LINCOLN, Neb. — Taylor Martinez threw for a career-high 354 yards and matched his high with five touchdown passes to lead No. 17 Nebraska to a 49-20 victory over Southern Mississippi on Saturday.
The Huskers won their nation-leading 27th straight opener.
Nebraska played the last three quarters without Rex Burkhead. The 1,300-yard rusher last season went out with a sprained ligament in his left knee after opening the scoring with a career-long 57-yard run.
Backup Ameer Abdullah ran 15 times for 81 yards and made an acrobatic catch for an 11-yard TD.
Southern Miss backup quarterback Anthony Alford carried 15 times for 84 yards in his first college game.
The Golden Eagles, with first-year coach Ellis Johnson, scored their first touchdown on Tracy Lampley’s 100-yard kickoff return. They tied it 14-14 on first-time starter Chris Campbell’s 24-yard pass to Dominique Sullivan.
Nebraska’s go-ahead TD came on Martinez’s 9-yard pass to Jake Long.
Nebraska has scored 40 or more points in seven straight openers, and all but one of the wins during their streak have been by double digits.
The last time Southern Miss came to Lincoln (2004), the Eagles left with a 21-17 victory. There was no threat of that happening Saturday.
Martinez came out and showed the result of his offseason work on his passing mechanics. He said his goal was to complete 70 percent of his attempts, and he went out and hit on 26 of 34 (76 percent).
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck had said throughout fall camp that all signs pointed to his charges being more comfortable in the second year of his spread-option system.
The Huskers looked comfortable and confident early, not to mention dominant. They amassed 205 of their 632 total yards on their first three series with a 50-50 run-pass mix. Nebraska hadn’t gone over 600 yards since 2008 against Kansas State.
Martinez had starred as a runner in his previous two openers, combining for 262 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries.
Beck didn’t ask him to run much against the Eagles. But the junior threw, usually right on target.
He completed five straight short passes to start, then missed on a throw to Kenny Bell that Deron Wilson nearly intercepted. That was one of Martinez’s few mistakes. In fact, he lofted a beauty of a pass to Bell for a touchdown on the next play.
The past two years fans and media harangued Martinez for his unconventional motion that often had him throwing off his back foot and wildly off the mark.
He hired a personal quarterback coach in the spring and summer and attended the Manning camp in July.
Against Southern Miss, he went through his progressions, set his feet and threw with new-found zip.
The Huskers, who ran for 278 yards, won their 20th straight game in which they rushed for 185.
There was no word on Burkhead’s status for next week’s game at UCLA and beyond. Coach Bo Pelini said Burkhead was “day to day, week to week.”
Burkhead nearly fumbled as he took an inside handoff on the fourth play of the game, tucked the ball under his left arm and took off on a career-long 57-yard run to the end zone.
Quincy Enunwa turned one of his six receptions into a 27-yard catch-and-run before Martinez found Bell for a 26-yard pass that put Nebraska up 14-0.
Lampley caught the kickoff in the end zone, found a giant opening up the middle and easily outran kicker Brett Maher for the second kick return touchdown of his career.
The Eagles tied it on their next possession. Sullivan nearly went down after slipping through cornerback Andrew Green’s grasp, regained his feet and went the final 10 yards to the end zone for his tying TD.
The Huskers went 59 yards in 11 plays to take the lead for good, with Martinez flipping an easy TD pass to Long after drawing in the defense on the play-action fake.
The Golden Eagles, the defending Conference USA Champion, wore down in the second half in the 88-degree heat.
With 364 yards of total offense, Martinez moved past Zac Taylor into second place on the school’s career chart.