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Without Burkhead, Huskers run it up in passing lane

The SportsXchange

LINCOLN, Neb - When Nebraska lost one of its offensive stars, the Huskers merely relied on another.

The result was the most prolific offensive game, by yardage, in the Bo Pelini era.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez passed for 354 yards and five touchdowns, and No. 17 Nebraska overcame an injury to Rex Burkhead to defeat Southern Mississippi, 49-20, on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska (1-0) racked up 632 yards of total offense, the most in five years under Pelini. The Huskers did most of it without last year's leading rusher, Burkhead, who left the game in the first quarter with a sprained MCL in his left knee.

Burkhead scored on the game's fourth play, a 57-yard touchdown run, to stake Nebraska to a 7-0 lead, and had only two carries thereafter.

Without him, Nebraska relied on backup running back Ameer Abdullah, who ran 15 times for 81 yards, and the improved arm of Martinez, a junior and third-year starter who completed 26-of-34 passes with no interceptions.

"It's what I expected from Taylor," Pelini said. "I've been seeing a lot of good things. I thought, to be efficient, he's got to handle the offense well. I thought he directed things very well. He got us out of some bad plays and into some right plays. For the most part, he made good decisions."

Martinez completed passes to 10 receivers, each making a catch before halftime, and had touchdown throws of 26 yards to Kenny Bell, nine yards to Jake Long and 29 yards to Steven Osborne to put Nebraska ahead, 28-17, at halftime.

"You saw a lot of guys make catches," Pelini said. "I don't know the number, but I thought it was pretty good across the board. We had a lot of guys play, and I don't know that there was anybody in there that didn't catch the football, or didn't have a catch."

The Huskers had a 14-0 lead after Martinez's scoring pass to Bell, but Tracy Lampley returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a Southern Miss touchdown.

Southern Miss tied the game, 14-14, on Chris Campbell's 24-yard pass to Dominique Sullivan, who caught the ball near the 10-yard line and escaped a tackle to run into the end zone. That capped an 11-play, 73-yard drive that began after Nebraska's Brett Maher missed a 44-yard field goal.

Nebraska responded with an 11-play touchdown drive in which Martinez completed all four of his passes, including the touchdown of nine yards to Long, and Abdullah ran six times for 20 yards.

Corey Acosta kicked a 45-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-17 with 1:37 remaining in the half, and Martinez directed Nebraska's two-minute offense with precision, going 4-of-5 passing for 77 yards in 34 seconds for a touchdown.

"We seldom got any pressure in his face," first-year Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson said. "A lot of his throws were play-action passes, and came out pretty quick."

Southern Miss, behind the running of backup quarterback Anthony Alford, drove into Nebraska territory to begin the second half, but the Huskers' Alonzo Whaley recovered a fumble at the Nebraska 40.

Nebraska punted on the ensuing possession, its only punt of the game, but scored touchdowns the next three times it touched the football. Martinez had touchdown passes of 18 and 11 yards, and Braylon Heard had a 10-yard touchdown run.

Southern Miss didn't complete a pass in the second half.

"High and low, hot and cold," Johnson said of his team's performance. "I think Chris and Anthony played extremely well. Defensively, I think it was poor. A lot of young guys on our defense showed their youth rather than their talent at times."

Notes: Rex Burkhead's 57-yard run in the first quarter was the longest of his career. His previous best was 52. ... Southern Miss played three quarterbacks, none of whom had played a snap in college before Saturday. ... Nebraska has won 27 consecutive season openers, the longest current streak in the nation. ... The 100-yard return by Tracy Lampley was the first Southern Miss kickoff return for a touchdown since Lampley accomplished the feat in 2010. ... Nebraska wide receiver Tim Marlowe left the game in the first half because of a separated shoulder.
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