Nebraska vs. Southern Miss, 9.1.2012

Nebraska running backs Kenny Bell (left) and Ameer Abdullah celebrate a Abdullah's touchdown in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, at Memorial Stadium.

GWYNETH ROBERTS/Lincoln Journal Star

Please accept my apologies before we venture forward.

I'm bound to leave out important names in the discussion of Nebraska's run-and-gun offense, or whatever you want to call it.

Too many names to mention them all.

Bo Pelini likes to say the system is "multiple."

Multiple as in you better buy a program, because it might be hard to remember all these guys.

Who is No. 21?

Anybody recognize No. 88?

When did No. 82 enter the picture?

While we're at it, how about that No. 3?

No wonder Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez (No. 3) smiled throughout preseason camp. No wonder he seemed so relaxed. He has more options than Barry Switzer in his Oklahoma heyday.

Ten players caught at least one pass Saturday as 17th-ranked Nebraska cranked out 632 total yards — its most since 2007 — in a 49-20 dismantling of Southern Miss at Memorial Stadium.

Nine players carried the ball.

Seven Huskers on offense scored touchdowns. Last time that happened, NU battered Nicholls State in 2006.

This foe was no lower-division lightweight. This was Southern Miss, a team that finished 12-2 last season. Granted, the Golden Eagles returned only four starters on defense. Nevertheless, Southern Miss is a solid program, one that has produced 18 straight winning seasons and appeared in 10 consecutive bowl games.

One that has above-average speed.

Even so, Nebraska punted only once, was an otherworldly 12-for-15 on third-down conversions and averaged 8 yards per play — double that of Southern Miss.

Yeah, not bad for a season opener.

Not bad for any game.

Nebraska's offense would've been even more productive had it not suffered three significant injuries, most notably All-Big Ten running back Rex Burkhead's sprained MCL early in the game. He didn't return. He walked off the field after the game with an ice pack wrapped around his left knee. Yeah, he walked off. Husker fans will cling to that until further notice.

Seniors Tim Marlowe (collarbone) and Ben Cotton (ribs) also left the game.

Nebraska maintained jet speed.

As fans gushed over Martinez (26-for-34 passing for 354 yards and five touchdowns) and NU's cast of thousands, Husker coaches and players did something interesting in the post-mortem. 

They played down the performance.

"I don't want to build our team into something it's not," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "It's one game."

Nebraska, as a team, was far from perfect. The special teams were lousy for the most part, the lowlight being Tracy Lampley's 100-yard kickoff return. What's more, Brett Maher — stop the presses — missed two field goals and shanked his only punt.

Nebraska's defense surrendered 185 rushing yards (260 total). Freshman quarterback Anthony Alford, who was recruited by NU, led the way with 15 carries for 84 yards. The Huskers' front four wasn't exactly the Steel Curtain. The Golden Eagles too often found running lanes. Nebraska's front seven won't wow anybody with speed and explosiveness.

Entering the season, conventional wisdom was Nebraska's offense might have to carry the day in most games. Given Pelini's prowess as a defensive coach, that's an interesting concept. For now, it's just a concept.

It's, well, one game.

It's one game that looks pretty shiny stacked next to Iowa's 18-17 escape against Northern Illinois. Or Wisconsin's 26-21 triumph over Northern Iowa. Or Penn State's 24-14 loss to Ohio.

Nebraska seemed destined for a daylong struggle when Southern Miss pulled to 21-17 with 1:44 left before halftime.

Forty-one seconds later, Nebraska 6-foot-4 senior Steven Osborne — No. 21 — made the play of the day with a leaping 29-yard touchdown reception.

We had heard little of sophomores Tyler Wullenwaber (No. 82) and Tyler Evans (No. 88). Each recorded his first career reception. It won't be their last.

So many names, so little room.

Beck is like a toddler with toys spread all over the living room floor. Which one next?

His no-huddle spread system zooms at NASCAR speed, and needs fresh bodies to sustain the pace.

Nebraska zipped along so quickly that Burkhead was on the sideline for two series before Beck noticed the senior star was hurt.

"I can't sit here and say it's always going to be like this," Beck said.

But this was a fine start.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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