pelini. "They see the necessity of getting better. If we just stay with it, we can finish this season well."