The Nebraska Cornhuskers continued to (sort of) improve in their fourth game of the 2011 season, this time against the Wyoming Cowboys in front of a micro crowd of about 33,000. Despite a slow start, in which the Huskers only scored 14 points through halftime, the Taylor Martinez-led bunch collected themselves in the latter half of the game, and eventually won 38-14.
As usual, there were a number of interesting takeaways from Saturday’s outing and like we do every week, Opposing Views will break down the good, bad and ugly from the week that was.
Rex Burkhead can be good. Really, really good. As we predicted in the preseason, Burkhead has that innate grittiness that Big Ten running backs need to have in order to succeed, he just needs to be more consistent in showcasing it. Against the Cowboys, he had his second straight 100+ yard outburst totaling up 170 yards and two scores in on 15 carries. More notably, though, he finished the game as the squad’s leading rusher – a far cry from weeks past when he came in second to the Huskers’ quarterback.
This increased production from Burkhead is especially huge given what lays ahead in the coming weeks. Whereas against the likes of Chattanooga and Wyoming Martinez could air the ball out, or run it himself because he didn’t have to fear any legitimately big hits coming his way, the Big Ten is a whole different animal. Against in-conference competition the Huskers will need a steady, reliable running attack, and Burkhead can provide that.
On the year, Burkhead has amassed seven touchdowns on 6.6 yards per carry, and he’s going to need to do more of the same against the Wisconsin Badgers this Saturday.
Martinez continues to be the least appreciated piece of Nebraska’s puzzle in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he is without flaws. On several occasions this past weekend he made questionable decisions with the ball in his hands, and had he been playing against the Wisconsin Badgers and not the Wyoming Cowboys, those mistakes might’ve had more serious repercussions.
Specifically, the Huskers’ dual-threat lacked composure in the first half, underthrowing wide receivers on multiple occasions and oddly running into the defense for a sack even when his protection was doing a good job blocking. He just seemed to lack a consistent feel for the game throughout, and it seemed like Martinez was regressing from what we had seen over the prior two weeks.
Going into the Wisconsin game, the Huskers need everyone -- including Martinez -- to be improving not worsening.
The ugly from this past weekend didn’t actually occur during the Wyoming game but, rather, afterwards. For some reason, everyone -- even Vegas, apparently -- has already handed next week’s game to Wisconsin – including the traditionally diehard loyalist Husker fans. Look, the Badgers are a great, great team. But the notion that they’re somehow infallible based on their four dominant victories over weak, illegitimate opposition is hardly reasonable.
I’m all for realistic expectations, but this downright pessimism for what lays ahead is just pathetic. The Huskers have been winning in an unorthodox fashion, yes – but they have been winning nevertheless.
If you're a Huskers fan, you have to hope Bo Pelini can paint a slightly more inspirational picture within the Nebraska locker room than what’s been written and said in the media over the last day and a half.