A game expected by many to be a completely lopsided affair was over even before the first quarter came to a close, as No. 25 Nebraska absolutely demolished a vastly over-matched Idaho State team on Saturday, 73-7.
Senior running back Rex Burkhead, in his first game back since his Week 1 knee injury, was back to his old Heisman Trophy candidate self, rushing eight times for a game-high 119 yards and two touchdowns before ending his day early in the second quarter.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez provided a few big plays of his own, completing 9-of-13 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, including a 68-yard dump pass to Kenny Bell for a score.
After the game, head coach Bo Pelini said his whole message going into the game was for the Huskers to focus on themselves and not worry about the caliber of opponent they were going to face. Based on what he saw on Saturday, Pelini said that's exactly what his team did.
"We got through this one," Pelini said. "I liked our team's approach. I liked the way they came out. They played hard from the start. We talked all week about taking care of ourselves, executing from beginning to end and doing what we need to do. Not worry about who our opponent is, but playing our style of football with the type of attitude we need to bring in and execute. I thought we did that, and now it's time to move on."
Following a missed 51-yard field goal on their opening possession, which was one of the few negatives to come out of the day, the Huskers (3-1) went on to score touchdowns on their next five possessions to jump out to a 35-0 lead by the end of the opening quarter.
Nebraska scored its first touchdown of the day three plays into its second drive when Burkhead broke away for a career-long 61-yard scoring scamper. Sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah made it 14-0 a couple minutes later on an 8-yard touchdown run, and Martinez found Quincy Enunwa on a 35-yard scoring toss on the first play of NU's ensuing possession.
The Huskers then scored on their first play again one drive later on Bell's career-long catch on a sweep pass around the left end, and then nickel back Ciante Evans picked off a Kevin Yost pass on the Bengals' next possession for his first career interception and ran it back 29 yards for a touchdown.
"It wasn't so much the pressure (on the quarterback), it was more the coverage," Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer said. "The coverage was outstanding. Nebraska did a good job squatting on our routes and driving on our slant passes, and slant passes are a big thing for us. When they're able to play over the top of our shoulders like that and collide as the ball arrives, it's tough to complete any slant passes."
The 35 first-quarter points were the most since NU scored a school-record 38 against Baylor back in October of 2000.
Already leading by 35 heading into the second quarter, Burkhead eventually punched in his second rushing score of the day from two yards out to bump the lead up to 42-0 with 12 minutes still remaining before halftime.
The scoring barrage slowed down a bit from there, as the Huskers didn't score again until senior Brett Maher made up for his earlier miss and knocked in a 49-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in the half to bump it up to 45-0. That also marked the most first-half points since that same win over Baylor in 2000, when they scored 52.
The second half was mostly just a formality from there on. Abdullah added another highlight reel play to his resume when he ran back an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the third quarter to make it 52-0.
Back-up quarterback Ron Kellogg made up for an interception earlier in the game on the next drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Steven Osborne, and then sophomore running back Braylon Heard broke a 27-yard touchdown run to make it 66-0 with 5:25 still left in the third quarter.
Idaho State finally got on the board with 12:31 remaining in the game when back-up quarterback C.J. Reyes hit Luke Austin on a 28-yard touchdown pass. It didn't take the Huskers long to answer, through, as freshman Imani Cross became the fourth Husker running back to rush for a touchdown with a 20-yard run to close the scoring out.
"There is still a lot of room for improvement, the scoreboard doesn't necessarily show what we will see on film," Bell said. "There was plenty of mental lapses in the game. That is why we will go back and look at film so we can try and be perfect."
With the non-conference schedule now in the books, Nebraska will shift its attention to its Big Ten Conference opener next week against Wisconsin. Kickoff for that game is set for 7 p.m. CT and will be aired nationally on ABC.
The pressure will obviously kick up ten fold next week with the grind of the Big Ten season getting underway, but the Huskers feel pretty good about where they are as a team heading into it all.
"I think we're right where we want to be," Martinez said. "If we just keep this momentum going, we'll be tough to beat."