LINCOLN — Relatively speaking, Nebraska got off to a slow start in Saturday’s 73-7 win over Idaho State. The Huskers first drive ended in a missed field goal and the two touchdown drives that immediately followed took a full 2:28 off the clock.
But the next three touchdown drives required less time than your average television commercial. Already up 14-0 thanks to a career-long 61-yard touchdown run by Rex Burkhead and an 8-yard run by Ameer Abdullah, the Huskers sniffed out a fake punt try from the Idaho State 35-yard line midway through the first quarter.
On the next play, Taylor Martinez zipped a 35-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa. Seven plays later, Nebraska ran a jet sweep for Kenny Bell — officially a pass since Martinez flipped it forward — and Bell took it 68-yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead. On the next series, Ciante Evans intercepted quarterback Kevin Yost and returned it 29-yards for a touchdown. The rout wasn’t on at that point, it was over.
The Huskers calmly and easily scored 38 more points over the next three quarters – including backup quarterback Ron Kellogg’s first career touchdown pass to Steven Osborne in the third quarter – and got out of the game without serious injury. The final numbers were reminiscent of the Husker blowouts of old: 26 first downs, 385 yards rushing, four different running backs with touchdowns, 569 yards of total offense, a special teams touchdown, and a defensive touchdown.
So what can you take from a game where the talent differential is evident on each and every down?
“Not a lot,” coach Bo Pelini said following the game. “I said to our team last night, ‘We’ll find out how mature we are as a football team.’
“It’s really easy to have a letdown or look ahead, but it’s first things first. You have to have respect for the game and how you play it. I thought our guys did that.”
Nebraska was always expected to roll offensively against the Bengals, but the defense held up its end of the bargain as well. The Huskers limited Idaho State to 210 total yards and forced three turnovers. Yost came into the game averaging more than 40 completions per game but was just 16-for-34 for 123 yards on Saturday and, perhaps most tellingly, was sacked six times.
“It wasn’t so much the pressure, it was more the coverage,” Idaho State coach Mike Kramer said of the Nebraska defense. “The coverage was outstanding.”
In his first game back since injuring his knee in the first half of the season opener, Burkhead carried the ball eight times for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He made some decisive cuts but admitted he wasn’t quite 100 percent yet.
“I was probably around 90 percent,” Burkhead said.
That was plenty good enough this Saturday, but now the real tests begin. As the Big Ten as a whole has looked worse with each passing week, Nebraska might be getting better.
“We have bounced back from the UCLA game, so I’m excited to get these first two games in,” Kenny Bell said. “Wisconsin and Ohio State are big games.”
After Saturday’s marathon three-hour game, it feels like it’s time.