LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — In the 10 years since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers’ tightest games have been against Northwestern.
On a Saturday night when the Huskers were nearly flawless after back-to-back mistake-filled losses to ranked opponents, they posted their most lopsided Big Ten win against the Wildcats.
Adrian Martinez ran for a career-best three touchdowns and passed for another, and Nebraska broke big play after big play while putting away Northwestern early in a 56-7 win.
“We were using the last couple of weeks to fuel us this week,” Martinez said. “A big play to open the game got the crowd behind us, and that initiated it. Tonight we can say we executed the way we should.”
The Cornhuskers (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) were sharp from the get-go and dominated a matchup that had seen eight of the previous 10 games in the series decided by eight points or less.
“We’re a lot better team than we have been,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “This was one game. This is what I know this group can do. It’s a good first step. We can still get better.”
The 49-point margin was Nebraska’s largest in a win against a Big Ten opponent. For Northwestern (2-3, 0-2), it matched the second largest in a loss in Pat Fitzgerald’s 16 years as coach.
“Obviously not our night and credit Nebraska,” Fitzgerald said. “They played incredibly well and were able to execute their option plays in the first half, and that kind of snowballed.”
Martinez connected with Samori Toure for a 70-yard pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage — a sign of things to come — and the Huskers went into halftime with a 35-7 lead.
Zavier Betts opened the second half with an 83-yard touchdown run down the sideline, and Martinez hit Toure in stride for a 38-yard score to make it 49-7.
The Huskers had seven plays go for at least 20 yards and their 657 yards were their most in two years. Their 427 yards rushing, a good amount of them coming on old-school Nebraska triple-option plays, were their most since they ran for 458 against Illinois in 2014.
Martinez rushed for 58 yards and TDs of 1, 1 and 25 yards and completed 11 of 17 passes for 202 yards.
Jaquez Yant had 109 of his 127 yards rushing in the first half, including a 64-yard burst. Yant, the No. 4 running back, entered the game with five carries for 25 yards.
Northwestern all but abandoned the run game after falling behind. Evan Hull, who ran for 216 yards against Ohio last week, had 31 on seven carries.
Ryan Hilinski was 25 of 39 for 256 yards and a touchdown.
Northwestern drove to the 1 in the second quarter with a chance to pull within two touchdowns, but linebacker JoJo Domann barged through to knock the ball loose from Hilinski and Deontre Thomas recovered for the Huskers.
The Wildcats didn’t sniff the end zone again.
Northwestern: This reinforced the point that this isn’t one of Pat Fitzgerald’s vintage teams. The defending Big Ten West champion’s only wins are against lower-tier Indiana State and one-win Ohio. The Wildcats’ pattern is to improve as the year progresses. It’s mid-season, and they have a long way to go on both sides of the ball.
Nebraska: The Huskers worked off some pent-up frustration after melting down on special teams at Michigan State last week. William Przystup’s 84-yard punt in the third quarter symbolized how well things went against Northwestern. His previous punt, against Michigan State, was a 7-yard shank.
The Huskers’ 56 points were the most since they scored 59 against South Dakota State in 2013. … Nebraska’s seven rushing touchdowns were its most in a Big Ten game. … Northwestern had not allowed 600 yards of total offense since a 2005 game against Arizona State. … Domann had two sacks and now has five consecutive games with at least one tackle for loss. He also forced two fumbles.
Northwestern hosts Rutgers on Oct. 16.
Nebraska hosts Michigan on Saturday.