Lincoln - No. 22 Nebraska's Blackshirt defense hauled in four interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns, while Taylor Martinez threw three touchdown passes to lead a balanced offense in a 56-13 win over Southern Miss Saturday.
Playing in front of the NCAA-record 327th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium and a Big Ten Network audience, the Huskers improved to 2-0 and stretched their home non-conference winning streak to 14 games and 10 straight home wins overall.
Nebraska finished the night with 479 total yards, including 285 rushing and 194 passing. Junior I-back Ameer Abdullah led NU's ground game with 17 carries for 114 yards and his first two touchdown runs of the season.
Martinez went 15-for-23 through the air for 170 yards and three scores, while adding 34 yards on six carries, seeing his last action of the night early in the third quarter before giving way to Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong Jr.
Freshman I-back Terrell Newby added 60 yards rushing, while Armstrong added 23 yards on four carries. King Frazier also boosted the running attack with four carries for 21 yards on NU's final drive of the game, while Imani Cross added the Huskers' final touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter.
While the offense enjoyed substituting freely and spreading the ball around with the lopsided win, the Blackshirts celebrated a strong effort. Nebraska's defense intercepted four passes, including a pair by senior Ciante Evans, who returned his first pick for a touchdown in the opening quarter. It was NU's second pick-six of the first quarter, after senior corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste put the Huskers on the board with his 43-yard interception return for a score less than two minutes into the game.
The Blackshirts held Southern Miss to 284 total yards, including 62 on the ground. In fact, USM had just four rushing yards until midway through the fourth quarter. In addition to the three combined interceptions by Evans (2) and Jean-Baptiste, Corey Cooper grabbed the first interception of his career for Nebraska.
The Blackshirts also notched nine tackles for loss on the day. Harvey Jackson led the Huskers with seven tackles, including a tackle for loss that helped thrwart a late USM scoring threat.
In a strong first-half performance, the Blackshirts not only kept a pass-happy Southern Miss offense out of the end zone, they scored a pair of defensive touchdowns of their own.
Jean-Baptiste got the Huskers on the board quickly by jumping a short route on the third play from scrimmage by Southern Miss, intercepting an Allan Bridgford pass and sprinting 43 yards untouched into the end zone for NU's first defensive score of the season. Jean-Baptiste's second interception of the season gave the Big Red a 7-0 lead just 1:13 into the game. It was Jean-Baptiste's second career interception return for a touchdown and his third interception in his last six games.
The Southern Miss offense rebounded to drive into scoring position midway through the first quarter, but the Blackshirts stiffened and the Golden Eagles had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Corey Acosta. Nebraska led 7-3 until Martinez connected with Quincy Enunwa from 16 yards out for their third touchdown connection of the young season. Enunwa finished with five catches for 58 yards to lead the Huskers on the night.
The touchdown catch came with 1:24 left in the opening quarter, and Evans was celebrating in the end zone less than 10 seconds later. Evans, a Husker captain, grabbed his second interception of the year and sprinted 22 yards to paydirt for NU's second defensive touchdown of the quarter. It marked the first time since the Huskers' win over Idaho in 2010 that the Blackshirts scored a pair of defensive touchdowns in the same game.
The Huskers extended their lead in the second quarter with Abdullah's first touchdown run of the season, a one-yard plunge with 7:01 left in the half to put NU up 28-3. The Golden Eagles managed a 45-yard Acosta field with 3:11 left, before Kenny Bell put an exclamation point on Nebraska's half with a highlight reel, juggling touchdown grab in the middle of the end zone. Bell's first touchdown catch of the year sent the Huskers to the locker room with a 35-6 lead. Bell finished the night with three catches for 45 yards.
Bell made another big play for the Big Red early in the second half. Following a quick touchdown march by USM that trimmed the NU margin to 35-13 with 11:43, Bell flew down the right sideline for a 63-yard kickoff return. Bell's return set up Abdullah's 37-yard scoring jaunt on the Huskers' opening play of the drive to put NU up 42-13 with 11:25 left in the third.
The Blackshirts struck again on USM's ensuing offensive possession, when Evans hauled in his second interception of the game and third of the season on the Golden Eagles' second play of the drive.
The Huskers took advantage on the next play, as Martinez hit Sam Burtch on a 26-yard scoring strike to give NU a 49-13 lead with 10:32. It was Burtch's first career catch and gave Martinez his second straight three-touchdown passing performance to open the season.
It was also Martinez's last play of the game, as he gave way to Kellogg on NU's fourth drive of the third quarter.
Nebraska continues its five-game season-opening home stand next Saturday when the Huskers play host to UCLA. Kickoff between NU and the Bruins is set for 11 a.m. with a live national telecast on ABC.
Final: #22 Nebraska 56, Southern Miss 13
Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (NEB, 21-3)
NEB - 13:47 - Stanley Jean-Baptiste 43 INT return (Pat Smith kick), NEB 7-0
USM - 5:42 - Corey Acosta 32 FG, 8 plays, 49 yards, 2:34, NEB 7-3
NEB - 1:24 - Quincy Enunwa 16 pass from Taylor Martinez (Mauro Bondi kick), 10 plays, 68 yards, 4:11, NEB 14-3
NEB - 1:17 - Ciante Evans 22 INT return (Smith kick), NEB 21-3
Second Quarter (NEB, 35-6)
NEB - 7:01 - Ameer Abdullah 1 run (Smith kick) - 14 plays, 79 yards, 4:49, NEB 28-3
USM - 3:11 - Acosta 45 FG - 9 plays, 25 yards, 3:47, NEB 28-6
NEB - 0:12 - Kenny Bell 21 pass from Martinez (Smith kick) - 11 plays, 75 yards, 2:59, NEB 35-6
Third Quarter (NEB, 49-13)
USM - 11:43 - Rickey Bradley 41 pass from Allan Bridgford (Acosta kick) - 4 plays, 66 yards, 1:11, NEB 35-13
NEB - 11:25 - Abdullah 37 yards (Smith kick) - 1 play, 37 yards, 0:09, NEB 42-13
NEB - 10:32 - Sam Burtch 26 yards (Smith kick) - 1 play, 26 yard, 0:07, NEB 49-13
Fourth Quarter (NEB, 56-13)
NEB - 14:38 - Imani Cross 1 run (Bondi kick) - 9 plays, 64 yards, 4:06, NEB 56-13
Final: #22 Nebraska 56, Southern Miss 13
Time of Game: 3:12
Game Start: 5:01 p.m. (central)