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Saturday, September 22, 2012
Huskers, Wildcats cruise against FCS foes

By Adam Rittenberg



There was zero drama in Lincoln, Neb., and Evanston, Ill., as both No. 25 Nebraska and Northwestern cruised to easy wins against overmatched FCS opponents.

Let's keep this short and sweet ...

Nebraska 73, Idaho State 7: Idaho State's victory against mighty Black Hills State evidently didn't carry over to Lincoln. Nebraska made quick work of the Bengals, scoring 35 points in barely 12 minutes and recording its first 70-point output since 2007 against Kansas State. All-Big Ten running back Rex Burkhead returned after missing two games with a knee sprain and raced 61 yards for a touchdown -- a career-long rush -- on his third carry of the game. The 35-point first quarter was Nebraska's highest output since 2000, when it put up a team-record 38 first-quarter points against Baylor. The Huskers wisely took it easy with Burkhead (8 carries, 119 yards, 2 TDs), mindful of next week's Big Ten opener against Wisconsin, and turned things over to Ameer Abdullah, who scored on a run and an 81-yard punt return.

Despite the weak competition, Nebraska showed why it might have the most diverse and dangerous offense in the Big Ten this season. The Huskers have no shortage of weapons and showcased several, including big-play receiver Kenny Bell, who had a 68-yard touchdown catch, a career long, in the first quarter. The defense also got into the scoring as Ciante Evans recorded a pick-six. Taylor Martinez had another efficient performance (9-for-13 passing, 165 yards, 2 TDs) and Nebraska racked up 15 first downs and 362 yards in the first half. These mismatches can be hard to watch, but Nebraska handled its business and now gears up for Big Ten play.

Northwestern 38, South Dakota 7: Northwestern didn't dispatch of South Dakota quite as quickly as Nebraska did Idaho State, but it didn't take long for Venric Mark and the run game to get going. Mark, one of the surprise stars of non-league play in the Big Ten, recorded 97 rush yards and three touchdowns in the first half as Northwestern surged to a 28-0 lead. He finished with 16 carries for 117 yards. The Wildcats got a scare early as quarterback Kain Colter, who still runs the ball a bit too recklessly, left with a wrist injury after taking a big shot. But Colter returned late in the second quarter.

The offensive line followed up a strong performance against Boston College with another one against the undersized Coyotes, as Northwestern racked up 277 rush yards on 53 carries. Northwestern has recruited well to the line, and after underachieving in recent years, the start to 2012 has been promising. The Wildcats also continued to defend the run well against option-centric South Dakota, surrendering only 51 yards on the ground. Pat Fitzgerald's squad aced its non-league exam, while there's a lot of room to improve, especially in the pass game, which generated only 131 yards Saturday. Still, Northwestern enters Big Ten play brimming with confidence.