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Golden Eagles Fall Short at Nebraska, 49-20

Jamie Collins runs down the field.

Jamie Collins runs down the field.

Sept. 1, 2012

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Taylor Martinez saw immediate results from all the offseason work he did to improve his passing.

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.

"We've been practicing all along like that, against our defense, so we knew as an offense that our offense is really good," Martinez said. "We've got to be able to keep that momentum going. I don't think no one could stop us if we keep going like that. We have so many dynamic athletes out there."

Martinez, in his third year as the starter, might be the most dynamic of them all if he keeps passing like he did against the Golden Eagles.

The junior always has been a running threat. The knock against him has been his inconsistency as a passer.

The past two years fans and media harangued Martinez for an unconventional motion that often had him throwing off his back foot and wildly off the mark.

"I think for a while I was probably his only friend," offensive coordinator Tim Beck told reporters.

Why?

"Just how he gets criticized all the time. Today he'll be up for the Heisman. Tomorrow you guys will want to...," Beck said, not finishing his thought.

The last time Southern Miss came to Lincoln (2004), the Eagles left with a 21-17 victory. Any threat of an upset was gone by halftime.

The Huskers won their nation-leading 27th straight opener. Nebraska has scored 40 or more points in seven openers in a row, and all but one of the wins during their streak have been by double digits.

First-year Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson said Martinez wasn't the biggest factor in the game.

"The biggest thing was they man-handled us on the line," Johnson said. "I thought that was obvious the whole game. The thing they did well was their tempo. They run a power offense with a tempo, which is unusual, and we didn't have the ability to keep up with them a couple of times."

Southern Miss backup quarterback Anthony Alford carried 15 times for 84 yards in his first college game.

The Golden Eagles 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 early in the second quarter.

The only damper for Nebraska was an injury to Rex Burkhead. Nebraska played the last three quarters without the 1,300-yard rusher last season. He went out with a sprained ligament in his left knee after opening the scoring with a career-long 57-yard run.

Coach Bo Pelini said Burkhead was "day-to-day, week-to-week."

Burkhead's backup, Ameer Abdullah, ran 15 times for 81 yards and made an acrobatic catch for an 11-yard TD.

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 yards on their first three series with a 50-50 run-pass mix and finished with 632, the most since Pelini took over as coach in 2008.

Martinez had starred as a runner in his previous two openers, combining for 262 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries.

It was all about his passing this time.

He said last month that his goal was to complete 70 percent of his attempts this season. He went out and hit on 26 of 34 (76 percent).

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.

"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."

Martinez promised Beck after last season that he would dedicate himself to becoming a better passer.

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.

Martinez said he couldn't tell if his mechanics were perfect.

"I haven't watched film yet," he said, "so I'm not real sure. But I was really comfortable."

Was it a statement game after all the heat he has taken from fans and media?

"I guess if you guys want to say that," he said.

Receiver Jamal Turner said he's sure Martinez was driven to prove the doubters wrong.

"I'm sure he feels good about his performance, to kind of hush some of his critics," Turner said. "I'm sure he pays attention. Nobody wants to be talked about and criticized about not being able to throw the ball. I'm sure it gets to him a little bit. That's the drive you need to go out and fix it and get better."

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