Saturday, September 11, 2010

Turnovers and Penalties Disguise Nebraska's Domination of Idaho

Nebraska's 38-17 victory over Idaho didn't look that impressive on the score ticker tonight, but for those of you who spend an absolutely glorious September afternoon in Memorial Stadium or spent the $40 for the pay-per-view broadcast, you know just much of a mismatch this game could have been, if only the Huskers hadn't screwed up nearly as much as they did.  Nebraska only led 17-0 midway through the second quarter, but the statistics panels in the stadium told the true story.  Barely a third of the way into the game, Nebraska had 280 yards of offense...and only 9 first downs.  What was even more bizarre is that thanks to the Blackshirts, Nebraska never ran another offensive play in the first half.

Today we saw the good ... and the redshirt freshman in Taylor Martinez. The good in that other than Michigan's Denard Robinson, no other quarterback runs the ball like Martinez.  That 67 yard touchdown run in the second quarter was most notable not for Martinez's elusiveness and speed, though that was evident, but rather for the fake to Roy Helu that allowed Martinez to hit overdrive before nearly anybody else in the stadium knew what was happening.  Martinez also showed some nice touch on a deep pass to Rex Burkhead.  But at times in the pocket, Martinez proved himself to be the freshman that he is. Whether it was fumbling the ball in the pocket or throwing an interception with a Vandal lineman wrapped around his ankle, he made enough mistakes to turn a few more hairs gray on Shawn Watson's head.

Helu had an outstanding performance on limited carries, a situation I hope changes next week. It's all fine and good to let Martinez to try and make plays against the overmatched competition the last two weeks; he needs snaps and confidence. But when Nebraska starts playing against "Big Boy" competition, Nebraska needs to utilize all of it's weapons, and that means letting Helu and Burkhead carry the ball, and not just on a handful of sweep plays out of the spread. I'm impressed with the young depth on the offensive line, let's let them do their thing to set up Martinez's skills.

The penalties and fumbles today really have to drive this coaching staff crazy. I didn't see enough on the replay boards to explain the penalties, but without some of those mistakes, Nebraska easily scores sixty or seventy points today.

North Platte native Nathan Enderle didn't help his NFL draft position today.  In the summer, he was considered a second or third round draft pick, but he showed poor decision making today, especially on Anthony West's interception.  Several sacks could have been avoided by throwing the ball away, especially one where he rolled out and essentially surrendered to Jared Crick.

All in all, it was a good performance by the defensive line, but let's remember the competition.  The Vandals offensive line gave up a bunch of sacks to 1-AA North Dakota last week, so I expected the Huskers to spend all day assaulting Enderle.  What impressed me was some of the interceptions, which reminded me of the 2003 Husker defense.

One thing I never understood was why Nebraska spent so much time in dime coverage today, as the base Peso defense seemed to be much more effective in limiting the Vandals both on the ground and through the air. Most of the positive yardage the Idaho running backs gained seemed to be gained when Eric Martin was out of the game.  Maybe that was a coincidence, or maybe the Pelini brothers wanted to limit the situations they used Martin in.

It was a nice touch to have Navy veteran and backup defensive end Tyrone Fahie carry the American flag along side Lincoln police and firefighters in a salute to the men and and women who protect us both at home and overseas on this ninth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on our shores.  (I can only wonder what Husker Information Minister Jim Rose REALLY was thinking at that time...)  I was wondering why those doors to the tunnel were closed until they opened, which brought back much of the emotions from 2001.

All in all, today we saw a glimpse of how dominant this Husker team could be...but that Nebraska's got a long way to go to capitalize on that talent and domination. Next week is the first real test of that, with the Huskers heading to rainy Seattle, where the forecast calls for a 40% chance of rain next Saturday.  Hope all those Husker fans pack their Big Red ponchos into their bags before heading to the airport.

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