LINCOLN — No Rex, no problem.
Early in Nebraska's season opener against Southern Miss, the Husker offense suffered a major blow when star running back Rex Burkhead was sidelined with a knee injury.
The No. 17 Huskers proceeded to put up 632 yards of total offense en route to earning their 27th consecutive season-opening win with a 49-20 victory of Southern Miss Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
"Guys stepped up," NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "We talk to our team all the time about being comfortable in uncomfortable situations. And we were in an uncomfortable situation. We had a lot of key players for us who were out, and a lot of guys stepped up.
"That's the difference of this team. ... They're not going to let each other down. You saw some of that today."
Other than the injury situation — most notably the Burkhead injury, which head coach Bo Pelini said was a MCL sprain of the lowest degree and that the senior was "day-to-day, week-to-week" — there was little to be disappointed with in Nebraska's offense:
— The Huskers averaged 8.1 yards per play en route to posting the highest offensive output (632 yards) since the 2007 season.
— Taylor Martinez looked like a new quarterback throwing the ball in his third year as a starter and second year under offensive coordinator Tim Beck, completing 26-of-34 passes for a career-high 354 yards and five touchdowns.
— NU's receivers showed as sure hands as they've demonstrated in a long time, with 10 different receivers catching a pass. Eight finished with at least 26 receiving yards, and five different players caught a touchdown pass.
— The Huskers converted 12 of 15 third downs.
— Nebraska didn't turn the ball over, and the Husker offensive line didn't commit a penalty.
"(Nebraska) manhandled us on the line," USM head coach Ellis Johnson said. "I thought that was obvious the whole game. The thing they did well was their tempo. ... We didn't have the ability to keep up with them a couple times. They have some plays in the offense that no matter what you run on defense, it will be a successful play for them."
Burkhead started his senior campaign with a bang, scoring on a 57-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the game — a career-long run for the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder. Burkhead bobbled the ball initially on the handoff but hung on.
But he carried the ball just one more time, finishing with three carries for 68 yards. After the game, Pelini said the injury wouldn't be long term. Nebraska also lost receiver Tim Marlowe to a broken clavicle.
Without Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross picked up the slack, finishing with 15 carries for 81 yards and 11 for 62 respectively.
The MVP for the offense, though, no doubt was Martinez.
He had one pass that probably should have been picked off, but other than that he looked like a much different player than the quarterback who completed 56 percent of his passes last season
Beck said he has seen a different level of focus out of Martinez than his first two seasons.
"It paid off today," Beck said. "(Assistant coach Ron Brown) always says, 'Greatness is earned in empty stadiums and revealed in full stadiums.' The guy has been working extremely hard in the offseason all this time preparing himself for the opportunity to go out and do this, and he did."
Former Husker quarterback Joe Ganz, an offensive graduate assistant coach for NU now, had high praises for Martinez.
"He's taken command of our offense and he's become a true leader," Ganz said. "He put in his work; guys really respect what he did this summer. He's really doing some good things."
After Southern Miss tied the game 14-all early in the second quarter, it was all Nebraska the rest of the way.
The Huskers took a 28-17 lead into halftime and then put the game away in the third quarter with two touchdowns.
Nebraska's defense, which struggled some early, ended up allowing 260 total yards.
Special teams was one area where Nebraska lost the battle, though.
Kearney native Brett Maher, who missed just four field goals all of last season, missed both his field-goal attempts Saturday — from 44 yards and 41 yards after going 16-of-17 inside 50 yards last year. He also had a punt for 21 yards, NU's only punt of the game.
"I said going into the game that this would give us a starting point; that's all it was," Pelini said. "It gives us an assessment of where we are and what we need to get better at. I thought there were a lot of good things out there. I thought there were a lot of positives, but there's a bunch we need to fix."
Tribland note: Freshman offensive tackle Zach Sterup saw his first game action as a Husker, getting in on the final drive of the game with Nebraska leading by 28 points with four minutes left.