Nebraska and Taylor Martinez have been heavily criticized for their failures under adversity on the road in big Big Ten games. They successfully reversed that narrative on Saturday at Northwestern. Barely.
Despite lots of mistakes that could have crushed them, the Cornhuskers showed admirable grit in rallying from a 28-16 fourth quarter deficit to eke out a 29-28 win at Ryan Field. They owe a lot of that to Martinez.
The junior quarterback was magnificent late in the game, leading two long scoring drives to cap the comeback. He finished 27-of-38 for 342 yards and three touchdowns.
Martinez wasn't perfect, and Northwestern dropped two potential interceptions in the fourth quarter that could have sealed the win after they took their 12-point lead with 8:31 remaining. But Martinez bounced back after that by getting revved up and completing 10 straight passes, with a pair of touchdowns. His receivers also did some excellent work. Quincy Enunwa set career highs with six catches for 110 yards, while Kenny Bell had six receptions for 77 yards and a score.
Let's review: Nebraska has all sorts of trouble with mobile quarterbacks. Kain Colter tore up the Huskers in the second half of last year's win in Lincoln. So Northwestern decided to let Trevor Siemian take almost all of the snaps at quarterback. Huh?
Colter threw only two passes, and one of them was on a desperation heave on the game's final play. He ran the ball 14 times for 35 yards and caught three passes. Colter simply needs more touches than that, and unless Colter is hurt more than the Wildcats are letting on, the overuse of Siemian makes little sense. Siemian will be a very good quarterback but right now having him throw it is not Northwestern's best option. He completed just 15-of-35 passes for 116 yards, though he did toss two touchdowns.
While Northwestern played into the strength of the Nebraska defense in many ways, credit the maligned Blackshirts for responding two weeks after the 63-38 disaster at Ohio State. They held the Wildcats to just 301 total yards, including 180 rushing yards. Eighty of those came on one Mark sprint for a touchdown.
Yet Nebraska continually tried to beat itself. Incredibly, the Huskers muffed back-to-back punt returns in the first half, surrendering major field position with the lost fumbles. They also coughed up another fumble and shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with penalties. One penalty negated a fumbled punt by Mark that would have set up the offense for an easy score. Bo Pelini's team still is making too many mental errors, especially at this time of year.
Northwestern still nearly won this thing, but Jeff Budzien missed a 53-yard field goal with a little more than a minute to go. Budzien had been 11-for-11 on the year before that miss.
So it wasn't pretty or easy, but Nebraska got a big win on the road. The Huskers could not have afforded this loss in the Legends Division, and it helps knock the improved Wildcats a game back in the standings. This sets up a crucial showdown with Michigan next week in Lincoln in what might be the game of the year in the Legends race.
Nebraska will be happy to get back home. Much happier now that it has proved it can win under adverse conditions on the road.