LINCOLN, Neb. — Tom Osborne led Nebraska from the tunnel onto the field Saturday, and then the Cornhuskers went out and dominated the opponent the way the Hall of Fame coach’s teams did for so many years.
On “Salute to Tom Osborne Day” at Memorial Stadium, the 16th-ranked Huskers turned in one of their best performances of the season in a 38-14 victory over Minnesota.
Taylor Martinez threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns to Kenny Bell while becoming the Nebraska’s career passing leader, and Ameer Abdullah went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season.
It was a nice change for the Huskers (9-2, 6-1), who had to come from behind in the second half in four of their first five Big Ten wins.
They scored on four of their first six possessions against the Gophers (6-5, 2-5) and only let Minnesota cross midfield once before the middle of the third quarter.
“I enjoyed it,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.
Pelini had emphasized in the practices leading to the game that the Huskers needed to get off to a faster start.
“We’ve been coming out slow the past four or five weeks and giving people heart attacks,” Bell said. “It was big for us to get into our game faster to throw them off. We came out strong.”
The Huskers can clinch the Legends Division title — and a berth in the conference championship game against Wisconsin on Dec. 1 — with a win at Iowa on Friday or a Michigan loss at Ohio State next Saturday.
The 75-year-old Osborne was honored for his contributions to the university the past 50 years. Osborne, who won 255 games and three national titles from 1973-97, is retiring as athletic director Jan. 1.
Saturday marked his 500th game in an official capacity at Nebraska.
Pelini asked Osborne to lead the team onto the field during the traditional Tunnel Walk. Osborne, wearing a red windbreaker and ballcap, jogged with Pelini to the Nebraska sideline as the crowd roared.
“He was reluctant to do it,” Pelini said. “I thought it was the way it should be. I told him it would mean a lot to me and the football team and that’s the way it should be, not just for us. The fans wanted to see him walk out of there one last time.”
Martinez passed 36 yards to a wide-open Bell for the Huskers’ first touchdown, and they later connected for a 30-yarder along the sideline.
Minnesota had 98 total yards entering the fourth quarter. Nebraska pulled its starters, and the Gophers scored on MarQueis Gray’s 1- and 6-yard runs.
The Gophers finished with 177 yards. Philip Nelson was 8 of 23 for 59 yards, with two interceptions, for Minnesota.
“I haven’t seen Ohio State and those people but I’ve certainly seen Wisconsin and Nebraska on film and thought at this time they’re playing as good of football as anyone in the Big Ten,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “They certainly proved that today.”
Bell and Jamal Turner had career highs for catches and yards for Nebraska. Bell had nine for 136 yards and Turner six for 83.
Abdullah went over 1,000 yards for the season after running 18 times for 79 yards. Rex Burkhead, an All-Big Ten pick a year ago, went through warm-ups but did not play in a fourth straight game because of a left knee sprain.
“Rex could have played today,” Pelini said. “We chose not to do it. We think another week is going to help. Every day is going to help him. We’ll see how he is come Friday. When the time is right, you’ll see him.”
Imani Cross, the Huskers’ dependable short-yardage back, scored on runs of 3 and 1 yard.
The Huskers went unbeaten at home for the first time since 2001 and won a fifth consecutive conference game for the first time since 2009, when they were in the Big 12.
Bell’s second touchdown, followed by Stanley Jean-Baptiste’s 48-yard interception return, put the Huskers up 38-0 late in the third quarter.
Martinez completed his first six passes and finished 21 of 29. He increased his career passing yards to 6,140, passing Zac Taylor’s mark of 5,850 yards in 2005-06.
Martinez credited Joe Ganz, a graduate assistant and former Nebraska quarterback, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck for helping him set the record.
“It’s awesome,” Martinez said, “because there are so many great quarterbacks who have gone through here.”