All spring and summer, story after story talked about Taylor Martinez's work with quarterback guru Steve Calhoun. Some people believed it, some didn't. And some people chose to ignore it. The story line for some people on a national basis: Taylor Martinez regressed last season (false) and it's probably too late to reclaim his career. Nebraska will never go anywhere as long as Taylor Martinez is playing quarterback. Sheesh. He's not good. The Huskers need to find someone else.
Well, the haters might want to start hedging their bets. From my vantage point high above the south end zone, I really couldn't judge all of his mechanics all that well. Taylor Martinez is no Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but it's absurd to expect him to suddenly become that kind of quarterback after just a few months of work. But let's make it clear: Taylor Martinez is a much improved passer. How improved?
26 completions in 34 attempts for 354 yards and five touchdowns. Remember that talk about Martinez's hoping to complete 70% of his passes this season? Well, he's at 76.5% after one game. Suddenly that goal doesn't seem quite as crazy as it might have a month earlier. And two of Martinez's incompletions really should have been wiped out by blown pass interference calls...that would have moved Martinez's completion percentage over 81%.
Martinez wasn't perfect. His passes were more accurate, and he showed decent touch on several throws. Receivers saved a couple of errant throws, including Kyler Reed's 18 yard touchdown. And Deron Miller broke on Martinez's pass to Kenny Bell and nearly intercepted it with nobody between him and the end zone. But he was better than he's ever been as a passer. So much so that he didn't even really try to run the ball today; only six carries, one of which was a sack by future NFL'er Jamie Collins. Martinez was one-dimensional today, and the folks at ESPN are probably shocked at what they saw.
The receivers get a lot of credit for making catches today; granted, it's easier when the ball is closer to the mark, but they did a great job just the same. My favorite was Quincy Enunwa's first quarter catch where he drug half of Southern Miss' defense 10 yards down the field. Boom. 10 different Huskers caught passes. Jamal Turner had the long passing play on the day with a 36 yard catch and run. He wasn't a liability away from the ball like he was at times last season; on Rex Burkhead's long run, he was downfield blocking like the rest of the receivers.
Burkhead's sprained knee is the biggest downer on the game. Ameer Abdullah did fine in relief, but I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of Braylon Heard if Burkhead is going to be out for an extended period.
The defense was a bit of a disappointment. I had hoped to see more from the defensive line. They did a better job after halftime, but they struggled to contain Desmond Johnson and Anthony Alford at times. Truth be told, Southern Miss had a good rushing attack and with 4 returning starters on the offensive line, you need to give the Eagles credit for what they did. I get the feeling the defense tried to be somewhat vanilla today with a new coaching staff that changed offensive coordinators in June. The secondary wasn't really tested much today, so I'm not sure what to make of them.
Special teams were pretty much a disaster today. Two missed field goals, a shanked kickoff and punt, and giving up a 101 yard touchdown return is something that had better get fixed - and fast. Hopefully Brett Maher got all his yips out of his system; he was so good last season it's a surprise he struggled like he did.
All told, it was a good opening game. Defense looks a little shaky, but the offense looks explosive. But it's just one game; remember how good Nebraska looked against Nevada in 2007? We know what happened after that, and while I don't think a collapse like that is in the cards, it points out the need to not go overboard after just one game.
This first weekend of the college football season was not a good one for the Big Ten. Ohio State's 56-10 win over Miami-Ohio was impressive, but the Redhawks aren't half the team Southern Miss is. Purdue blew out a 1-AA team, and Illinois had a decent win over Western Michigan. Michigan State's inexperience in the passing game showed in their game against a Boise State team that only had two returning starters on defense. Iowa managed to pull one out against a MAC team in the closing minutes, while Wisconsin nearly choked against 1-AA Northern Iowa. And Michigan? Well, we'll learn over time if Alabama is as good they seemed today.