Bo Pelini has often mentioned execution as Nebraska's biggest problem this season...and once again, it was Nebraska's biggest problem today. If Nebraska executes today...this game isn't close. Nebraska probably wins something like 45-14.
You can summarize why this game was ever in doubt with this statistic: Nebraska, three turnovers; Northwestern, zero.
We've heard calls for Taylor Martinez to be benched during the bye week, and criticism for failing to acknowledge the turnovers against Ohio State. Fair enough. But actions speak louder than words, and Martinez was on the money today. Nearly 70% completion percentage, clutch runs, and magically trying to salvage that drive at the start of the fourth quarter.
"NegaTaylors" better watch out, though it's still early in the evening, but look for Martinez to earn some player of the week nominations on Monday.
The blooper reel from this game will be long and painful to watch. Daimion Stafford's brain-dead personal foul penalty that negated a fumbled Northwestern punt. Fumbled punts by both Ameer Abdullah and the normally sure-handed Kenny Bell. Tight end blocking calamity by Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton. That drive at the start of the fourth quarter where Nebraska seemed to be discombobulating in spite of Martinez's magic.
A lot of people were concerned about Nebraska's ability to shut down a mobile quarterback. Well, the defense did just that this afternoon. Kain Colter only rushed for 35 yards, and only completed one pass. He was effectively neutered. Trevor Siemian wasn't much better, only completing 43% of his passes. 301 total yards on the day, with 80 of them coming on one play. Will Bo Pelini pull the Blackshirts out of the closet this week? There's a case to be made to award them after this performance.
It wasn't a perfect performance, mind you. Nebraska's banged up defensive line played pretty well the whole day. Nebraska might have gotten lucky on some deep passes, and dropped numerous interceptions. Want to see improved execution this week? Look to the defense.
I saw more than one reference to Santino Panico after Kenny Bell's fumbled punt, and that has to be an area of focus this week. Not screw up there, and this game isn't even close.
Will we see Rex Burkhead again this season? We'll see how he responds, but it might be best to shut him down for a few weeks and let his knee heal up...especially if he can't be ready to go for the next two games.
The Huskers survived game one of a three game stretch that will make or break this season. You can look pessimistically at the three turnovers and the one point Escape in Evanston. Or you can look at Nebraska's domination on the stat sheet and see signs of optimism. Total yards: 544 to 301. 202 yards rushing to just 180 for Northwestern. 69% passing completion to just 43%.
Yeah, Nebraska can win these next two games. Not if they continue to screw up the way they did today, mind you. But if Nebraska makes plays like they did in the second half in roaring back against Northwestern, the Huskers can survive and advance.