- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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People scoffed when Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez said he wanted to complete 70 percent of his passes this season. People were skeptical of his offseason dedication to improving his craft, wondering if Martinez's mechanics could be salvaged.
Well, maybe it's time to reassess what you thought you knew about the Huskers junior. With Rex Burkhead sidelined most of the game, Martinez took full control of the Nebraska offense and was simply brilliant.
He went 26-for-34 for 354 yards and threw five touchdowns with no interceptions as his team rolled past Southern Miss 49-20. Martinez made good decisions, got rid of the ball quickly and crisply and showed good footwork as he made plays on the run. We've seen him have big games before, but I've never seen Martinez carve up a defense with such precision through the air (he ran only six times, for 10 yards).
The Nebraska passing game looked exponentially improved from a year ago. Ten different receivers had at least one catch, and the touchdowns went to five separate targets. Quincy Enunwa led the way with six grabs for 70 yards.
Burkhead left in the first half with a sprained MCL in his left knee, though Bo Pelini said at halftime that it was not a long-term injury. We shall see. Losing the star tailback would be a huge blow to the offense, but on this day at least, he wasn't missed too much.
Backup Ameer Abdullah had a nice game, running 15 times for 81 yards and catching a touchdown pass. Freshman Imani Cross also got 11 carries for 62 yards, and Braylon Heard ran for a touchdown. There is depth at tailback.
Nebraska's defense gave up some points early, but stiffened as the game went on and allowed only 260 yards to a Southern Miss team that scored in bunches in 2011. It wasn't exactly the most dominating effort from the Blackshirts, but it was a solid first outing that left room for improvement.
Southern Miss' defense did not look very good, so don't read too terribly much into the Huskers' 632 total yards. But do take note of Martinez's improvement, which was undeniable. If he can play like that, and Burkhead isn't gone for long, this is a serious Big Ten title contender.
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