Taylor Martinez threw for a career-high 354 yards and five touchdowns to propel the No. 17 Nebraska football team to a 49-20 victory over defending Conference USA champion Southern Miss on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska notched its nation-leading 27th consecutive season-opening victory, while opening its 50th straight season of home sellouts with its NCAA-record 319th consecutive sellout (85,425) at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers also handed Ellis Johnson his first loss as the Golden Eagles' head coach.
Martinez, a junior from Corona, Calif., who became the first Husker quarterback in history to start three consecutive season openers, threw for a career-high 354 yards while tying his career best with five touchdown passes to five different receivers. The 354 passing yards marked the ninth single-game passing total in Nebraska history.
With Martinez confidently at the controls, the Huskers rolled to 632 yards of total offense, including 278 rushing yards on 45 carries. Martinez needed just 10 rushing yards on six carries to finish with 364 individual total offense yards for the fourth-highest mark of his career.
Nebraska's huge total offense day came without the services of senior I-back Rex Burkhead for a majority of the game. Burkhead had three carries for 68 yards and a touchdown in NU's first three offensive series in the first quarter, before leaving the game with an injury.
Sophomore I-back Ameer Abdullah enjoyed a banner day in place of Burkhead, rushing for a team-best 81 yards on 15 carries, while adding NU's final touchdown of the day with a leaping 11-yard touchdown catch from Martinez. Abdullah finished with four receptions for 39 yards, while adding 41 yards on three punt returns to finish with 161 all-purpose yards.
Abdullah led a stable of young running backs that included Imani Cross (11-62), Braylon Heard (3-34-1 TD) and Mike Marrow (4-15).
Before Burkhead's early exit, the senior I-back from Plano, Texas, sent the crowd into a frenzy by racing a career-long 57 yards for a touchdown to give Nebraska a quick 7-0 lead just 1:18 into the game.
After the Blackshirts forced a punt on USM's first possession, the Huskers jumped to a 14-0 lead on Martinez's 26-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell with 7:07 left. The drive included a 27-yard connection between Martinez and Quincy Enunwa. Enunwa led the Husker receiving corps with six receptions for 70 yards on the day.
NU went 3-for-3 on third-down conversions on the drive, while Martinez helped the Huskers convert 12-of-15 third-down plays for the game.
But Nebraska's 14-point lead was short-lived, as Tracy Lampley took Brett Maher's kickoff from the goal line 100 yards for a touchdown to cut NU's edge to 14-7 with 6:48 left.
The Huskers drove deep into the USM red zone on their next drive, before a sack and an offensive pass interference penalty stalled the drive. Maher's field goal attempt was no good, and the Golden Eagles took advantage. Dominique Sullivan capped an 11-play drive with a 24-yard touchdown catch from Chris Campbell that tied the score at 14 following the extra point with 13:09 left in the half.
Martinez and the Huskers responded with an 11-play drive of their own, powering their way 59 yards capped by Jake Long's nine-yard touchdown catch with 9:09 left in the half. Long was Martinez's ninth different receiver with a catch at that point, as the junior quarterback opened the game 12-for-14 for 139 yards and two scores in just over 20 minutes of action.
The Blackshirts then forced a quick three-and-out, but after driving into the USM red zone again, Maher missed his second field goal of the half. The Golden Eagles cut the lead to 21-17 on their next possession, capped by Corey Acosta's career-long 45-yard field goal with 1:44 left.
Martinez kept the Husker offense firing on all cylinders, coordinating a five-play, 77-yard drive in just 34 seconds, capped by a 29-yard scoring strike to Steven Osborne. The touchdown catch, which was the first of Osborne's career, pushed NU's lead back to two scores at 28-17 to end the half.
Martinez finished the half 18-of-23 for 247 passing yards with three touchdowns, with completions to 10 different receivers.
Martinez kept firing in the second half, going over the 300-yard passing mark for just the second time in his career with eight minutes left in the third quarter. He connected with Kyler Reed on an 18-yard scoring toss with 7:36 left in the quarter for his fourth passing touchdown of the game, while pushing his yardage total to 322 and giving NU a 35-17 lead. Reed finished the day with five catches for 57 yards.
The Huskers went up 42-17 on Braylon Heard's 10-yard scoring sprint with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
After an Acosta field goal cut Nebraska's lead back to three scores at 42-20, Martinez ended any Southern Miss comeback hopes by finding Abdullah with an 11-yard touchdown strike to cap the scoring.
Nebraska's defense limited Southern Miss to 260 total yards, including just 75 passing yards. USM did manage 185 yards on 47 rushes, but three Golden Eagle quarterbacks combined to go just 7-of-19 through the air.
Nebraska hits the road for the first time next week when the Huskers head to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to take on UCLA. Kickoff between the Huskers and Bruins is set for 6:30 p.m. (central) with live national television coverage provided by FOX.