Huskers beat Northern Illinois, 44-8

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LINCOLN, Neb. - Adrian Martinez accounted for more than 300 yards of total offense and had a hand in three touchdowns, while Dedrick Mills rushed for 116 yards and a score on just 11 carries, as Nebraska rolled to a 44-8 win over Northern Illinois on Saturday night.

Playing in front of the 370th consecutive sellout with 89,593 fans at Memorial Stadium, Martinez completed 16-of-27 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and added 44 yards and another score on the ground to finish with 301 yards of total offense. Nebraska closed non-conference play with a 2-1 record, while Northern Illinois slipped to 1-2 on the season.

Martinez and Mills led a balanced Big Red offense that put up 525 yards of total offense, including 287 passing and 238 rushing yards. Northern Illinois managed 350 total yards, but just 74 on the ground, as the Blackshirts kept the Huskies out of the end zone, surrendering just a pair of field goals on the night.

In an action-packed first half that featured big plays and blocked kicks, Nebraska powered its way to a 30-5 halftime lead.

Nebraska struck quickly, winning the toss and taking the opening drive 58 yards in eight plays capped by Isaac Armstrong's 36-yard field goal to give the Huskers a 3-0 lead just 2:29 into the game.

The Big Red made it 10-0 on Maurice Washington's 21-yard touchdown catch on a short forward pass with 6:22 left in the opening quarter. Washington's score on a pass from Martinez was the only play of a short drive that was set up by heavy pressure by Nebraska's punt-block unit. NIU punter Matt Ference felt fierce pressure from Isaiah Stalbird and dropped the ball to the turf without punting it. The fumble was recovered by tight end Austin Allen to set up the score.

Nebraska kept the explosive plays going in the second quarter, as Washington raced 60 yards for a touchdown with 12:20 left in the half to give the Huskers a 16-0 lead. However, Armstrong's extra point try was blocked. Washington finished the night with three receptions for 18 yards, while adding 57 rushing yards on just two carries.

Northern Illinois got on the board with 7:58 left in the half on John Richardson's 45-yard field goal to cut Nebraska's lead to 16-3. The Huskies then tried to surprise the Big Red with an on-side kick. The attempt failed and set Nebraska up again with a short field. It took just four plays and 39 seconds for the Husker offense to capitalize, as Mills scampered 24 yards to the end zone to extend Nebraska's margin to 23-3 with 7:19 left in the half. Mills' touchdown was set up by a 26-yard pass from Martinez to Mike Williams to convert on 3rd-and-10.

The teams exchanged block kicks over the next five minutes - with Stalbird blocking a Ference punt to set the Huskers up inside the NIU 20. The offense was unable to capitalize, as a 32-yard Armstrong field goal attempt was blocked by the Huskies.

The Blackshirts stopped the Huskies on the ensuing drive, and instead of putting another Ference punt in harm's way, quarterback Ross Bowers booted a 46-yard punt that pinned Nebraska at its own 4. On the next play, Jordan Cole took down Washington in the end zone for a safety on a completed pass to cut the Husker lead to 23-5 with 1:49 left in the first half.

The defense shut down NIU on the ensuing drive and forced another Bowers punt. Martinez and the Big Red offense took over at the NU 13 with just 44 seconds left. Five plays later, Martinez connected with Kanawai Noa for his first touchdown catch as a Husker - a spectacular 27-yard grab in the back corner of the end zone that sent Nebraska to the locker room with a 30-5 edge.
Noa ended the night with three receptions for 51 yards.

Nebraska averaged 11.2 yards per play in the first half, rolling up 369 yards of total offense on just 33 plays, including three first-half receptions for 73 yards from JD Spielman, who finished the game with four catches for 76 yards. The Blackshirts held Northern Illinois to 144 first-half yards on 43 plays.

NIU opened the second half with the ball and methodically marched 66 yards on 12 plays in 5:13, but had to settle for Richardson's 27-yard field goal to cut the Big Red lead to 30-8. Nebraska's offense sputtered early in the half, before Martinez capped a seven-play, 48-yard drive with his 10-yard touchdown run with 3:00 left to send the Huskers to the fourth quarter with a 37-8 advantage.

The Blackshirts made their final stand midway through the fourth, holding the Huskies out of the end zone on a 4th-and-inches from inside the 1. Martinez and the offense were able to drive out of the shadows of their own goal post before Armstrong's punt left Northern Illinois with a long field and time running short.

Redshirt freshman Braxton Clark then grabbed his first career interception to set the Husker offense up at the NIU 42 with 6:32 left in the game.

Noah Vedral then took the reins of the Husker offense and marched the Big Red to end zone, capped by his own three-yard touchdown run with 4:04 left to complete the scoring. Freshman running back Rahmir Johnson carried three times for nine yards on the drive, while Darien Chase (13 yards), Kurt Rafdal (9) and Jaevon McQuitty (8) added key receptions on the drive.

Mohamed Barry led the Blackshirts with 10 tackles, while fellow linebacker Will Honas contributed six stops. Defensive tackle Carlos Davis was also a disruptive force in the middle, notching six tackles, including 1.5 sacks, while adding a pair of breakups with deflections at the line of scrimmage.

Stalbird starred for the Husker special teams, finishing the game with three tackles, including two for loss, a forced fumble and a blocked punt.

Nebraska opens Big Ten Conference play next week by traveling to Illinois for another 7 p.m. kickoff. The Fighting Illini enter the game with a 2-1 record.

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