ATTENTION: Taylor Martinez can throw!
In a 51-41 shootout win against the high powered Oklahoma State Cowboys, Martinez racked up 323 passing yards and five touchdowns, as well as 112 rushing yards on 19 carries, carrying the wounded Blackshirts to the win.
Well, it was about time the offense bailed out the defense. It was long due.
In 2009, superhuman defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and a NFL-caliber Blackshirt defense carried the toothless Husker offense to 10 wins. Don't look now, but the offense finally looks as though it has some teeth.
Of course, that success has generally hinged on the play of Martinez, who has been very up and down so far this season. I guess you can't expect consistency out of a redshirt freshman. But if a team knows how to stop Martinez, it can stop the whole Husker offense.
Today, Martinez had another career day, breaking his own record of 369 total yards of offense for a Husker freshman, with 435. But today, he did it through primarily through the air. Not to worry, though, he still looked fantastic rushing, for the most part.
Granted, he made his mistakes. He made a few downright weird decisions, most of which, luckily, did not cost Nebraska, and did have a fumble that led to an OSU field goal. And Oklahoma State, focused on stopping the run, covered the Husker receivers about as well as a baby's blanket covers a whale.
But Martinez's big day passing was huge for an offense who's recent numbers have resembled the triple option teams of the 90s. Now, defenses must prepare for both the pass and the run. On with the report.
Grade - A
Martinez was, obviously, the main reason for this grade. His handful of mistakes were greatly outweighed by a ton of big plays that were too much for Oklahoma State to handle. Easily his most complete game, he looks like he is progressing nicely, still with three and a half years of eligibility left.
The receivers, though they dropped their share of passes again today, also outweighed the bad with a ton of good, including over 100 receiving yards by Niles Paul (and more importantly, no fumbles and only one drop, which, frankly, is good for Paul) and three touchdown catches by Brandon Kinnie, who will definitely be a handful for anybody next year.
The running backs didn't have a lot of yards or an eye-popping yards-per-carry average, but they ran tough and held on to the ball, quite obviously an extremely important thing for this offense.
Martinez made the offensive line look better with a lot of avoided sacks, and they didn't open up a lot of room for the running backs, but they played well enough to get the offense rolling. They'll need a better game next week against a Missouri defense that is much better than Oklahoma State's.
Kyler Reed was the only tight end that got a lot of action in the passing game, catching a beautiful touchdown pass from Martinez in the third quarter that gave the Huskers some much-needed room to breathe. Reed is as small and fast as a receiver, and he will be one of Martinez's favorite targets in the coming years.
Overall, I'm not really sure whether the offensive success was the result of Nebraska playing good offense or Oklahoma State playing bad defense. I think it was a combination of both. We'll find out next week against Missouri. But one thing is for sure: Martinez proved he is a capable passer, which adds a much-needed dimension to an offense that imploded against a decent Texas defense one week ago.
Grade - D
I decided not to give the Blackshirts a big, fat F for two reasons. First, when they really, really had to, they stepped up and made some stops. A few Oklahoma State three-and-outs forced by the Blackshirts were crucial in Nebraska's ability to bleed the clock.
Second, this Oklahoma State offense is nothing short of incredible. I'll go so far as to say Nebraska hasn't seen an offense near this good since getting plastered by Oklahoma in 2008. There isn't a team in the nation with a running back the caliber of Kendall Hunter paired with a receiver the caliber of Justin Blackmon, and their overall combination of speed, explosiveness and physicality on offense is second to none. The only offense in the nation that can compare to this offense is that of Oregon.
But even so, the Blackshirts, for the second consecutive week, were frustratingly bad at times. They missed tackles, blew coverages, got pushed off the line, and generally got shredded. Before the game, I predicted the Blackshirts would come out and play with ferocity.
Where was that today? Isn't this defense coached by Bo Pelini, the epitome of ferocity?
Before the game, I confidently stated that Nebraska's secondary is the best in the nation. While I still believe that, it was a little unsettling to see them get chewed up in the first half with Missouri just around the corner.
Okay, okay. A lot unsettling.
Hopefully they just had an off day, which is probably a decent explanation considering the uncharacteristic mistakes they made today. But will they leave this game behind them and resume domination? They'll have to if they want to take down the vaunted passing attack of the undefeated Tigers.
While the defensive backs were scrambling around trying to stay with Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper, the defensive line did them no favors. The nonexistent-pass-rush chapter continues as the Huskers recorded just one sack, which came after quarterback Brandon Weeden stood in the pocket for about five seconds, trying to find a receiver. A single coverage sack for the whole game? Not what you wanted to see.
The Pelini brothers must figure out how to get to Blaine Gabbert without Ndamukong Suh. The Husker defense will depend on it against another passing attack that the defensive backs will not be able to blanket forever.
Not only was there no pass rush, but the Oklahoma State offensive line consistently dominated the Blackshirt line on running plays, and Kendall Hunter ran all over everyone. Missouri doesn't have a running back the caliber of Hunter, but Texas doesn't have any running back the caliber of any Missouri running back, and they still rushed for over 200 yards against Nebraska. Scary.
The linebackers missed a lot of tackles on Hunter, and will need to continue to improve and really step up next week against Missouri.
Grade - A+
Nothing short of brilliance for the Husker special teams. This was undoubtedly the difference in the game aside from Martinez. Paul played with a chip on his shoulder in this game and exploded for a 100 yard kick-off return for a touchdown, and Alex Henery drilled all three of his field goals, two of them from 45 and 52 yards. But his best play was a 27 yard run on a wildly dangerous fake punt on fourth-and-10 from the 20-yard line that set up Nebraska's first touchdown. Boy, that was a mouthful.
Nebraska now has a unique opportunity. If the Huskers can knock off the Tigers next week, they will accomplish several significant things simultaneously. First, the Huskers would likely win the Big XII North, as the Huskers would hold the tie-breaker if both would go 7-1 in the Big XII. Second, it would be their first win over a top 10 team since 2001. Third, it would silence the talk of Nebraska's struggles at home. Fourth, it would give them a lot of momentum going into the back third of the schedule.
But beating the undefeated Missouri Tigers will be no easy task. The Tigers showed in beating the No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners that they are for real. The Huskers will have to play a physical, mistake free game to have a chance, something they have not done at home this season. And Missouri is better than both Oklahoma State and Texas.
You took care of business on the road, Nebraska. Now, how about at home?
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