Lucky for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a close victory goes down the same way in the win column as a blowout.
All preseason long, the Huskers’ offense has been getting a disproportionate amount of flack from critics. Because of their continued and seemingly never-ending bouts of inconsistency over the past year, injury concerns and a myriad of other problems (new offensive coordinator, conference, system) this unit has long-since become recognized as Nebraska’s official Achilles heel. It would either be the anchor that took this team to the bottom of the Big Ten sea or, hop on the defense’s back en route to a title.
Saturday’s 42-29 victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs told a very different story.
From the very beginning, Fresno State refused to surrender even the slightest bit of ground to their highly-touted, heavy favorite opponents. In fact, early in the third quarter it looked as though the Bulldogs may actually hand the Huskers a massive early-season upset, when they were up 20-14. Nebraska bounced back, though, and in the process showcased exactly what their offensive could look like consistently when and if they’re firing on all cylinders.
Wuarterback, Taylor Martinez, gave fans glimpses of brilliance as he moseyed through the Fresno State defense at will, whenever he couldn’t find time to pass – which was way too often. Once again, he ended the day looking superb as a rusher -- racking up two touchdowns and 166 yards with his feet -- but, less-than-stellar with his arm. The final stats are telling, and Martinez’s one touchdown and two interceptions (10-of-21 for 219 yards) showing was pretty much what it sounds like.
On the bright side, Martinez displayed that innate ability to bounce back after a rough half to lead his team back to a victory – arguably the most valuable trait a quarterback could ever have. Despite the fact that the Huskers scored on a total of two of their nine possessions in the first half, their young passer didn’t let that shake him. Rather, he seemed to disregard it completely as the third quarter progressed, helping to lead the team to three scores in four drives.
Everyone noticed that it was a tale of two halves for Nebraska including, most notably, the team’s head coach.
“I thought the offense answered the bell in the second half,” Bo Pelini said. “I felt we played really good football. We showed how explosive we could be on offense.”
Still, despite the cumulative effort to bring the team back late (with a special boost from the special teams unit) Nebraska has some kinks to work out. For one, Rex Burkhead -- whose true value will be revealed when they play Big Ten schools -- came up with yet another uneven performance. He finished the day with two scores and 55 yards but, for whatever reason, he just couldn’t run through the tackles on a regular basis. Burkhead’s worth was expected to be particularly because he possessed the grittiness and toughness to run through the tackles so, obviously, this is a cause for concern.
On the receiving side of things, Brandie Kinnie, once again, was a non-factor. The player was expected to be Martinez’s biggest weapon going into the year is now coming off back-to-back efforts of nearly no production. Sure, Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell stepped up big time in his place against the Bulldogs; however, youngsters typically aren’t renowned for their consistency.
All in all, this was a victory that painted a very clear picture of all that’s right and wrong with Nebraska’s offense. They have the ability to withstand punishment, adjust and come through in clutch moments when the situation is dire. On the other hand, they’re unstable, rough around the edges and prone to making mistakes against teams that in all truthfulness, they should beat handily.
After two weeks of action, there is still a very murky picture about what version of the Huskers offense we’ll see over the course of the year. The next game versus Washington will be very, very telling.
For now, Pelini will simply chalk this up to being one of those games.
“Every year, you’re going to have some games like this. You’re going to have some games where you have to find a way, and we did. There were a couple times early in this football game where it had a chance to go south on us pretty quick, and I think we rose up.”