As I watched Taylor Martinez scoot through the Western Kentucky defense like they were a high school junior varsity team, I suddenly realized where I saw this script before. Nebraska goes into a game not sure who the starting quarterback against an overmatched opponent, and the starter puts some impressive stats on the scoresheet, but looked awkward at times.
That was Jammal Lord against McNeese State in 2002. I remember watching one play where Lord failed to see a wide open receiver and instead scrambled 50 yards for a touchdown. I thought it was a bad decision and hoped that Frank Solich would pull him and put either Mike Stuntz or Curt Dukes into the game. But after the game, all people could talk about was the unbelievable play of Lord.
Fast forward eight years and Martinez's debut against the Hilltoppers. Several times tonight, we saw what Martinez can do with his feet. He finds holes, he makes guys miss. And then when someone finally does get their hands on Martinez, he usually breaks the tackle. 7 carries for 127 yards in his first collegiate action? Very impressive indeed.
But less impressive in my mind was his play in the second quarter. Three straight drives with punts, including two three-and-outs against one of the worst teams in division 1-A? Remember, this is an opponent who hasn't won a game since 2008. Several of Martinez's throws in the second quarter weren't even close to a receiver, as he attempted to throw downfield. Earlier in the game and later in the game, Martinez seemed to be limited to shorter screens and dumpoff passes. A good strategy to give the inexperienced freshman some confidence, to be sure...especially against an outmanned opponent. But Nebraska will need more ... much more the rest of the season.
It was a limited game plan tonight. Five carries for Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead each? Again, it worked tonight, but that's not going to be a winning strategy down the line. Niles Paul showed some nifty moves, but then had yet another turnover. Brandon Kinnie showed solid hands and made some really sweet catches. And frankly, Cody Green impressed me with his arm tonight, going 5 for 6 and showing some nice poise.
I don't think Martinez played badly, but I wasn't as wowed as others are. I'd just like to have seen a more consistent performance from him with his arm. Shawn Watson told the Journal-Star that he'd give Martinez an "A+". I hope that was grading on the curve, or perhaps more accurately, grading him on the fact that it was his first game since high school.
Defensively, I liked what Baker Steinkuhler did replacing Ndamukong Suh tonight. Jared Crick also had an impressive sack of WKU's Kawaun Jakes. However, it seemed the defense lost something on that play when Cameron Meredith suffered an apparent shoulder stinger which ended his night. Lavonte David was all over the field, leading the Huskers in tackles. Alonzo Whaley seemed to have an inconsistent performance. The Huskers seemed to struggle with WKU's Bobby Rainey who totaled 191 yards on 33 touches tonight. The Huskers struggled to get much pressure on Jakes, save for Steinkuhler who forced the awkward throw that P.J. Smith picked off. Props to Dejon Gomes who had another touchdown saving strip. I don't know if Gomes playing safety makes Nebraska more vulnerable to the run, but he's a guy you want on the field in coverage.
It could be far worse for Nebraska. The Huskers could have narrowly escaped Utah State like the Sooners did. They could have lost to a 1-AA team like 'Ole Miss did. So I'll take a 48-10 victory, flaws in all.