LINCOLN, Neb. — Turns out, Nebraska can play with a lead, too.
After three consecutive come-from-behind victories, the No. 14 Huskers bolted to an early lead and left no doubt in a 38-14 victory over Minnesota before 85,330 fans at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Nebraska (9-2, 6-1) remains tied with Michigan atop the Legends Division of the Big Ten Conference, and the Huskers can clinch the division title with a victory Friday at Iowa or with a Michigan loss at Ohio State on Saturday.
Taylor Martinez completed 21 of 29 passes for 308 yards for Nebraska, while the defense held Minnesota to 177 total yards, sparking the Huskers to their most dominant and complete performance of the season.
“I thought it was pretty good effort by our team in all regards, pretty complete effort,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “I thought our kids came out and played hard and did some really good things. Now the challenge is going to be to come back in a short week and be ready to go on the road and put ourselves in position to finish off the second half of the year the way we want to.”
Martinez, who became Nebraska’s career passing leader, did his work against a Minnesota pass defense that entered the game ranked sixth in the nation, allowing 168 yards per game.
The junior quarterback has 6,140 career yards, surpassing Zac Taylor’s record of 5,850 yards, set in the 2005-06 seasons.
“I thought Taylor got us in and out of some plays, recognized some things,” Pelini said. “I thought we just executed well in the passing game. We had some looks and certain things we had to go to, and obviously having a veteran quarterback that can get us into the right play helps.”
Kenny Bell caught nine passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns and had another long reception to set up a touchdown.
Nebraska had a 3-0 lead when Bell, a sophomore, ran a post route into the end zone and caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Martinez in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Bell made a diving grab for a 29-yard reception to the Minnesota 3-yard line. Freshman running back Imani Cross scored on the next play, putting Nebraska ahead 17-0.
Cross scored again before halftime, this time on a one-yard run, coming after Quincy Enunwa juggled and caught a Martinez pass for a 29-yard gain to the 1-yard line.
Bell tacked on his second touchdown in the third quarter when he caught a screen pass and, behind a block from Enunwa, ran 30 yards down the sideline and into the end zone for a 31-0 lead.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste intercepted a deflected pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown, stretching the margin to 38-0 entering the fourth quarter.
Minnesota (6-5, 2-5) broke the shutout on MarQueis Gray’s one-yard touchdown run with 7:39 remaining in the game.
Backup quarterback Max Shortell hit Andre McDonald on a 26-yard pass, the Gophers’ longest play of the day, to highlight the 58-yard scoring drive, also Minnesota’s longest of the game.
Starting quarterback Philip Nelson, a true freshman, was 8 of 23 for 59 yards.
“I don’t think it has a lot to do with the quarterback,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “We got beat at the line of scrimmage, period. Dominated at the line of scrimmage. There is more than one individual that had a tough day. We got dominated at the line of scrimmage.”
The Gophers added a late touchdown after recovering a fumble against Husker reserves at the Nebraska 6-yard line, setting up Gray’s six-yard touchdown run.
NOTES: Nebraska honored retiring athletic director Tom Osborne, who has been a part of 500 football games at the school as assistant coach, head coach and athletic director. … Nebraska led 10-0 after the first quarter, its first lead after one quarter since an Oct. 6 loss at Ohio State. … Minnesota started left guard Zac Epping at center, replacing injured starter Jon Christenson. Tommy Olson started at left guard in place of Epping. … Nebraska played a fourth straight game without injured running back Rex Burkhead, who dressed.