Nebraska-Kansas: Blackshirts Bail Out a Shaky Taylor Martinez

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIINovember 14, 2010

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 13: Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers hands the ball to Rex Burkhead #22 during second half action of their game at Memorial Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Kansas 20-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Frankly, it was a little irritating to watch a game that was reminiscent of the South Dakota State clunker just a day after writing about how not to have that type of performance.

But you have to give the Huskers credit for their 20-3 win over yet another Big 12 team that played the Huskers better than they have played most anybody this season.

On a night in which redshirt freshman sensation Taylor Martinez was clearly not himself coming off an ankle sprain, the Blackshirts stifled the Kansas Jayhawks, allowing just 87 total yards of offense.

As close as the game was on the scoreboard, the Jayhawks never had a chance.

This game proved the claim that Alfonzo Dennard's absence has more of an impact on the team than Martinez's absence. 

The Huskers' stud cornerback shut down Kansas receivers all night and recorded his fourth spectacular interception of the season, a play in which Dennard was initially beat but recovered nicely and showed off his grasshopper legs with a leaping catch.  Mark my words: if Dennard stays for his senior season, he will easily be the best cornerback in the nation in 2011.

This defense clearly relies heavily on its two shutdown corners.  Their coverage ability allows the Pelinis to call more blitzes and allows the front seven to focus more on stopping the run. 

Kansas actually has a decent run game with freshman back James Sims, but the Huskers stuffed the run all night, allowing just 72 yards on 2.1 yards per rush.  Even more impressive, the Huskers allowed just three completions for 15 yards for the whole game.  That's a stat that, in most college football games, is usually eclipsed by the first drive.

Dennard wasn't the only defender that had a good performance.  Linebacker Lavonte David continued to pile on tackles, and added two sacks.  As many mistakes as Pelini says this kid makes, he makes up for it with incredible speed and instincts and surprising toughness. 

Despite being just 210 pounds, which is quite small for a linebacker, he squares up with ball carriers and rarely gets driven back.  This kid, with over 100 tackles and 4 sacks on the season, is setting himself up for Big 12 newcomer of the year and all-conference honors.  The Huskers should dominate conference honors on defense, particularly in the secondary.  Both corners should be first team, which is remarkable.

Jared Crick also had an impressive performance, notching two sacks, one of which was in spite of a Jayhawk lineman blatantly holding him, one of a few penalties that were missed by the officials. 

Whoa, hold on a sec! The Big 12 refs miss calls?

This situation deserves its own conversation.  I'll be writing an article on it soon.

Meanwhile, it was glaringly apparent that Taylor Martinez was not fully recovered.  His ankle kept him from taking off like he usually does, and because he is used to that, he became indecisive and made some bad decisions and throws. 

It's funny how a whole offense hinges on one guy's ankle.

Martinez still rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries, which isn't too bad, and he threw for 167 yards.  Niles Paul was booed in pregame and responded with a brilliant performance, making several acrobatic catches and, more importantly, didn't make a mistake with the football. 

He ended with 7 catches for 79 yards.  He also had two nice kick returns.  Say what you want about the kid, but he is mentally tough, and he has always owned up to his mistakes.

Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. both had strong performances once again, combining for 162 yards and 2 touchdowns on 37 carries.  The only bad either of these guys did all day was a fumble by Helu.  Newsflash: the Huskers fumble.  Whatever.

The bottom line is, the Huskers don't need style points.  They just need to win.  If they have to beat the Colorado Buffaloes 3-0, so be it.  Just win.

Saturday's win ensured Pelini his third season with at least nine wins and ran his record to 29-9 overall as a head coach.  Pelini has already surpassed Bill Callahan, who won just 27 games in four seasons.

But to get to 30, Pelini will have to rally his troops for one last road test against a suddenly red-hot Texas A&M.  The Huskers have shown their mettle in road games this year, but the Iowa State game quieted that hype.  While most of the reason for that was the absence of Martinez and Dennard, College Station is a whole different kind of animal.

Pelini knows how to ready his troops for a tough environment.  You can bet he'll have his work cut out for him this week.  With a win, the Huskers would secure the North.  Do the Huskers have one more impressive road performance in them?

I guess we will find out.