AMES, Iowa (AP) — Just another Nebraska victory over Iowa State, right?
Well, in a way it was. The Cornhuskers’ 35-7 win Saturday was similar to the many other beat-downs they’ve put on the Cyclones through the years.
But this was one Nebraska had to have -- really, really had to have.
It broke a three-game losing streak, prevented the program’s first 0-3 conference start in 63 years and kept the Cornhuskers (4-3, 1-2 Big 12) moving forward after their strong performance in an overtime loss at No. 7 Texas Tech a week ago.
“I would say it was a must win,” Nebraska wide receiver Nate Swift said. “We needed this one. And it’s always fun to get a win on the road.”
Swift had a big pair of hands in the victory, catching eight passes for 112 yards and scoring the first touchdown. Joe Ganz and Marlon Lucky also played key roles, as did a defense that kept Iowa State (2-5, 0-3) in check for all but one play.
Ganz topped 300 yards passing for the sixth time in 10 career starts, completing 27-of-37 for 328 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Lucky ran for two touchdowns and Ganz ran one in.
“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. “
Iowa State 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 Oct. 4.
“As a football team, we have gone backward,” ISU coach Gene Chizik said. “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.”
Still, Iowa State 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 1-yard sneak for a touchdown to put it out of reach.
“This offense is always anxious because we’ve had our times this year when we’ve moved the ball,” Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud said. “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.”
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 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.
“They were giving up so things in the passing game,” Ganz said. “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 Cornhuskers 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 Swift for the first touchdown. Swift caught the ball at the 5, 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 Cornhuskers got the ball, Ganz bailed them out of a second-and-17 hole at his own 22 with a 27-yard completion Roy Helu Jr., who did most of the work himself after catching a short dump-off pass. Lucky finished that drive with a 4-yard TD run on a direct snap.
“I thought we had a good run/pass mix,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “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 and was blanked 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. Their seven points were the fewest Nebraska has given up in a conference game since a 21-3 victory at Kansas State on Oct. 14, 2006.
“The players feel themselves getting better,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “They see the necessity of getting better. If we ust stay with it, we can finish this season well.”