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Official Husker Locker Blog

2010 Sep 26

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Not So Magical

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By HuskerLocker

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If you wanted a feature-length advertisement for why teams like Nebraska shouldn’t schedule teams from Division 1-AA/FCS, I give you Saturday night’s tomato can win over South Dakota State.

You were laughing at Virginia Tech losing to James Madison. Shaking your head at Kansas losing to North Dakota State. You’re not now. These teams are good enough. Equipped with full staffs and everything. Walk and chew a mouthpiece at the same time. Ain’t it somethin?

What a groaner, with the Jackrabbits running for three yards and a mist of rubber tire chips and the antsy Huskers trying too hard to do too much. Niles Paul treats the field like an Etch-A-Sketch on his punt returns. Rex Burkhead looked to be doing cone drills on some of his runs, stopping, pausing, and starting again with alarming frequency. The Huskers offense constantly seemed to be looking for holes instead of making them.

On Friday, I suggested FCS games might be an unfortunate byproduct of moving to the Big Ten. I changed my mind. Forget it. Bring back the Sun Belt leeches and WAC wumps. Much like it did against Maine in 2005, NU seemed indecisive about which advantage to exploit. Speed? Size? Strategic? None of the above, while SDSU plays keep away and grinds some clock?

Just say no to these games in future. Move on from this chapter of NU’s 2010 season.

But put a bookmark in there. With a frilly tassel so it doesn’t fall into the pages. Just in case we need to revisit Taylor Martinez’s passing acumen - or lack thereof - in a few weeks.

Martinez was off Saturday night. Three times - on two passes and a scramble - terrific. More often bad. In a game where Nebraska needed steady - which is precisely what coaches tout No. 3 to be - Martinez epitomized a roller coaster and handed SDSU the ball three times. He pressed in the running game. He appeared to make some incorrect reads - they can’t all be right, of course - and take some serious physical punishment as a result.

“I tried too hard to make the offense get a play,” Martinez said.

Most of all this: Martinez simply missed open receivers. He underthrew two. Overthrew one. He short-hopped another. Threw behind one more. In a pocket with modest-to-heavy rush - he was never sacked - Martinez didn’t appear to get his body behind the ball. Initially he pushed his passes and they lacked direction and strength. Then he started humming the ball into seemingly random spaces - where an occasional Jackrabbit waited.

If there was one fear about Martinez as a quarterback, this was it. When you take away his wheels, how does he do with his gun? And vs. Idaho and Washington, he held up, stood in, and delivered some key strikes on third down. On Saturday night, offense coordinator Shawn Watson said it “snowballed” on Martinez.

“He’d gotten accustomed to playing pretty well,” Watson said. “And when he started to struggle, it started knotting on him…he’ll live to see another day.”

Now that’s a fact. Because Cody Green - inserted in the fourth quarter after Martinez threw his second head-shaking interception - badly missed two wide open receivers of his own. Despite the occasional protest from the Internet Illuminati, I’m still not seeing significant growth from Green. He has to hit those passes, especially the corner route to Kinnie, which was a potential touchdown.

Martinez does, too, because SDSU provided a road map on how to defend NU. Crazy, I know, but the Jackrabbits had the Huskers darting around like - Jackrabbits. Martinez has to beat Big 12 defenses over the top. NU is simply wasting the primary talent of Niles Paul, which is to run very fast in a straight line, jump up for the ball, and catch it. Zac Lee couldn’t do very much toward the end of last year, but he could do that.

What about bubble and tunnel screens to get Martinez and Paul in a rhythm? Or a quicker passing game? Watson seemed curiously lax Saturday night, giving SDSU’s pass defense a healthy amount of respect. The offense lacked tempo and pop. Jackrabbit defensive players knifed into the backfield all night.

The final play was a microcosm of the game. With a handful of seconds left, here’s Roy Helu sweeping hard around the end and getting buried by SDSU linebacker Mike Lien for a ten-yard loss. Helu is dragged to the turf, a pointless injury just begging to happen on a throwaway down. The line didn’t really block. The coaches apparently didn’t think. Kneel and get the heck out of there. Or plunge it into the line.

Attention to detail. Small stuff. The things that the defense - if you really watch - excel in, is harder for the Huskers’ offense. It’s been that way since that night last October at Missouri. And just when you think Nebraska’s over that hump, the same little problems creep back in against a team that had no business prying open old wounds. Fans want to anoint Martinez as the salve, the cure. And he might be. But he’s also young, prone to growing pains, and an inconsistent passer.

Yeah, it was a win. But if Washington was a dream, this was a Saturday nightmare. You hope it doesn’t recur against a team with Division 1-A athletes.

What's Your Take on the Game? Click here!

Tags: sdsu game, taylor martinez, shawn watson

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