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  1. 2011 Jul 14

    Husker Heartbeat 7/14: Crick's Being Watched, Husker Nation's Getting Excited and NU's "The Best" Says Beano


    By HuskerLocker

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    A daily dose of what's new in Husker Nation from Monday through Friday:

    - On the 2012 NFL draft watch list: Jared Crick

    - Husker Nation should be (and is) one of the most excited fan bases in college football this year

    - Projecting the offensive depth chart for UT-Chattanooga

    - Nebraska was involved in the best game in college football history according to Beano Cook

    Former Husker Zac Lee signs with the UFL's Las Vegas Locos and Center Mike Caputo has been named to the Rimington Award watch list

    Follow us on Twitter: @huskerlocker
    Like us on Facebook: Official Husker Locker Page

    Tags: zac lee, mike caputo, beano cook, jared crick

  2. 2011 Jan 24

    Husker Heartbeat 1/24: Zac, Niles and Hagg


    By HuskerLocker

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    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    *Zac Lee talks about the 2011 season, the injury he sustained in the Missouri game and why he didn't play much during the year.

    Pretty safe, smart answers from Lee - what we've come to expect from him.

    *Husker Eric Hagg now headed to the Senior Bowl, too.

    *The LJS breaks down the remaining targets on Nebraska's recruiting radar.

    *Updated recruiting rankings from the three major services.

    *LJS Sip writes about Bo's full plate right now and all the trips he's been making on planes. That's a subtle reminder that, apparently, Bo needs a private plane. Sip also writes about Saturday's big basketball game vs. Texas A&M:

    "Why won't Nebraska-Texas A&M be televised? It's basically because NU partner FSN is prohibited contractually from showing games during ABC-ESPN's 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (CST) broadcast window on Saturdays. "We determined it's not worth it to have to get our fans to the game that late," said Marc Boehm, NU executive associate athletic director.

    Wise move."

    Two thoughts here:

    *Why isn't worth it to bring fans to a game late?
    *Why is it a wise move?

    Really late night games can be a lot of fun - especially in the arena. For the magnitude of the game, NU should have considered an 8 p.m. start and moved the women's basketball game to earlier in the day.

    *Niles Paul busts his tail to get ready for the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.

    *Stafon Johnson received the unanimous support of USC coaches and players for 16 months after his near-death in a weight training accident. So, naturally, an ambulance chaser got him to file a personal injury lawsuit against the school.

    *Mack Brown calls his QB race "wide open."

    Tags: husker heartbeat, zac lee, niles paul, eric hagg, steve sipple, texas, mens hoops

  3. 2011 Jan 11

    YEAR IN REVIEW: QB Report Card


    By HuskerLocker

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    HL's Samuel McKewon breaks down individual grades for each of NU's quarterbacks, explains Shawn Watson's one big mistake and predicts a depth chart for next year. Check out a 30-day free pass of HLP!

    Tags: year in review, report card, taylor martinez, cody green, zac lee, shawn watson

  4. 2011 Jan 01

    The Plain Truth about Nebraska's Offense


    By HuskerLocker

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    At the Hall of Fame of sportswriting cliches, in the “What a difference a year makes” wing, is the old line about a “tale of twos.” Two quartes. Two halves. Two seasons. Whatever.

    As much as anyone loathes dialing one of these up, these lines are cliches for a reason.

    At some point, they were true.

    And in the case of Nebraska's offense in 2010, it really was a case of two seasons.

    The one with a healthy Taylor Martinez.

    And the one with an injured Martinez and Cody Green.

    That's not exactly surprising to NU football fans who watched the Huskers lose three of their last four games.

    But just the sheer division of attempts truly does break the season in half.

    I distinctly remember Martinez's injury just before halftime of the Missouri game. He tried to beat a Tiger defender to the sideline for the big play instead of darting back inside for the first down. It's what Martinez always did. What he does even now. He got hit hard in the leg. It looked like his knee, frankly, but as he fell to the turf, his ankle rolled and twisted.

    At that moment in time, here were NU's offensive season statistics. That's roughly 7 ½ games.

    Total: 467 plays, 3,495 yards, 7.48 yards per play
    Rushing: 323 for 2,196 yards, 6.79 yards per carry
    Passing: 86-144 (59%) for 1,299 yards,15 yards per completion
    Avg NCAA Rank of Opponent Defense: 81st

    And the stats after Martinez got hurt, or 6½ games, plus five plays at the end of the Missouri first half:

    Total: 449 plays, 2,079 yards, 4.63 yards per play
    Rushing: 311 carries for 1180 yards, 3.79 yards per carry
    Passing: 77-138 (55%) for 809 yards, 10.5 yards per completion
    Avg NCAA Rank of Opponent Defense: 71st

    Stunning, yes? It's literally a season split in two.

    Now, for something disturbing.

    Here are the stats for the last 6½ games of the 2009 season, when NU's admittedly offense retreated into a candy-coated shell and let its otherworldly defense win games. Shawn Watson called it the “Apollo 13” offense because, just as astronauts were on the dark side of the moon, NU was riddled with injuries at every position except receiver.

    Total: 397 plays, 1,675 yards, 4.21 yards per play
    Rushing: 272 carries for 970 yards, 3.56 yards per carry
    Passing: 67-125 (53%) for 729 yards, 10.8 yards per completion
    Avg NCAA Rank of Opponent Defense: 43rd

    When you consider the caliber of defenses NU played in 2009 vs. 2010, folks, that's the same offense. The offense Husker coaches assured Nebraska fans would never see again.

    But NU was 6-1 over its last seven games in 2009. Just 4-3 this year.

    What changed?

    Nebraska's defense. Just barely. But just enough.

    Remember how small the defensive margin of error was last year in several games?

    It was just as small this year. And the defense wasn't quite as good.

    To the numbers:

    The last 6 ½ games of 2009:

    Total: 457 plays, 1840 yards, 4.02 yards per play
    Rushing: 173 carries for 576 yards, 3.32 yards per carry
    Passing: 118-264 (44%) for 1,288 yards, 10.9 yards per completion

    Now the last 6 ½ games of 2010:

    Total: 431 plays, 1,948 yards, 4.51 yards per play
    Rushing: 254 carries for 919 yards, 3.6 yards per carry
    Passing: 92-187 (49%) for 1,062 yards, 11.5 yards per completion

    Subtle changes. But enough to make for two more losses.

    What a difference a year makes.

    Worth noting, of course, is that Nebraska's three best defensive performances in 2009 were vs. Oklahoma (No. 23 offense nationally), Texas (No. 29) and Arizona (No. 58).

    In 2010, NU's bottom line greatly benefited from giving up 87 total yards to Kansas (No. 113) and 262 yards to Colorado (No. 78).

    The opponents in 2010 were softer. The defenses were weaker. Aside from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Philip Dillard, NU didn't really lose any impact players. And one could argue Lavonte David filled Dillard's shoes – and then some.

    What happened?

    Martinez's injury did. But how could a single injury to a redshirt freshman who had started all of seven games – and would start several more – make such a difference?

    Just a few thoughts:

    *A 70/30 run/pass split before the injury more or less continued after it – without the dynamic, explosive speed from Martinez. Watson attempted to substitute in the Rexcat for Martinez's running game, and while the formation worked well in the Iowa State game, it played to diminishing returns as the season wore on. It was wholly ineffective – and directly led to Washington's first touchdown – in the Holiday Bowl.

    *The absence of a consistent passer. Martinez lacks polish, Cody Green lacks accuracy, Zac Lee lacks health – led to the waste of one of NU's strongest position groupings, wide receiver and tight end. Nebraska four potential NFL talents - Niles Paul, Mike McNeill, Brandon Kinnie and Kyler Reed – and only Reed's talent was used to its full extent. Kinnie approached his potential, while Paul and McNeill weren't used often enough.

    *The offense only worked with Martinez. Green rushed just 26 times for 96 yards. Lee was better running the zone read than Green, who frequently held his reads so long it invited the defense to converge on both Green and the running back.

    It's possible that Brion Carnes would fit this attack. Jamal Turner and Bubba Starling certainly do. But Green does not.

    *Feast or famine. Nebraska had just 15 drives of 10 plays or longer in 2010 – and 9 of those ended in field goals. Think about that for a second.

    After Martinez's injury, NU had just 5 plays of 30 yards or longer. Roy Helu accounted for three of them – long touchdown runs in the Missouri and Oklahoma games, plus a 31-yarder vs. Texas A&M. Martinez had just one – and it was a 34-yard pass to Mike McNeill in the Big 12 title game.

    I've talked quite a bit about the subplots. But those are the raw numbers. Sometimes stats lie. I don't think those do.

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    Tags: shawn watson, taylor martinez, cody green, bo pelini, zac lee, roy helu, rex burkhead

  5. 2010 Dec 16

    Husker Heartbeat 12/16: Zac's (All The Way?) Back


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    *Zac Lee is confident he can make all the throws if asked by the Husker coaches to do it in the Holiday Bowl.

    *Steve Sipple likes the young offensive talent coming through the pipeline.

    *Alfonzo Dennard is pondering entering the NFL Draft, his teammates say.

    I suspect he'll come back. The lockout is no joke. Why leave early in the midst of all that?

    *Life as Ndamukong Suh. It isn't easy being an agile 305-pound man.

    *After striking out on Dana Holgerson, who then decided to become the coach-in-waiting at West Virginia, Steve Pederson hired Miami of Ohio's Mike Haywood.

    * Do you like your yellow first down line on the TV? Look for it in a stadium.

    *The five most disappointing teams of 2010.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, zac lee, steve sipple, barney cotton, steve pederson, alfonzo dennard

  6. 2010 Nov 30

    Watson In the Middle


    By HuskerLocker

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    Every so often, tykes and wannabe offensive gurus used to send former Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne homemade plays in the mail. Trick plays, usually, as I recall. I think I might have even hunched over my bed at 8 or 9 years old and pretended to know something about football. I probably drew up a triple reverse pass that resembled the Harlem Globetrotter weave.

    It comes with the DNA of a Husker fan, really, this keen scrutiny of offense. The Blackshirts earned the dough around here in the 1990s – and the 1970 and 1971 national champions were known for being “immovable” more than they were “unstoppable” - but the Sea of Red loves the show of points produced at the speed of sound.

    Although his positivity rarely betrays it, current Nebraska coordinator Shawn Watson has a grasp of the expectations. He is, in his friendly way, aware of the criticism. Mention it, as reporters did Tuesday in prep for the Big 12 Championship, and his speech quickens. He wants no part of the discussion.

    “It's just part of the deal,” he said. “It's that way everywhere. It's just the way it is. You don't worry about those things because those things are things we control in our room. We work hard to put together plans. We don't worry about – at least I don't. I couldn't care less.”

    It's a smart deflection – but a deflection nonetheless.

    Watson is loyal. To his players. To his staff – if you think wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore is going anywhere but to a better job, think again. And to the craft of calling plays. Some coaches are better at it than others. Some days are better than others. But Watson is steadfast. He won't judge his brethren. Not even when he sits in front of a TV and watches a game.

    His answer Tuesday was telling of his own experience.

    “Never,” he said. “You just don't. There's things that happen that you don't know. Things behind the scenes that you don't know. Everybody manages their situation. The objective is manage wins and what it takes. Sometimes you have a quarterback that's ready. Sometimes you don't. Or a guy who's developing – you try to protect him. Or you have injuries in key positions.”

    Sounds like the Ballad of Watson, circa 2009 and 2010. A severe lack of depth and options last year. An ongoing quarterback drama this year – whether it's injuries or temperaments – that belongs with the early part of the Frank Solich era, when he shuffled through three different guys in 1998 and 1999 before finally settling on Eric Crouch.

    At least Solich had the advantage of being the head coach. Watson's input is certainly needed by head coach Bo Pelini, but Pelini has the final word on ultimate identity of the offense - and who's operating it. Don't kid yourself there. Bo fought to sign Taylor Martinez, handed him the keys for the Western Kentucky game and has only wavered from that vision once - a quick hook in the Texas game that he later said he regretted.

    The future is T-Magic – whether or not Watson gets a head-coaching job in the offseason. An example: Watson said he didn't want Martinez to wear a headset during Friday's game vs. Colorado because he wanted him to “watch the game” and get a feel for it. Then Watson would talk to Martinez on the headset first - before talking to the guy actually playing the game, Green.

    In the midst of beating CU, Watson now wants to have Martinez thinking several steps ahead.

    “I try to keep his mind clear so he can see it,” Watson said. “And then make sure the things he's seeing the things he needs to see as a quarterback from that perspective. I'm always trying to develop him.”

    That's part of why Martinez, hobbled to the extreme, got the nod in the second half of the Texas A&M game. That's part of why NU has run the ball on an astonishing 70 percent of its plays this season despite having its most vocal leaders at wide receiver. Nebraska's won 10 games – and patched together the nation's 31st-best offense – while Watson has been so slowly taking the training wheels off his plan for Martinez, whose incredible speed and surprising savvy makes him worth the risk – in a lot of different ways.

    But that doesn't make Watson's job any easier.

    “That's just where we're at,” Watson said. “We're developing a quarterback. We're developing Taylor. Still developing Cody. You want to be balanced. My own nature is to be balanced. As we move along, and they develop, you'll see more balance.”

    Presuming Martinez stays healthy. And presuming Green has a higher ceiling than the one he appears to have. NU's two QB recruits for the 2011 class aren't exactly classic passers. One of them, Bubba Starling, operated out of a wingbone and rushed for nearly 400 yards in a state playoff game – and he could sign a Major League Baseball contract before he ever enrolls at Nebraska.

    As Watson returns to the scene of the crime – and the 2009 Big 12 title game was a 106-yard misdemeanor against the Blackshirts, no doubt – he shuts out all of that speculation and creates a plan to keep up with Oklahoma, which will – mark these words – score on NU's defense. Maybe he creates two plans. One with Martinez. One with Green. Maybe there's a hybrid plan. Bo talked of playing both, and not deciding anything until Saturday night, when the Huskers can determine whether Martinez is healthy enough to make plays with his feet.

    Since Zac Lee's injury in the 2009 Virginia Tech game, Watson has had one game – the 2009 Holiday Bowl – when he knew, for certain, just what his quarterback – and by proxy his offense - could really do. Now, Martinez surpassed most expectations. Occasionally he performed to them. Once or twice he truly struggled, and Nebraska did, too.

    In between there was Lee's elbow surgery and subsequent absence, a month-long QB battle in training camp, two Martinez excused absences, Niles Paul publicly calling Watson out for not calling enough passes, too many fumbles and drops to count, two starting offensive linemen – Mike Smith and Marcel Jones – essentially lost for the year to injuries, Mike McNeill getting in a shouting match with Bo, Bo berating Martinez, and another rash of false starts and burned timeouts late in the year.

    One hell of a year.

    Somehow, that's all the fault of the guy calling plays in the press box. Does Watson ever get emails calling for his head? Shoot, if Dan Beebe receives hate mail, you have to imagine the primary scapegoat of the Pelini Era gets a few jabs, too.

    “I wouldn't read them if they came in,” Watson said.

    Damn good thing Rex Burkhead was around the Wildcat, huh?

    Tags: big 12 championship, shawn watson, zac lee, taylor martinez, cody green, bo pelini

  7. 2010 Nov 08

    Practice Report 11/8: Dennard Returns


    By HuskerLocker

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    More than a week after suffering a concussion from what he called the hardest hit of his career, starting Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard worked through half of the Huskers' Monday practice before the coaching staff backed him down.

    “He practiced about halfway through and then we pulled him out,” head coach Bo Pelini said. “He did great. He's doing fine. I think he'll be out here full-go tomorrow.”

    Said secondary coach Marvin Sanders: “He went through some drills today, so I'm pretty excited to see him out here. The doctors will have to give the final clearance but after watching him go today I feel pretty good.”

    In Dennard's absence, Iowa State repeatedly completed passes – including two touchdowns – against his replacements, freshman Ciante Evans and senior Anthony West. Evans started the game, but Sanders replaced him with West after the Cyclones started running plays with which Evans wasn't familiar.

    “That's kind of tough for a young guy,” Sanders said. “Because you don't know what you don't know.”

    Sanders pointed to a play that Evans struggled to defend, while opposite cornerback Prince Amukamara held the receiver to a 2-yard gain.

    “Prince immediately clicked in to the right defense,” Sanders said.

    With Dennard playing opposite of Amukamara, the Huskers have arguably the nation's best tandem at corner. The lack of that strength Saturday did make some of a difference, Pelini said.

    “You miss anytime a good football player's not going,” Pelini said.

    Quarterbacks Taylor Martinez and Zac Lee headed back to practice as well, Pelini said, although Lee was somewhat limited as a passer because of his bruised hand. Earlier Monday, Pelini said Martinez should start vs. Kansas Saturday so long as he's healthy.

    “Taylor looked good,” Pelini said.

    Tags: practice report, ku game, alfonzo dennard, taylor martinez, zac lee

  8. 2010 Nov 08

    Bo: Lee, Martinez and Dennard Should Be Ready for KU


    By HuskerLocker

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    Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said Monday he expects quarterbacks Taylor Martinez and Zac Lee and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to practice this week in hopes of being ready for Saturday's Kansas game.

    “We're a lot healthier than we were this time a week ago,” Pelini said during the Big 12 Coaches Teleconference. “I expect them all to play.”

    Martinez, who suited up for the Iowa State game but only played a down – as a decoy – because of an ankle sprain, will start, “if he's healthy,” Pelini said.

    “You don't know what's going to happen in a week of practice but I expect him to be out there today and we're moving on,” Pelini said. “We feel real good about where he is right now.”

    Lee bruised his throwing hand after hitting it on a teammate's helmet. Dennard suffered a concussion in the Missouri game and sat out for a week recovering from its effects.

    Aside from wide receiver Tim Marlowe, who is questionable after hurting his hip in the Iowa State game, “there's nothing right now on the injury list that's real pressing.”

    That apparently includes quarterback Cody Green, who briefly exited the ISU game after taking a hard hit. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said afterward that Green had the wind knocked out of him.

    Pelini applauded Green's play and talked briefly about the development of the highly-touted prospect who entered college a semester early to learn NU's offense, but doesn't seem entirely comfortable yet.

    “I wouldn't say there's any guy on our football team that's a finished product yet,” Pelini said. “Things take time.”

    See also: How NU Stuffed ISU's 2-Point Conversion

    Tags: ku game, taylor martinez, zac lee, tim marlowe, alfonzo dennard

  9. 2010 Nov 05



    By HuskerLocker

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    In his post-game presser after a 52-38 win over Texas Tech, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads couldn't stop gently pounding the lectern. His blood was still pumping after playing a game that most – including some ISU fans – gave the Cyclones little chance of winning.

    He wanted to sum up the whole night - how Iowa State had jumped the Red Raiders with a series of smart plays, how embattled quarterback Austen Arnaud soldiered through injuries and delivered one of his best career games - with a simple anecdote.

    “We had a pregame meal a 2 o'clock,” Rhoads said, rubbing a hand through his tussled hair. “Pregame meal at 2 o'clock. Our team was there eight minutes early. Ready to eat.”

    He paused.

    “We were ready to play.”

    Rhoads doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears it like a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. And he's precisely what Iowa State – forgotten, downtrodden, a little maligned – needed, right when ISU needed him.

    “He knows exactly what this team is going through, it seems like, at all times,” Arnaud said.

    He's very different from the rather secretive, reluctant Bo Pelini, who declined to share even a clever joke about how he prepared his team for Saturday's home game with Missouri by driving them on buses out of town and back again – as if to say “here we are.”

    It's a sharp little dose of humor that not only cut the tension, but served as a small lesson, too: We'll change our routine a little bit, but some of this stuff was in your head. Get rid of it because driving around on a bus is a little ridiculous. Given NU's first-quarter barrage over Mizzou, I'd suggest the teaching hit its mark.

    Rhoads leaves no stone unturned and openly rallies the media, the fans and the student body to the Cyclones' cause. As he must. Bo insulates his team from the nonstop deluge of speculation, adulation and attention. I think he closes the lid too hard, and sometimes tries too much to obscure matters that seem rather plain to sentient folks, but his style is also, to some extent, out of necessity.

    On with the keys:

    Turnovers: Any game between Iowa State and Nebraska must include this storyline, especially after the 2009 contest, when NU handed the Cyclones eight gift-wrapped morsels of hope. ISU actively goes after the ball like few teams in the Big 12 – or college football.

    There's a downside to that approach, of course: Unsuccessfully tackling the ball – which the Cyclones do a lot - leads to broken tackles and yards after contact. Iowa State willingly sacrifices some technique for a shot at a takeaway. If Nebraska protects the ball well, it could be worth a lot of yards and point for the Big Red.

    Speed: Nebraska's fastest team in memory sure showed it against a pretty speedy squad in Missouri. Iowa State certainly doesn't have the quarterhorses to hang with the Huskers for four quarters without some help from turnovers. Watch for this disparity to show up most readily in special teams, where the Cyclones field one of the nation's worst kickoff and punt coverage units, while NU gets back Eric Martin from a one-game suspension.

    Tempo: Iowa State is slow and steady, building its scoring drives play by play, third down conversion by third down conversion. Nebraska's is, of course, getting its doctorate in big plays. ISU's aims with time of possession and clock control are similar to that of Kansas State: Steal time and bleed the clock. NU will have to stay patient, consistently win early downs on drives and not press too hard to create big plays when they're not available. So much of the Huskers' loss to the Cyclones in 2009 was about panicking throughout the second half, especially in the fourth quarter.

    Jack Trice: Because of its setup, it's a wind tunnel that serves as the Big 12's most frigid field – oh yes, much more so than Folsom Field or Memorial Stadium. While that won't be an issue Saturday – expect a gorgeous day – the expected crowd of 56,000 will be cozy and loud. ISU has good fans, and the Cyclones have been waiting for this game since the last one. NU should face its toughest – yet good-natured - road crowd of the year.

    Magic Healer: Ankles sprains don't typically heal overnight. But Taylor Martinez appears to be the quickest of healers – so much so that offensive coordinator Shawn Watson called him “Superman” Tuesday. We'll see. NU might be employing a bit of gamesmanship with the Cyclones this week, presenting Martinez as 100 percent when he may be short of that while Zac Lee waits in the wings to run the show Saturday.

    Lee can handle that kind of scrutiny; he won key road games at Kansas and Colorado last year under similar circumstances. But Martinez, I suspect, wants badly to play in Ames, where his father played one season for former ISU coach Jim Walden. It Martinez can have his wheel at 80 percent, he'll play. If not – sit him and trust NU has enough athletes to prevail anyway.

    Tags: five keys, isu game, taylor martinez, bo pelini, paul rhoads, eric martin, zac lee

  10. 2010 Nov 01

    Practice Report 11/2: Martinez, Dennard Held Out


    By HuskerLocker

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    Two of Nebraska's best players – quarterback Taylor Martinez and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard – are “day-to-day” after missing NU Monday practice for entirely different kinds of injuries.

    Martinez sustained an ankle sprain Saturday in the second quarter of the Huskers' 31-17 win over Missouri, head coach Bo Pelini told reporters Monday. Pelini initially called it a “bone bruise,” but revised his injury report after getting more information.

    Pelini said Martinez should practice Tuesday. Zac Lee and Cody Green split reps with the first-team offense in Martinez's absence. Lee replaced Martinez in the Texas and Missouri games.

    “There hasn't been a week where I've let up in my preparation because of the situation,” Lee said.

    Dennard is recovering from a concussion sustained in an accidental hit with teammate Courtney Osborne. Team doctors must OK Dennard's return to the field. Generally, concussed players take a battery of tests throughout the week and emerge symptom-free.

    True freshman Ciante Evans replaced Dennard and “did a great job,” Pelini said.

    “He really rose to the occasion and made some plays out there,” he said.

    Evans consistently covered his receivers despite frequently being tested downfield, but his best play may have been in run support; he stuffed Missouri quarterback 6-foot-5, 240-pound Blaine Gabbert on a third-down-and-goal play. Mizzou had to settle for a field goal.

    “He's not afraid to stick his nose in there,” secondary coach Marvin Sanders said. “You're not looking for your corners to be the Ronnie Lotts of the world, but if they're willing to stick their nose in there, they've got a chance.”

    Particulars: Nebraska conducted a shorter, 90-minute practice outside the Hawks Championship Center.

    What’s New: Martinez and Dennard were held out of practice.

    Coach Quote: "The light's been on. I said this earlier in the year: There are five or six guys that I was comfortable with in playing...I had total confidence in them. Through the course of the season these guys earned their opportunities and this past game they've taken advantage of it. It's been happening all year" Secondary coach Marvin Sanders on the progression of Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne

    Player Quote: “With all the tradition that Coach Osborne and Coach Devaney built here, the running football, the smashmouth football, for a running back to get an accolade like that, it's amazing We're proud to be a part of it and for him and what he was capable of doing.” Tight end Ben Cotton on Roy Helu's school rushing record


    *Nebraska will have to explore pay-per-view one more time for the Nov. 13 game vs. Kansas. The contest was not picked up by any network. A traditional 1:00 p.m. start could be an option.

    *Roy Helu was named Big 12 Player of the Week.

    *Cotton said he knows several of the Iowa State players and routinely keeps in touch with ISU senior quarterback Austen Arnaud, who played at Ames High School as a senior when Cotton was a sophomore.

    Barney Cotton coached in Ames for three years as ISU's offensive coordinator.

    “It was a good experience,” Ben Cotton said of living in Ames. “They love their football just like we do here. We've got our work cut out for us.”

    *Sanders said Evans may be the first guy to replace Dennard, but Anthony West could get a look, too. Dejon Gomes and Eric Hagg can play the spot in a pinch. Anthony Blue is out for the season with his second torn ACL.

    Next Practice: Tuesday

    Tags: practice report, isu game, taylor martinez, alfonso dennard, ciante evans, marvin sanders, ben cotton, zac lee

  11. 2010 Oct 30

    NU-MU: True Grit


    By HuskerLocker

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    It ain't boxing. There aren't any first-round knockouts in college football. But Nebraska sure threw Missouri on the ropes with that 24-point first quarter. When the Tigers surprisingly punched back and threatened to go all 15 rounds, Roy Helu and a relentless – although not always effective - Husker pass rush landed enough body shots to emerge the winner.

    I'm full. NU-Mizzou was a full buffet of stories, big plays, groans, moans and bruised bones. What a shame these two can't play again for the Big 12 Championship in some back alley. Saturday felt like the Nebraska-Colorado tilts of the mid-1990s, two teams brimming with bad intent and speed, just whaling on each other.

    Oh, the Husker coaching staff thoroughly schooled Missouri's staff for a quarter, but don't kid yourself: These two teams were evenly matched. The Tigers had their chances. Their coaches didn't help. More on that in a minute.

    First, this: For one year, up was down, South was North, and the Huskers and Tigers played the league's hardest-hitting, grittiest game. Even the officiating stunk, which is always a hallmark of a Big 12 donnybrook. The energy in the Memorial Stadium was deeper and more resonant than in the Texas game. Even the press box hummed. Real stakes play better in Lincoln than phony, manufactured ones.

    You can't always choose the big games. Obviously, NU fans would have preferred their martini shaken with burnt orange, not stirred with old gold. But Missouri, faced with option of laying down after an awful 15 minutes, didn't. Nebraska, faced with a imminent collapse, held firm and survived, remaining on a collision course with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Dr. Pepper's own, Baylor.

    The Huskers maxed out. They seemingly put months of work into this week, and it just so happened that Missouri was an excellent, top ten team heading to Lincoln. Carl Pelini trotted out a three-man defensive line – that fit into a 3-2-6 defense - designed to thwart Missouri's running game. It did. Mizzou abandoned its rushing attack before it even remembered to start one.

    “That's not something we just kind of made up this week,” ends coach John Papuchis. And NU used it occasionally this year. But not quite like this.

    Then Carl inserted new personnel all over the field, including two new safeties and a walk-on defensive end from Elkhorn, Kevin Thomsen, who'd never played a snap before at Nebraska. Not even in mop-up duty.

    “He has some punch,” Papuchis said. “And he's a physical guy.”

    There he was, playing a stand-up end position, notching a sack on Gabbert.

    Rudy, eat your heart out.

    “He went in there and did it perfectly,” Pelini said. “Never made any busts.”

    It takes guts and creativity to do that. And patience once Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert started to figure it out, and scramble into the open field against it.

    Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson called what I imagine is the finest first quarter of his career, a subtle-yet-dazzling array of new formations and play alterations that kept Missouri's defense on skates. His script was Osborne-worthy in its construction and progression. His opening play - a shortside counter run with tight end and lead blocker Ben Cotton practically hidden in the backfield – was a gem blocked beautifully, a blend of speed and power football. No wonder it broke for a 66-yard touchdown.
    Watson's early passing plays were equally deft. Taylor Martinez hit Cotton – again, hidden – with a short little playaction pass. Watson managed to free Kyler Reed again for an easy touchdown. He emptied out the backfield and let Martinez throw a short slant to Rex Burkhead.

    The Huskers staked that 24-0 lead on execution and momentum, yes. But a lot of it was coaching. Planning. Mizzou's staff was asleep at the wheel.

    Gabbert, harassed all day, was not. He didn't have time to get sleepy. He finally started getting big chunks of yards in the second quarter, while Martinez frittered away possessions with his scrambling around. It finally bit T-Magic. That bone bruise he sustained will not feel better on Sunday. He'll be day-to-day, I suspect, as NU prepares for Iowa State.

    Zac Lee got the nod to replace Martinez. That's no shocker. Old Zac showed up Saturday – iffy reads, happy feet – just long enough to give Mizzou a glimmer of hope. Gabbert's receivers busted hump all day but they struggled to shake free of NU's defenders. They dropped two deep balls that Gabbert delivered perfectly. And if you can't beat the Huskers deep, it's hard to beat them.

    Yet Missouri stood within a half-yard of 31-21 in the third quarter. Gabbert had engineered one of those seminal drives – 15 plays, 75 yards – converting third downs every which way. It was rousing work. Mizzou was battling back.

    And then the old Tiger weakness. Short-yardage football. Three plays and nothing. Almost three years after Missouri blew the 2007 Big 12 title game – and a shot at the national crown – on the exact same disaster at the goal line, head coach Gary Pinkel still hasn't figured out how to lick the problem. Hint: It doesn't involve a shotgun snap.

    When Mizzou settled for a field goal, you felt its sideline deflate. So much energy expended on that drive for a measly three points? So 31-17 was the final margin. That doesn't seem like a titanic clash.

    And yet the game felt momentous, a throwback to days when Memorial Stadium bustled and hummed with big contests. Nebraska – its coaches and especially a revamped defense - rose to the hour. Bo Pelini, full of more on-field rage and emotion than usual, which is saying something – walked into the post-game presser hoarse and weary. He looked a few years older. But a few worries lighter.

    Back to the top ten. On to Iowa State. It's all still out there.


    Tags: mizzou game, bo pelini, carl pelini, roy helu, taylor martinez, zac lee, kevin thomsen

  12. 2010 Oct 20

    Husker Heartbeart 10/19: Omaha Oracle on NU Football


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    *Warren Buffett talks Husker football. He doesn't have much to say, but, you know, he's talking. We must gather.

    *When Zac Lee entered the Texas game, Longhorn defenders pointed at him and said "They're passing!"

    *Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have never both started 6-0.

    *To Tom Shatel, Niles Paul is a stand-up guy.

    *Looking back at a classic Nebraska-Oklahoma State game.

    *Why now? an Oklahoma City columnist asks about Nebraska heading to the Big Ten.

    *That's soap a Husker fan had to eat after losing a bet with a Texas fan.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, tom shatel, zac lee

  13. 2010 Oct 20

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Watson: Martinez 'Finding His Place'


    By HuskerLocker

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    Thirteen days ago, with the smell of bus fumes, Famous Dave's to-go meals and athletic tape in the air, Nebraska's offensive coordinator Shawn Watson held court after a 48-13 romp over Kansas State with a small pool of Big 12 reporters. His favorite topic: The latest exploits of quarterback Taylor Martinez.

    Toward the end of the conversation, a reporter asked Watson to project Martinez's performance vs. rival Texas. Would the redshirt freshman rise to the moment if NU was forced to pass against the Longhorns' defense?

    Watson, in the best of moods, slapped the reporter on the shoulder.

    “He'll be ready,” Watson proclaimed. “Don't worry about it. He'll be ready!”

    Tuesday night, four days after a 20-13 loss to Texas when Watson benched Martinez for senior Zac Lee – in part, Watson said, because the Huskers were behind and had “throw it around a little bit more” – the OC was preaching patience as his young pupil grows as a leader and a quarterback.

    “He's still finding his place,” Watson said. “He's still a work in progress. One of these days he'll develop into that guy who, I'm sure, takes everybody with him. But right now his work is his leadership.”

    He was referring to Martinez's stoic sideline demeanor with teammates and coaches. The Corona, Calif., native stood by himself, arms crossed, after a third-quarter benching. He spoke to few players. Few spoke to him. Martinez doesn't talk to the media between games and he press requests after the Texas loss.

    “You can't rush him into it,” Watson said. “Otherwise, it's what? It's phony. If it's phony it's no good. Nobody's going to follow that kind of leadership anyway.”

    Said Lee: “I couldn't even tell you what my leadership style is. I just go in there and try to be me and try to get the guys going. You have to be true to who you are as a person and it can't be false in any way.”

    Martinez shouldn't rush himself on the field, either, Watson said. That got him in trouble vs. Texas - especially executing the zone read.

    “He forced some decisions,” Watson said. “That led to some of his problems and our problems. Being eager in a big setting to make a big play and that's something we've got to grow through.”

    And while Martinez, “comprehended” NU's halftime adjustments, bad field position – and Martinez's inability to execute an alternate plan – played a role in his removal.

    “It's part of the process,” Watson said. “If it's something that's entirely out of that gameplan structure, that's something he's going to have to grow into.”

    Lee got the nod midway through the third quarter.

    “Zac's kind of a wily vet,” Watson said. “He's been under those lights before.”

    Said wide receiver Niles Paul: “Zac was calm out there. He took charge of the huddle. He said 'let's go, let's go, let's do this, we're going to win this game.'”

    Nebraska did not. But Lee led two drives into Texas territory and had three different passes dropped for touchdowns. Unlike head coach Bo Pelini, who questioned his decision Monday to pull Martinez, Watson said he didn't regret making the move.

    The OC picked Lee over sophomore Cody Green – Martinez's primary backup for five games – because he wanted a veteran to “settle the team.” Watson also figured Nebraska would have to pass the ball more trailing by 14.

    As it turned out, Lee had more carries – ten – than he did passes – nine – running the zone read plays more effectively than Martinez – without a fraction of the explosiveness.

    Why did Watson stick with the running game as the clock burned and NU still trailed?

    “Because that's what we do,” Watson said. “And because (Lee) has done a good job of getting better at it.”

    Watson said Martinez was “resilient” as Nebraska began prepping for undefeated (and relatively untested) Oklahoma State. So did Lee. Pelini said Martinez had an “excellent practice” Monday and showed no lingering effects of the benching.

    If there's one thing that Martinez seemingly does best, it's shedding the frustrations of the previous game.

    “I've said this a million times: Taylor's Taylor,” senior wide receiver Mike McNeill said. “He'll be fine.”

    Tags: oklahoma state game, shawn watson, taylor martinez, zac lee, mike mcneill

  14. 2010 Oct 18



    By HuskerLocker

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    It's a dramatic visual, Rex Burkhead's second-quarter drop of a sure touchdown, after which he plunged face first into the pylon during Nebraska's 20-13 loss to Texas.

    The kid who never seems to screw up, and always squeezes the maximum out of each play, just had a split-second lapse of hand-eye coordination. He was running full speed. Taylor Martinez threw a lovely pass that caught a bit of that north wind and zoomed toward Burkhead's hands. He couldn't clutch it.

    For however many years Husker fans choose to remember this painful setback, the prevailing memory will be all those drops. Yeah, they hurt.

    But that's not the whole story from Saturday. I suspect it might be spun that way, but patterns emerged, both in the UT game and over several games, that deserve mention. And scrutiny in the future.

    Here's two:

    *During the Bo Pelini era, Nebraska has played ten home games against foes from BCS-autobid conferences (nine Big 12 teams + Virginia Tech). In those games, NU has been outscored 88-52 in the first quarter. In 7 of the 10 games, the opponent scored first, and it would have been 8 if Oklahoma had not missed two field goals in the 2009 game.

    The Huskers are 5-5 in those games, and have been outscored 240-221 overall. And get this: Out of those 52 points NU has scored, 42 of them were in 2008. So, in the last five home games vs. BCS conference teams, Nebraska is 2-3 and has been outscored 30-10 in the first quarter.

    That's the very definition of taking a crowd out of the game.

    Are the Huskers' struggles at home a reflection of their head coach? Bo Pelini prefers road games for the lack of distraction and clarified sense of purpose. His players seem to follow suit. And hey – who doesn't like to travel?

    But if hyperbole and expectations of the Husker fishbowl make Bo a little uneasy, that can't necessarily trickle down to the players. They're not middle-aged guys holed up in an office preparing 14 hours a day for the game, then heading home to a family. Players can't create a fortress of solitude like coaches do; they're students by day and young kids by night. It's a fine line to walk embracing the pressure, yet shrugging it off. The best programs excel at it.

    *On 24 first down plays Saturday - 19 runs, five passes - Nebraska gained just 67 yards. Taylor Martinez-led drives averaged 1.57 yards on first down. Zac Lee-led drives averaged 4.5 yards. In our five keys piece, I pointed out “manageable downs” and how NU needed to stay away from negative and no gain plays. Except that one-third of the Huskers' first-down plays were just that.

    Martinez has earned his reputation as a runner, and he remains unproven as a passer. But it was his lack of a running game – not his so-so passing – that likely landed him on the bench on the third quarter. Out of his 14 first-down plays, six went for no gain or negative yards. His two longest runs were scrambles on third and long. It just can't happen. NU repeatedly faced second-and-long.

    On with the review:

    Five Players We Loved

    Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: The junior made a pass breakup the East sideline – he jostled for inside position, jumped with both feet and smacked the ball away from a Longhorn receiver running a hard go route – that's just about as good as any play he's ever made. Dennard is one of the great early recruits of the Pelini era. What a pickup. You just hope he stays for another year.

    Kicker Alex Henery: The guy's still money. The most consistent player on the team, any position, and his two made field goals and bevy of quality punts proved it. And Henery will be needed over this last half of the season – perhaps to win a ball game or two.

    Quarterback Zac Lee: He hadn't played for a month, yet definitely lived up to a difficult moment. Nebraska's offense is never going to have that dynamic, explosive running threat while Lee's in the game, but he did have a calming influence over the team. Where was he for a month? That's a legitimate question.

    Safety P.J. Smith: He tackled much better than his counterpart Rickey Thenarse, and had a nice pass breakup in man-to-man coverage downfield. He's looking like another gem NU picked up in that 2008 recruiting class.

    Peso Eric Hagg: Now you know why the kid never leaves the field.

    Three Concerns

    Special Teams Issues: From Dejon Gomes failing to down a punt at the 1 because he stepped in the end zone to Niles Paul's not fielding the ugliest rugby punts you've ever seen in the third quarter to porous punt coverage, NU isn't the dominant unit it was in 2009. Alex Henery is largely exempt, of course, but he can't play every position.

    Absence of Ball Security: Fumbles have been the norm for Nebraska throughout the season. Now NU drops eight passes – four of which could have been touchdowns on different drives. The problem with this concern is that it's not that easy to solve – you either do or don't protect the ball – and it can be contagious. It was in 1999, when the Huskers, despite being a great team, lead the free world in fumbles.

    A Lack of True Defensive Depth: The Blackshirts – that starting 11 – are a pretty enviable bunch. On any given day – especially against a passing team - you'd put them up against any defense in the country. But they rarely got a play break Saturday, and when Thenarse was clearly struggling as a tackler, the Brothers Pelini apparently lacked confidence that any other safety could take over. Or that a linebacker could be subbed in for Dejon Gomes, who could then move back to safety. Depending on the formation, Nebraska ran a Peso/nickel/dime look, shifting Gomes around where necessary.

    Gomes is one of the best players on the team, smart, tough and athletic. But he's listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds. That's pretty darn small to be playing in the box, trying to work against offensive linemen and tackle UT's running backs.

    Will Compton can't get back to 100 percent health soon enough.

    Three Questions

    This is the Big 12, right? Missouri playing defense? Oklahoma State not throwing away a winnable game on the road. The Tigers and Cowboys are two of the biggest surprises of the 2010 season – and both are playing better overall than Texas. When NU hit a skid last year, it got well with a road game at beaten-up Baylor. No such luck as October comes to a close.

    How testy does Bo get this week around the media? Pelini handled the post-game presser Saturday well. But the press will relive all those Saturday questions again on Tuesday, with the added dimension of wondering which Taylor Martinez will arrive and play in Stillwater. So Bo will have to hold up under another, longer round of queries. It's not too late for Martinez to reverse course, talk to the media during the week, and answer some of those questions himself.

    Does the staff rework the plan for the stretch run? You didn't think it'd be necessary in 2010. But relatively major adjustments occurred right around this time in 2008 and 2009; it wouldn't be shocking to Nebraska look in the mirror and do it again.

    Tags: texas game, husker monday review, taylor martinez, alfonzo dennard, zac lee, pj smith, alex henery, will compton, rickey thenarse, bo pelini, shawn watson

  15. 2010 Oct 16



    By HuskerLocker

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    Here's our report card after the Nebraska-Texas game!

    OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Qaurterback Zac Lee. He did a nice job off the bench in a tough spot, running the offense with more competence and maturity than Taylor Martinez did.

    DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Safety P.J. Smith. He's a keeper. Smith was active as a tackler and he did a good in pass coverage the few times UT tried to pass. Alfonzo Dennard was a close second place here, was another strong coverage game.


    QUARTERBACK: D Martinez played poorly, and there's no two ways about it. He missed reads in the running game, constantly tried to run around defenders and threw the ball inconsistently. After a couple costly drops in the second quarter, his play dropped and coaches were right to remove him. Zac Lee gets the surprise insertion and appeared to run the zone read better than Martinez did. He had a touchdown pass dropped by Brandon Kinnie.

    RUNNING BACK: D- Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu did run as hard as they could, and squeezed just about everything they could out of some of those holes, but their mistakes – Helu's fumble, Burkhead's drop of a sure touchdown – cost NU 14 points.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: D+ Texas stacked the box to stop the run, and NU's offensive line, not surprisingly, struggled to deal with the extra hats. They did a fair job in pass protection until the fourth quarter, when Sam Acho abused Jeremiah Sirles on several consecutive plays. Against the really good defensive fronts – and Texas has the best I've seen all year – Nebraska's offensive line has a track record of not delivering.

    WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: F You can't drop the balls and make the mistakes in perimeter blocking that these guys did and expect any other grade. Ted Gilmore needs to get a consistent performance out of these guys. These mistakes have been going on too long.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: C- The Huskers' front four generated virtually no quarterback pressure, let Garrett Gilbert get out of the box and scramble several times, and sometimes got pushed around in the run game. Yes, ends Cameron Meredith and Pierre Allen made their share of plays. Not enough. And Jared Crick didn't play particularly well, either.

    LINEBACKER: C LaVonte David was the only linebacker to play consistently, and while he did OK against the run, 3 of Texas' 4 completions were to running backs darting right by David in coverage.

    SECONDARY: B+ A ton of excellent plays from corner Alfonzo Dennard and Prince Amukamara – not to mention Smith, who played quite well himself – were offset by missed tackles from safety Rickey Thenarse. This remains the best unit in the country against the pass, and nothing really changed that Saturday.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: C It's a good thing Eric Hagg made a spectacular, A+ play on his 95-yard punt return and Alex Henery made a few field goals and long punts. Otherwise, the punt coverage stunk and punt and kickoff returns weren't any better. Nebraska should, at this point, seriously consider removing Niles Paul from his role as punt returner. He is struggling to track the ball.

    GAME MANAGEMENT/PLAYCALLING: D The penalties. The onside kick call with three minutes and two timeouts remaining. The offense sticking too close to the running game after it was clear it wasn't going to work. The defense refusing to add an extra linebacker on the field. The continuing ball security issue. Texas is the first truly good team that Nebraska has played. This is who, right now, the Huskers really are.

    What's your reaction? Click here!

    Tags: texas game, pj smith, zac lee

  16. 2010 Oct 04



    By HuskerLocker

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    Tags: zac lee, kansas state game

  17. 2010 Sep 28

    Non-Conference Report Card - QB/RB


    By HuskerLocker

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    Go deep into the non-conference report card with HL's Samuel McKewon as he examines the key players at the QB/RB positions, their best plays and worst plays, and what to improve on. Which Husker gets the highest grade? Check it out with a 30-day free trial to Husker Locker Pass!

    Tags: report card, taylor martinez, roy helu, rex burkhead, ryan hill, tyler legate, cody green, dontrayevous robinson, zac lee, austin jones

  18. 2010 Sep 14

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Hostile Husky Hosts


    By HuskerLocker

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    Bo Pelini offered a very sensible question Tuesday when prompted to explain how Nebraska was preparing for the unique structure and noise tunnel that is Washington’s Husky Stadium.

    “Can you simulate that?” Pelini asked.

    The Huskers will try, of course, using artificial noise methods to ready themselves - especially redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is making his first road start in a nasty joint.

    But noise simulations are much like approximating game speed in practice. The situation is too controlled, and absent the emotions attendant to game day. So NU - and Martinez - will prepare to extent and adjust on-site, in the moment, as any team must.

    “Knowing what you're in for when you walk in there, and it's actually loud - and once the adrenalin kicks in, it's going to be an adjustment for any guy, not just a quarterback,” Pelini said. “Everybody.”

    Pelini and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson appear less worried about Martinez, who previously cited playing in big high school games as evidence of his ability to handle the big stage.

    “He's a pretty calm, cool and collected guy, so I don't anticipate it being an issue,” Pelini said. “You have to prepare him for it the best you can, but I think he understands what's in front of him. Until you are out there in that environment, I'm sure he'll have to settle down a little bit and be ready to go.”

    Said Watson: “He’s just a cool customer. He doesn’t get wound up about it.”

    Last year, prior to the Virginia Tech game, then-starter Zac Lee made a similar comparison when recalling his junior college crowds. Lee wilted amidst the Lane Stadium crazies in a 16-15 loss, throwing two interceptions. Until the fourth quarter, he wasn’t much better at Missouri.

    Watson cautioned UW fans not to take his or Martinez’s statements the wrong way - “I know this is a totally different arena. I understand that,” he said - but he reflected confidence in Martinez’s preparation skills and emotional quotient.

    “He never has a bad day,” Watson said. “He’s got a competitive gift. Not really cocky. He’s quiet. And confident.”

    Martinez declined to speak with reporters after Tuesday’s practice.

    Husky Stadium, with 72,500 capacity, seats approximately 50,000-60,000 more hostile fans than Martinez would have played before during his high school games. Metal roofs hanging over the sideline seats channel sound into the closed end of the stadium, while Lake Washington - boats packed with tailgaters moored to a long dock - is the backdrop on the open end.

    In UW’s last three home games, opponents have combined for nine pre-snap penalties - seven false-start flags and two delay-of-game calls.

    “The noise deflects off the roof and hits right down on the field,” Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said. “Our fans are just hungry.”

    Said Watson: “It’s a tough place to play, it’s a different place to play, it’s a beautiful place to play. It’s a unique environment. There’s the water, there’s the sun, there’s the crowd.”

    Watson’s primary recollection of the place is its noise. Bo Pelini remembers Ohio State losing there 40-7 in 1986. OSU went on to win the Cotton Bowl that season.

    “We had a bunch of punts blocked,” Pelini said. “It was a nightmare.”

    The stadium has had that effect over the years. In 1996, the Huskies handed BYU - then led by current Dawgs coach Steve Sarkisian - to its only loss of the year. In 2000, UW did the same to Miami and Oregon State, denying the Hurricanes a shot at the national title. In 2007, Washington beat Boise State. In 2009, No. 3 USC right after the Trojans had beaten Ohio State.

    “Our players won’t be in awe of the moment,” Sarkisian said. “We won’t be in awe of them coming out and their helmets or their fans. Our players have been there before. They’ll feel comfortable in that environment. They’ll feel comfortable in Husky Stadium. They’ll feel good being in the fourth quarter in a tight ballgame with them.”

    But Sarkisian wasn’t taking chances. During his Monday presser, he publicly requested Husky fans turn out, “wear purple” and harass the heck out of the Huskers. Sarkisian said, based on his experience from the 2006 NU game at USC, how Nebraska fans can turn out for a road contest.

    “We’ll be calling on all the Dawgs out there,” Sarkisian said.

    Tags: washington game, bo pelini, shawn watson, taylor martinez, zac lee, steve sarkisian

  19. 2010 Sep 10

    Husker Heartbeat 9/10: Don't Count Out Zac Lee


    By HuskerLocker

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    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    *LJS Sipple talks to Craig Bohl and curiously leaves out the part where Bohl ragged on Kansas' football teams and fans.

    *Alabama's Nick Saban fires a shot across Boise State's and Virginia Tech's bow.

    *Bail on Zac Lee? Not yet...

    *Bo Pelini gives a thumbs up to Thursday's practice.

    *From the irrelevant file...Villanova and Montana are considering moving to the Division I.

    *Hawai'i will go 5,000 miles to play Army. Read that again.

    *The Rock previews Ohio State/Miami.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, zac lee, boise state, the rock, bo pelini

  20. 2010 Sep 05

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Saturday Night Magic


    By HuskerLocker

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    Chills. As Taylor Martinez outraced a cornerback for that 46-yard touchdown - on his first career carry during his first career drive - hearts in Memorial Stadium fluttered double time. Spines stiffened. Mouths opened. Hair stood up. And Bo Pelini clearly rolled a hard eight. That was a quarterback debut.

    Then Martinez did it again, for 43 yards, to start the second half. Zone read left. Big hole. Big speed. Big run. And again, for 19 yards and a touchdown. Zone read center. Big hole. Big speed. Almost untouched. Threw the bones to the crowd, which adored it.

    His third touchdown, again on a zone read to the left, featured broken tackles and a deft sidestep, as if dodging a bus, as he skipped into the end zone. T-Matador.

    We’re not going to anoint the kid Eric Crouch just yet. But T-Mart does, yes, have a little T-Magic.

    And very few words.

    He’s not precisely a raconteur in front of the media. While backup Cody Green held court about 50 feet away for 20 minutes, Martinez worked his way through a series of questions with the same amount of speed that he used on the field. His brief answers suggested confidence and curiously enough, irony.

    Like this: “It was very hectic going through fall camp and competing with other quarterbacks, but it turned out really well.”

    Yes, it did.

    And this: “I wasn’t under very much pressure because I didn’t have to talk to the media. Like I am right now.”

    Good point.

    And this: “(Life) is going to change a lot after this. I think I’m ready for it.”

    That final line was delivered with a hint of a smile that broke out as the media, completely unsure what to make of it, started to laugh.

    Martinez was a mystery before amassing 263 total yards and three touchdowns. And he’s still a mystery. Even, a little, to his coaches and teammates.

    And yet, for one night, it worked, to the tune of 536 total yards and 8.8 yards per carry. Nebraska only ran 58 plays Saturday. Martinez only toted the ball seven times. Rex Burkhead had seven touches for 104 yards. It’d be tempting to ask where Roy Helu was tonight, but his talents just weren’t that needed.

    When offensive coordinator Shawn Watson dialed up the zone read, it worked so well, with such astonishing efficiency, that you get the sense Nebraska could have run it repeatedly for hundreds of yards, however many times it pleased. An outmatched Western Kentucky team certainly had no answer for it.

    But some team will.

    And when Nebraska asked Martinez to play the conventional quarterback against a WKU team that doesn’t have a single athlete of his caliber, he wasn’t quite as dazzling.

    Oh, Martinez laced one to Burkhead in stride for 28. Ditto to Brandon Kinnie for 13. He hit his first five passes. Then missed - badly - his next five. Took a sack. Flunked the two-minute drill with consecutive three-and-outs.

    Watson said Martinez took coaching well in that moment.
    “He’s learning to communicate,” Watson said. “We can fix it real quick. He’s very poised in the fix.”

    He’ll have to be. It won’t be this easy all year. Watson will not be able to keep Martinez throwing quick outs, slants between the hash marks and halfback arrow routes to Burkhead. The few times Martinez looked to stretch the field, he fired wildly off the mark.

    And Green isn’t going anywhere, I suspect. His brief stint vs. WKU was the best and most poised Green has looked in his career. He set his feet on passes. He got downhill as a runner, understanding now that he can’t, like Martinez, simply run around college defenders. He looked crisp and decisive. And he threw a pretty deep ball to Niles Paul for a 33-yard touchdown.

    Zac Lee entered the game late. Mop-up duty. Strange. At the beginning of camp, he looked like the guy who’d win the starting job. And he probably could have put up decent numbers Saturday night in the air. WKU wasn’t in the mood to stop anybody.

    But Lee doesn’t have that Martinez burst. That first incredible step, that 0-60 in the blink of an eye. T-Magic is here, and while it isn’t the full bloom of a passing offense certain Husker fans once hoped for, neither is it entirely a return to the Crouch days. For one night, it’ll dazzle on the ground, and it’ll do through the air. On to Idaho.

    Tags: wku game, taylor martinez, cody green, zac lee, shawn watson

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