Lincoln – In a game that resembled Nebraska’s days of dominance in the 1990s, the Big Red buried defending Big Ten West Division champion Northwestern 56-7 on Homecoming at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
Nebraska improved its record to 3-3 overall and 3-0 at home this season by rolling up 657 yards of offense, including 427 yards on the ground and seven rushing touchdowns, while shutting down Northwestern’s running game (37 yards, 26 carries). After running one offensive play in the third quarter, the Huskers owned six rushing scores, including three by quarterback Adrian Martinez on its way to a 42-7 lead.
After the Big Red pushed its lead to 49-7 on its third offensive play of the second half, a 38-yard touchdown strike from Martinez to Samori Toure, Nebraska substituted freely with Logan Smothers taking over at quarterback midway through the third quarter, leading the Huskers on a successful scoring drive in the fourth. No. 3 quarterback Matt Masker took the rest of the snaps in the fourth for the Big Red, marching Nebraska down the field until taking a knee inside the Northwestern 15 to end the game.
Nebraska’s offensive totals came against a proud Northwestern defense that entered the game allowing just 20 points per contest and 186 yards on the ground per game this season. In 10 previous games as Big Ten foes, the two teams had split 5-5 with eight games decided by just one score with the Huskers outscoring the Wildcats by a total of six points (252-246) in the 10 games.
Nebraska’s margin matched the most recent meeting against the Cats as non-conference foes, a 66-17 shellacking of No. 18 Northwestern in the 2000 Alamo Bowl by No. 9 Nebraska. It was also the largest margin by a Husker team over Northwestern in Memorial Stadium, surpassing a 49-7 win by No. 10 Nebraska on Sept. 28, 1974.
In a dominant first half, Nebraska sprinted to a 21-0 lead in the game’s first 11 minutes on the strength of three touchdown runs by Martinez. The Husker quarterback moved the Huskers with both his legs and his right arm, while freshman running back Jaquez Yant also carried a huge load.
In his first career college game, Yant rumbled for 109 yards on seven carries in the first half alone to ignite the Big Red onslaught. Martinez added 57 yards on eight carries in the half, while Rahmir Johnson erupted for 74 yards on 12 totes and two first-half scores. He did not carry the ball in the second half.
Nebraska’s offense diced the Wildcat defense for 241 rushing yards in the half, while the Blackshirt defense flexed its muscles by holding Northwestern to minus-2 yards on the ground in the half thanks to three sacks of Cat quarterback Ryan Hilinski.
Martinez completed 10-of-16 passes for 164 yards in the half, including a 70-yard bomb to Toure on the game’s opening drive. It took the Huskers just 50 seconds to take a 7-0 lead in the game, flying 75 yards on three plays capped by Martinez’s one-yard touchdown run. Martinez finished the game 11-for-17 for 202 yards and a score, while Toure finished with two receptions for 108 yards in his third 100-yard receiving game as a Husker.
After a quick stop by the Blackshirts, who forced a punt on 4th-and-21, Yant exploded for a 64-yard burst on his second career carry to set the Big Red up at the Northwestern 4. Two plays later, Martinez sprinted into the end zone from one yard out for the second time in five minutes to put the Big Red up 14-0. Yant finished his Husker debut with 127 yards on 13 carries.
The Blackshirts kept the momentum rolling for Nebraska, forcing a quick three-and-out and another Northwestern punt on 4th-and-17 from its own 18. On a balanced and more methodical drive, Nebraska then made it 21-0 when Martinez sprinted around the right end for a 25-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-10 to stake the Huskers to a 21-0 lead with 4:14 left in the first quarter.
With its back against the wall in a road night game at Memorial Stadium, Northwestern found an answer, converting on 3rd-and-1 at its own 27, before getting back-to-back big pass plays of 32 yards and 28 yards from Hilinski to Stephon Robinson Jr. to cut the margin to 21-7 at the end of the first quarter.
While the Cats (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) found an answer on the offensive side, their defense still came up empty against the Husker offense, as Nebraska rolled 75 yards on 10 plays in four minutes capped by Rahmir Johnson’s five yard touchdown run to put the Big Red up 28-7 with 12:37 left in the half.
Northwestern responded with a march of its own, arriving at 1st-and-Goal at the NU 1. But after an interior stop by Deontre Thomas and Ben Stille on a quarterback keeper, Thomas and JoJo Domann blasted through the Wildcat line and smashed Hilinski, forcing a fumble recovered by Thomas at the Nebraska 10 to stop the Northwestern threat. Domann finished with a team-high 10 tackles, while Luke Reimer, Quinton Newsome and Chris Kolarevic each added five stops.
After the two teams exchanged turnovers on downs at midfield, Nebraska extended its lead with a powerful five-play, 59-yard drive that featured 34 rushing yards by Johnson, including a 23-yard burst to set up his nine-yard touchdown run on the next play, sending the Big Red to the locker room with a 35-7 halftime lead.
Nebraska, which has suffered three road losses this season by a touchdown or less, including two to top-20 foes, wasted little time in the second half putting the game out of reach. Northwestern received the second-half kickoff and the Blackshirts forced a three-and-out and a punt.
Starting from his own 18, Martinez handed off to wide receiver Zavier Betts, who sprinted 83 yards around the left end to paydirt – the longest rushing play for Nebraska this season on Betts’ first career carry to put the Huskers up 42-7 just over one minute into the second half.
The Blackshirts forced another turnover on downs on the ensuing drive and the Big Red kept its foot on the gas. After a Yant four-yard run to open Nebraska’s drive, Betts drew a pass interference penalty to set up Martinez and the Huskers 1st-and-10 at the NU 38. Martinez then connected on his only pass attempt of the second half, a 38-yard scoring strike to Toure extend the Husker margin to 49-7 with 9:16 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska capped the rout with Sevion Morrison’s four-yard touchdown run with 9:44 left in the game. Morrison carried five times for 26 yards in the game, as one of 11 Big Red rushers in the game.
The Huskers return to Memorial Stadium next week for another home night game when they play host No. 14 Michigan. Kickoff betwen the Big Red and the unbeaten Wolverines is set for 6:30 p.m.