LINCOLN — Taylor Martinez grinned, waved and even found himself coaxed into blowing a goofy kiss to the crowd.
The quarterback had broken Nebraska's record for career passing yards earlier in the game, and the public address announcer found a quiet moment in the fourth quarter to honor it.
Quiet. Fourth quarter. Nebraska. Yes, those words belonged together. In harmony.
After two months of nail-biters, the No. 14 Huskers finally found their Big Ten breather, rolling Minnesota 38-14 Saturday to keep the lead in the Legends Division. Martinez didn't play a down in the final quarter.
“It was awesome,” Martinez said of his brief respite from late-game heroics. “We started fast.”
Indeed. Playing hare instead of tortoise, NU broke its sweat early and led 24-0 at halftime by winning all of the wide receiver-secondary battles on both sides of the ball. Martinez jabbed Minnesota's top-10 pass defense with quick screens to the flat before throwing over the Gophers for big gains while the Huskers' defensive backs put UM receivers on ice with suffocating coverage.
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Martinez completed 21 of 29 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns. Minnesota quarterbacks completed 10 of 28 for 90 yards and two interceptions. The story of the score can end there.
Want more numbers?
Here: The Huskers (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) gained 444 yards, gave up 177, forced 11 punts, scored a defensive touchdown and, perhaps paramount on Senior Day, gave coach Bo Pelini a chance to empty his bench for the first time since a Sept. 22 romp against Idaho State.
By the time cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste intercepted a ricocheted pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-0 late in the third quarter, most of the 85,330 in Memorial Stadium were transferring their emotions to periodic video tributes to retiring Athletic Director Tom Osborne and reserves getting their final chance to play on Senior Day.
“That was our goal,” safety P.J. Smith said. “To start off fast and dominate in the beginning and get all the other guys in. That's exactly what we did.”
Pelini asked Osborne — the legendary coach-turned-A.D. who retires Jan. 1 — to help lead the Huskers through the pregame Tunnel Walk. Osborne, Pelini said, tried to turn down the offer. Pelini insisted, holding up the arm of the man who hired him to the crowd before the team ran to its sideline.
“That's the way it should be,” Pelini said. “Not just for us, but I think the fans wanted to see him walk out of there one last time.”
Said running backs coach Ron Brown, who was originally hired by Osborne in 1987: “It broke me. It broke me a little bit seeing him come out with the team early on. ... He's kind of seen me grow up a little.”
Kenny Bell thought it was fitting.
“He's done so much and influenced our lives in such ways,” the receiver said. “We were really thankful to have him lead us on the field. I mean, that's a big deal. The Tunnel Walk is a sacred thing.”
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The offense wasted little time showing its gratitude. For the first time in weeks, Bell said, Minnesota's defense on film actually matched what it did on the field. The Gophers (6-5, 2-5) packed the box to stop the run. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Martinez responded with a no-huddle offense spiked with passes.
Martinez completed his first six throws. The last of that stretch was a 36-yard touchdown to Bell that gave Nebraska a 10-0 lead. Two drives later, he hit Bell on the same post pattern for a 29-yard gain. Imani Cross scored a touchdown on the next play. On the next drive, Martinez floated a pass over UM corner Michael Carter to Quincy Enunwa for another 29-yard gain. Cross finished that drive, too, with a short touchdown plunge.
Just before halftime, Cross was stuffed at the goal line, 1 yard short of finishing an otherwise perfectly executed two-minute drill from Martinez, the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards on Minnesota this year. Martinez consistently checked in and out of plays, moving his running backs and wide receivers to spots based on the Gophers' defensive look.
“He knows their offense inside and out,” UM coach Jerry Kill said of Martinez. “I have coached this game for 30 years, and I watched him last year, and I think the coaches had a lot to do with it. But I think he is doing a lot on the line of scrimmage on his own.”
The Husker defense clogged any running lanes for the Gophers, who turned early and often to the pass as a counter. Nickel Ciante Evans said Nebraska was a little surprised, but adjusted quickly, overplaying the short slant and hook routes while forcing Minnesota freshman quarterback Philip Nelson to hit deep passes against single coverage. He couldn't. Cue the blowout and the fifth win in Pelini's “win out” challenge delivered to his team after the loss at Ohio State.
Iowa is the final game on Pelini's list. The Hawkeyes lost any hope of a bowl bid Saturday in a 42-17 loss to Michigan and can now merely spoil the Huskers' run at a Big Ten title.
Iowa will have the advantage of playing a morning game at home in a short week. Pelini said NU coaches must “get everything down in a three-day span” because of Thanksgiving and the Friday kickoff.
“You can do it,” Pelini said. “It's just going to require a little bit greater attention to detail all through our practice schedule. We'll get ready.”
Defensive end Eric Martin already is. He got his breather Saturday.
“I'm not even tired,” Martin said, smiling. “I want to go play again.”
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>> Video: Jon Nyatawa's postgame analysis:
>> Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: NU's Taylor Martinez after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: NU senior P.J. Smith after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: NU's Kenny Bell after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: Tom Osborne leads NU onto the field:
>> Video: The Husker seniors are honored:
>> Video: A tribute to Tom Osborne:
>> Video: Nebraska-Minnesota game highlights: