Saturday, October 23, 2010

Huskers Survive Rocky First Half to Beat Oklahoma State

As today's first half unfolded, Nebraska seemed to be still suffering a hangover from last week's game against Texas. The defense simply couldn't wrap up Kendall Hunter, and even worse, couldn't stop Oklahoma State's passing attack in the second quarter. To add insult to injury, the offense looked rather shaky, with Taylor Martinez making trying a little bit too hard to make things happen.  But going into halftime, ABC's halftime interview with Bo Pelini indicated that Pelini felt his players were in the right position to make plays, and just needed to just settle down and do it.

And in the second half, they did just that. The Blackshirts did a better job of tackling, and more importantly, did a better job in coverage to keep Oklahoma State's potent offense contained for the most part. Better tackling on Kendall Hunter, who exposed the Huskers' weakness defending the run like no other back this season.

But what really was the deciding factor was the birth of a dual-threat quarterback. We've seen Taylor Martinez make plays with his legs all season long, but tonight, in the face of yet another defense that dared the Huskers to throw the ball, Martinez finally found a rhythm in the second half, and scorched the Cowboys for 312 yards tonight.  In the first half, he did throw for three touchdowns, but he had some plays that simply had to make Husker fans wince, such as that bizarre attempt to throw the ball away underhanded that begged to be intercepted.  Likewise, on the second play of the second half, Martinez flung the ball towards Niles Paul, who wasn't expecting the ball, but managed to gain possession and get a first down. From there, Martinez got into a groove and simply looked comfortable throwing the ball and dancing away from pressure.

Jeannine Edwards, the ABC sideline announcer, reported in the third quarter that Barney Cotton told his lineman that they were watching the young quarterback grow up...and grow up he did, with some big boy throws that showed poise and touch, especially on a key pass to Mike McNeill that showed confidence in his receiver.  Dare Taylor Martinez to throw?  OK, fine.  Pick your poison. 

Last week, the Husker receivers had the dropsies. Today, they were solid, starting with Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie. Paul answered his critics with eight catches for 123 yards, plus a 101 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Some people ask why Paul is sent out there to return punts; today we learned why. He sometimes suffers from a lack of focus and makes critical mistakes. But then he turns around makes amends with a huge play that explains why he's out there. Playing Paul is a high risk/high reward proposition, and today illustrated the reward.

I was surprised to realize that Brandon Kinnie's three touchdowns today were his first as a Husker. He's become such a clutch receiver, I could have sworn that he had cracked the goal line already. Nice to see how Martinez spread the field with the tight ends and even Tyler Legate catching a pass tonight.

All in all, a solid second half performance. The 541 yards the Blackshirts gave up will hurt the Huskers statistically, but their performance in the second half gives me optimism that the defense is still ok. I see that the doofus who runs the fake Martinez Twitter account thinks that he's back in the Heisman race; he's not. But he is proving to be an up-and-coming dual threat quarterback who very well could work his way into Heisman consideration in 2011 or 2012.

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