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September 1, 2012
There's no other way to say it other than Taylor Martinez needed this game on Saturday.
Martinez looked like a complete quarterback. The junior from California played a near flawless game, completing 26-of-34 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns in the Huskers 49-20 win over Southern Miss.
After all the scrutiny Martinez has been under the last two years at Nebraska a performance like Saturday's should go a long way in silencing his critics.
"I'm not surprised, I'm pleased," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said following Martinez's performance on Saturday. "He deserves it. He earned it. He's worked really hard to put himself in this position and he went out and did a great job. I'm really proud of him."
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis was also happy for Martinez after his performance on Saturday.
"I've always been kind of a Taylor (Martinez) guy," Papuchis said. "I thought in fall camp he was looking really sharp. What I watched today, the little bit I saw offensively that did not surprise me.
"He was on point, made good decisions, hit his guys when they were open - he had a solid camp. What he did today was not surprising."
Now for Martinez it will be important to not get too high off of this performance. He needs to get mentally prepared to go on the road and play in front of over 100,000 people in the Rose Bowl.
He needs to get mentally prepared to probably play without running back Rex Burkhead, who's status going forward is unknown after suffering an MCL knee sprain.
The one thing though I've become accustomed to seeing with Martinez is he doesn't get too high or too low. He takes things in strides.
Just how he's kept his composure after all the criticism and scrutiny he's been under the last two seasons tells me Martinez is mentally strong enough to play through the highs and the lows.
"It's exciting just because we can finally go out there and show what kind of offense we actually are," Martinez said. "I think the offense this year is a little different than what it was last year."
What I saw on Saturday
***I was really impressed with the play of senior center Justin Jackson at center. What impressed me the most was his ability to kick out and block downfield.
***The newcomers in Nebraska's 2012 signing class that saw playing time on Saturday were linebacker Zaire Anderson, defensive tackle Aaron Curry, defensive end Avery Moss, cornerback Charles Jackson and running back Imani Cross.
***Papuchis told me NU played exclusively nickel and dime defense the entire game. Will Compton was the featured linebacker, while both Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher were worked in as well. Fisher only played a few snaps.
***One player that we didn't see on the field Saturday was redshirt freshman linebacker David Santos. A lot of that had to do with the nature of the game, since NU was in so much nickel and dime.
***Senior kicker Brett Maher clearly had his worst day as a Husker. Maher missed two field goals, kicked a ball out of bounds and shanked his only punt of the day for 21 yards. Papuchis told me he's confident Maher will get things turned around.
"Obviously coming off the year he had a year ago, I think he was pressing a little bit," Papuchis said. "He's had a great fall camp. I think sometimes when you miss one kick, sometimes you have the tendency to let it affect everything else that happens the rest of the game. I don't know if that's the case, but certainly that's something that happens."
***It was very encouraging to see Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross run the ball so well. Going into this week you have to think Burkhead won't play, so it was important those guys stepped it up.
***Some other great numbers for the offense - no turnovers, no fumbles, no false starts and no holding calls. The only penalties for Nebraska were an offensive pass interference call and Maher's kickoff out of bounds.
***Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa had a breakout day. My favorite moment is when he drug the pile an additional 8 yards before being brought down. Plays like that can ignite an entire stadium.
The final grades
Rushing offense: A
Nebraska ran the ball for 278 yards on 45 total attempts, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. What I liked about the day was the balance. Abdullah had 83 yards, Burkhead 68 yards, Cross 63 yards and Heard 34 yards. Martinez actually only finished the day with 11 yards rushing, and rarely looked to run. The line also did a great job of executing and getting downfield.
Passing offense: A+
It was a near perfect day for Martinez and the passing offense. NU's passing attack looked like a well-oiled machine that constantly kept Southern Miss off-balance. The key was the Huskers success on first down, which allowed them to get very creative on second and third downs.
Rushing defense: C
Nebraska struggled with the quarterback run game at times, as Anthony Alford ran for 84 yards on 15 carries. Papuchis said this will be something they'll have to address going forward, because Southern Miss clearly found a way to exploit this on Saturday.
Passing defense: B-
The coverage down field was good, as Southern Miss only had one pass play over than 15 yards and only completed seven total balls on the day. The Golden Eagles did a decent job of exploiting NU's aggressiveness with screen passes, and the Huskers also missed some open field tackles in space on key third down situations.
Special teams: F
Two missed field goals, a shanked punt, a kickoff out of bounds and a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Special teams definitely played their worst game in recent memory.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.
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