The Nebraska Cornhuskers trailed the Ohio State Buckeyes by 21 points halfway through the third quarter on Saturday night. Things looked grim, and it appeared as though the Huskers were on their way to a 0-2 Big Ten start for the 2011 season.
It all turned on a masterful defensive stand by Lavonte David.
But even with momentum suddenly on their side, the Huskers desperately needed their offense to do something, anything that would translate into points on the board. And they got the production that they so badly needed from quarterback Taylor Martinez, who on the very next play, trotted into the end zone untouched with an 18-yard rush.
Suddenly, there was a spark.
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"We needed a spark," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "You can't have fire without a spark."
After putting up a measly 117 yards of offense in the first half, Nebraska was suddenly rolling. On their next series, Martinez and his unit showed just how amazing it could be with one of their best drives in recent memory. Covering 80 yards with seven crisp, uninterrupted plays – the offense moved downfield with precision and accuracy, before finally putting the cherry on top with a 36-yard lob from Martinez into the arms of wide receiver Quincy Enunwa.
And once they were within striking distance, the Huskers never bothered to slow up. They popped off two more scores in successive fashion all the while limiting Ohio State’s production, and completed the largest comeback in the school’s history behind arguably the best offensive showing they’ve had all year.
They wound up with 306 yards of offense in the second half.
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The game turned on a defensive play, but it was won one a series of remarkable offensive successes.
When it was all said and done, Martinez had 191 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 16-of-22 passing, and 102 yards on 17 carries. Running back Rex Burkhead pitched in as well, racking up 178 yards of total offense en route to a two touchdown day.
"Taylor played his butt off. That guy, he's one of the leaders on the team. I'm proud of him," Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said. "Everyone wants to doubt him. Whatever. You guys can choose to write whatever you want and attack him like the fans will. And now they'll praise him. But like I told him, you're not as bad as you think you are. There's a lot of things he could do better out there tonight, but he kept fighting, he led the team, he played a heck of a second half. ... That's why he's our starting quarterback."
Nebraska’s other coaches took note of the special performance that Martinez, Burkhead and the rest of the offense put together.
"One of the tops. One of the tops," Running backs coach Ron Brown said afterwards, describing where this victory ranked. "Because of all the adversity that swirled around in the week and how people were so willing and so quick to chop guys off, and cut guys off. And to see guys fight through it and say, ‘You know what? We're going to be like a rock.'”
Even the team’s star running back had to admit that it got crazy there for a while.
"That was unbelievable," said Burkhead. "I've never been part of game where you're down that much and come back and won in such a fashion."
The Nebraska offense did more than just silence the critics and send a message to the squad’s remaining Big Ten challengers this week. It proved to itself that it can come up with huge offensive plays when the situation calls for it. That the prior week’s embarrassment versus the Wisconsin Badgers was more of aberration than anything else.
There’s a flipside to this though. Now that we know the Huskers offense can be that effective, there are no excuses for it not to be.
Nebraska gets a week off now, and will square off next against the Minnesota Gophers on October 22.