LINCOLN – As in their first game, Nebraska got a win Saturday. The rest was different.
After sweating out a victory over Wyoming in their season opener, the No. 22 Cornhuskers took care of business quickly, easily dispatching Southern Mississippi 56-13 in front of over 90,000 fans. Stanley Jean-Baptiste got the party started on the third play of the game, jumping a route and picking off a poorly judged Allan Bridgford pass before running 43 yards untouched for a score.
Once the Husker running game got going and the defense stiffened up, this one was over. No suspense. No finger pointing. No real need to stay for the fourth quarter.
Just the way the Huskers like things.
“I thought we had a good week of preparation and we really showed it on the field today," I-back Ameer Abdullah said. “It was very important (to play well). To see the jump that our team is making is good. I like it. I like the direction we are moving in. We just have to pin our ears back and keep making those jumps.”
While coach Bo Pelini was pleased to grab his 50th win since taking over in 2008, he said Nebraska had a lot to work on before its showdown with UCLA next week (11 am, ABC). Still, there was no denying a much happier atmosphere after this blowout.
“We’re excited about the win. We made good progress and did a lot of good things out there tonight,” Pelini said. “Trust me, there wasn’t a guy on our football team that felt good about how we played a week ago, but I can also say this, there’s not a guy in that locker room who is satisfied with our performance tonight. There’s a lot more out there for this team.”
USM’s inability to hold onto the ball cost it again – the Huskers forced four turnovers against the Eagles, who had six in a loss to Texas State last week and a -16 turnover margin in a nightmarish 0-12 campaign last season. Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans each scored on an interception return in the first quarter, fueling a 21-3 advantage that left little doubt of the final outcome.
Taylor Martinez had a strong day outside of one errant throw to a wide-open Cethan Carter, completing 15 of 23 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 34 yards on the ground. Eight different receivers caught a pass, led by Quincy Enunwa and Kenny Bell combining for over 100 yards and two scores.
Abdullah led a strong ground game with 114 yards and two touchdowns – after three quarters NU led USM in rushing by a margin of 237-4.
“It is hard when you can’t run the football and stay balanced,” USM coach Todd Monken said. “After a while you get real edgy, and they started to pin their ears back and started to come after us a little bit.”
Randy Gregory headlined an inconsistent but solid pass rush, accounting for four of NU’s seven hits on Bridgford. The Husker defense looked soft on only one drive, when the Golden Eagles drove 66 yards for their only touchdown early in the second half.
After the way the Wyoming game ended, Nebraska couldn’t afford to let USM back in and didn’t; a great Bell kickoff return was followed by a 37-yard Abdullah touchdown. Evans grabbed his second interception two plays later and, less than a minute after that, Martinez found Sam Burtch for his final passing touchdown. The scoreboard then read 49-13.
“I think last week was a huge shock,” Martinez said. “Maybe we thought we could just come in and roll over (Wyoming), but we didn't. We let them back in the game late in the fourth. Today, I think we did a really good job finishing. Hopefully, going into UCLA, we can keep this momentum going.”
Having a blowout score allowed Martinez to head out early, with Ron Kellogg and Tommy Armstrong each seeing some time under center.
While blasting USM felt good, taking down the Bruins next week would feel even better. The Bruins got the better of NU in Los Angeles last year, racking up over 650 yards in a 36-30 win that set the tone for other high-profile defensive misfires that year.