By Arthur Garcia
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
SAN ANTONIO -- South Texas in late December is a welcome prize for most teams, but for Nebraska it served as little consolation.
The Riverwalk or sunny skies couldn't mask the disappointment of a season that began with national-championship aspirations, only to dissolve into a spot in a second-tier bowl game.
Uninspired by their surroundings or their opponent, the No. 9 Cornhuskers were caught napping early in their Saturday night date with No. 18 Northwestern at the Alamo Bowl. But when the Wildcats jumped to a 10-7 lead early, Nebraska found the inspiration needed and the Huskers rolled to an easy 66-17 victory at the Alamodome, setting a bowl scoring record.
The previous record was held by Texas A&M; in a 65-21 victory against Virginia in the 1990 Holiday Bowl. Nebraska's previous bowl high came in a 62-24 victory against Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
"Our coaches did a good job of preparing us for this game," Nebraska senior wingback Bobby Newcombe said. "We just ran some plays that seemed to work, and our offense executed well."
Nebraska (10-2) grabbed hold of its 20th all-time bowl victory with a 31-point second-quarter. The Cornhuskers amassed 204 yards of offense in the quarter, with three touchdowns covering at least 50 yards. Not to be left out, kicker Josh Brown added a 51-yard field goal.
Northwestern (8-4) suffered its worst beating of the season, surpassing the 41-14 rout TCU inflicted on the co-Big 10 champions in Fort Worth on Sept. 16. The Wildcats were held under 28 points for only the third time this year.
Though the game quickly disintegrated into a laugher in the second quarter, Northwestern, behind quarterback Zak Kustok, had the Cornhuskers guessing on their first few possessions.
The Wildcats' quick-hitting spread offense, which often included misdirection keepers by Kustok, hit for several big gains. A pair of Kustok runs totaling 58 yards led to a field goal that cut Nebraska's lead to 7-3 five minutes into the game.
The Wildcats took their only lead less than a minute into the second quarter on a 10-yard Kustok scoring pass set up by a trick play that also worked against TCU, a fake punt that drew a pass-interference call.
That's when Big Red started to roar.
Nebraska was back on top a mere 20 seconds after the Northwestern score. Joe Walker returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the 50 and quarterback Eric Crouch took it the distance on the next play. The Huskers would score on four of their next six possessions, three touchdowns and a field goal, to put things out of reach by the half.
Nebraska I-back Dan Alexander rushed for an Alamo Bowl-record 240 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns.
The Huskers victory helped ease the pain of a year they felt went bad. Nebraska was ranked No. 1 heading into their eighth game of the season, but a 31-14 loss at Oklahoma on Oct. 28 dropped them out of the top spot. A loss at Kansas State on Nov. 11 ended their title hopes and cost the Huskers a place in the Bowl Championship Series.
Shuttled off to the Alamo Bowl, as the Big 12's fourth-choice bowl team, the Huskers played in only their second "non-major" bowl in 21 years. Nebraska lists major bowls as ones played on or after Jan. 1.
"We felt our season wasn't the one we wanted," Crouch said. "So we had to go out and prove ourselves against a good team like Northwestern."
Nebraska has played in an NCAA-record 32 consecutive bowl games, a streak that coincides with a run of seasons of at least nine victories. The Cornhuskers improved to 20-19 in bowls overall and 2-1 under coach Frank Solich.
The Wildcats are 1-3 in bowl games, with three of the trips coming in the past six years.
Arthur Garcia, (817) 390-7760