We've reached the halfway point in the season and the Huskers are 5-1. Nebraska has had quite a few surprises this season. Some pleasant; others, not so much.
The defense, thought by many to be a strength in the preseason, has played mediocre at best. There's still time to fix things. And things need to be fixed, especially if the Huskers want to make it to Indianapolis.
But, despite the unpleasant surprises, some good ones have taken place. Ameer Abdullah has shocked many a Husker fan with his electrifying speed and agility on special teams. Freshmen receivers Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell have shown they have big-play ability and the speed it requires. Nebraska's trio of freshmen running backs have been equally impressive, and Quincy Enunwa has proven himself as a great blocker (and tackler), as well as receiver.
Nebraska's goal this season is winning the Big Ten Championship. To do that, we're going to need to see more of the following.
Rex Burkhead is to the Huskers' offense as beans are to chili, ie a key component. Burkhead is the team's workhorse, churning his legs endlessly and picking up yards. He currently leads all Big Ten running backs in yard gained and is tied for the second most touchdowns scored among all Big Ten backs.
Burkhead is also a threat in the passing and receiving games. Rex played quarterback in high school and threw touchdown passes in Nebraska's win last year over Colorado. And in the receiving game, Burkhead can be a legitimate threat, as shown in last week's win over Ohio State. He has the ability to juke and make defenders miss. He has even recorded three tackles.
Burkhead can do it all, and in order for the Huskers to reach Indianapolis, we need to continue to see a heavy dose of him.
Tim Beck opened up the playbook and pulled out the Diamond formation, or as many Husker fans refer to it, the best thing since sliced bread. The Diamond formation consists of two receivers and four backs.
The possibilities of the Diamond are seemingly endless. There's the fake handoff/ QB keep, which Martinez ran beautifully against the Buckeyes. There are options, dives, counters, etc, etc. Then there's passing formations. Husker fans witnessed one last Saturday when Martinez hit Quincy Enunwa for a score.
Husker fans are excited by all the possibilities offered by the Diamond. But they were also excited last year about the zone read, and how did that work out? This formation needs to be a staple in the offense, but the Huskers can't rely on it.
A week after throwing three picks, Martinez stepped up to the pressure being placed on him, not only by opposing defenses, but his own fanbase.
And he delivered. Martinez, after completing only 50 percent of his passes in Madison, recorded a completion percentage of nearly 73 percent against the Buckeyes.
The difference in the two games? Checkdowns. Martinez, instead of trying to force the ball deep, hit the underneath routes, and the result was a Husker win. Martinez must continue to hit the checkdowns, usually to Burkhead, and not try to force things.
He did a good job of that last Saturday, and if he keeps it up, the offense should continue to produce points.
Only three weeks removed from being a wide receiver, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste stepped up. Baptiste was covering an Ohio State receiver when Buckeye quarterback Joe Bauserman decided to go deep. Big mistake. Baptiste reached and gracefully caught the ball in stride, recording his first career interception.
Baptiste looks to be the key for a secondary needing some star power. If Baptiste can become the type of corner that Dennard is then look out. Baptiste can be an interception-grabbing machine with his long arms and excellent body control.
The Husker defense may have found their man, er, one of them.
Remember what Inmate Unger from The Longest Yard told the guards? No? Allow me to refresh your memory. Unger tells the guards of a player the convicts have on the team saying, "He's fast. He's just so fast. He makes fast people look not fast."
One could argue Unger was describing Jamal Turner. For the first time since Nate Swift was on the team, the Huskers have a legitimate home-run threat. Turner wowed Husker fans in the spring game by doing a front flip into the end zone after a long touchdown catch. So far this season, Turner has yet to record a TD.
The Huskers need to find ways to get him the ball more often and let him take it to the house. If Turner starts playing a bigger role in the offense, then look out.