NCF Nation: Huskers-Wildcats-100710

Martinez making Huskers see, believe

October, 8, 2010
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- So, everyone saw that, right?

We saw that blink-of-a first step that started a straight line to the end zone, capped by his appreciative, celebratory point at the band and surrounding fans who made the trip from Lincoln to Manhattan for the last time?

We saw that sprint around the defense, certain that any defender intent on closing off the sideline would get there a few crucial seconds too late?

We saw Taylor Martinez channel T-Magic and silence a sea of purple on the road for the second time in his brief five-start career, beating Kansas State 48-13 in his first conference game, weeks after leading a five-touchdown stomping of Washington in Seattle.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelTaylor Martinez rushed for 241 yards on 15 carries and scored on runs of 14, 35, 80 and 41 yards. He also passed for 128 yards and a 79-yard touchdown.
We saw a redshirt freshman tempt us to throw his name in the same sentence with Heisman Trophy.

We ain't seen nothin' yet.

"He made some mistakes, but he did a lot of good things, obviously. He ran for a lot of yards," said coach Bo Pelini.

More yards, in fact, than any quarterback in the long history of Nebraska football. This isn't the old-school option attack the corn-fed Nebraskans grew up watching, but they'll gladly take it.

Martinez's 241 rushing yards stated loudly, to everyone watching inside the stadium and on the national telecast, that any team who beats Nebraska will have to beat him first. And if they do, they'll have to deal with his two friends, running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu, who combined to run for 167 more yards on 19 carries, an average of almost 9 yards a carry. With apologies to Oregon, there might not be a rushing attack in college football more difficult to defend.

The defenses will get better than Kansas State, who entered Thursday night's game as the Big 12's worst run defense and outside the top 100 nationally. But Nebraska's got a pretty good one, and they held Daniel Thomas, the Big 12's leading rusher, to just 63 yards on 22 carries, almost 100 yards below his average of 157 a game.

But those same Blackshirts hate seeing Martinez every day as much as Kansas State did on Thursday, and the Wildcats only had to fail at catching him for a little more than three quarters.

"It's frustrating," said Nebraska linebacker Alonzo Whaley. "You never know what to expect from him. What you saw out here today, we've seen all camp. It's good to see him execute, and it's really confusing. It bothers us a lot. It bothers the defense when there's somebody so explosive."

The toughest part of defending Martinez is what Kansas State learned very quickly on Thursday night, and what every defense the rest of the year will have to compensate for better than the Wildcats.

"The hardest part is knowing he can outrun you," Whaley said.

Get used to it. And that goes for almost everyone. Martinez says he ran a "low 4.4" 40-time as a junior in high school and hasn't been clocked since. True or not, you won't hear any arguments from Manhattan for awhile.

And that blur we saw cross the goal line four times will get better fast, making more opponents resort to Kansas State's most-often used defensive strategy in the lopsided loss: the cuss and chase. (Not allowed at Kansas.)

"He's not a done project. Everybody's got to remember, he's a redshirt freshman. He's got a lot of work to do, but the thing about this kid is he's a fierce competitor. He doesn't say a lot because he strives for perfection in everything he does," said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. "He's really easy to motivate in that aspect because he wants to be a great player. He wants to be the best."

Pretty soon, he might be.

We saw that half step Kansas State got on Martinez's 79-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed in the third quarter. It stretched the lead to a comical 38-6 after a hard-earned field goal from the Wildcats.

Martinez might not be handing out those half steps to defenses for much longer.

"Honestly, because of the way these games have evolved, you haven't seen him as a passer. He's a really good passer," Watson said. "He's got passing talent. We haven't thrown it that much."

Just seven times on Thursday and 64 times in five games. And why would they? Kansas State would have liked nothing more.

When the season began, Nebraska had a quarterback controversy. Or at least claimed to have one, with Pelini insisting Martinez and his backups were "close" before fall camp began. Here's guessing it wasn't much of a controversy very long in the coaches' meetings. After Martinez's debut in the season opener, Watson admitted that his status as the team's starting quarterback was "clear" by the end of fall camp.

Ya don't say.

He looks ready to hit that lengthy stride plenty more times and take Nebraska on a ride in its final season in the Big 12. After Thursday night, the path looks clear: a date with the Sooners for a storybook Big 12 title game between the Big 12's only two teams currently in the top 10.

Getting there will be fun. It might come with a few bumps in the road, like the mistake-filled performance against South Dakota State a week ago that Watson said left Martinez feeling "insulted," both by his own performance and the coaches' decision to pull him late in the game.

But performances like those fuel performances like this, when his fifth touchdown of the night sent fans to the exits with just over 12 minutes left to play.

Martinez won't talk about it now, but plenty of schools in the Pac-10 saw the Corona, Calif., native long before Thursday night, when the rest of America caught up. They didn't see their future starting quarterback.

Understatement perhaps, but...bad move.

After Thursday's win, all Nebraska is left looking for is Martinez's ceiling.

"We'll see," Watson said. "The kid's been amazing."
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- That was a dominant performance from Nebraska, but most importantly, a dominant performance from Taylor Martinez. No questions here, that 48-13 score isn't a fluke. Nebraska is that much better than Kansas State. The Huskers still have to travel to Stillwater and College Station, but after that performance, they established themselves as even heavier favorites in the North.

How the game was won: Martinez ran all over Kansas State. He racked up 241 yards rushing on just 15 carries and had for four touchdowns. The game got out of hand in the second half.

Turning point: Martinez's 35-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to take a 14-3 lead was a sign of things to come and gave the Huskers a lead that eventually swelled to 45-6.

Stat of the game: Nebraska rushed for 450 yards. Kansas State rushed for 179.

Player of the game: Without question, Martinez had the best game of his young career, completing 5 of 7 passes for 128 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed, and rushed for 241 yards and four touchdowns.

Unsung hero of the game: Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David. David helped stuff Daniel Thomas and limit one of college football's best running backs to just 90 yards on 21 carries, without a touchdown.

What Nebraska learned: Even playing against one of college football's worst rush defenses, Nebraska showcased a three-headed monster that may challenge Oregon as the best running game in college football this year. They'll ride that all the way to the Big 12 title game.

What Kansas State learned: It's not a contender in the Big 12 North. They survived three close games to begin the season, but this game was never close in the second half and Nebraska looked dominant for the game's final three quarters.

Record performance: Martinez set a Nebraska quarterback record for rushing yards, breaking Jammal Lord's record of 234.


Lots of red in Manhattan

October, 7, 2010
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is going to have a difficult time enforcing the unwritten rule of no red at Kansas State's football facilities Thursday night. As you might expect, a Nebraska fan base with a well-deserved reputation for traveling well looks like it plans to show up in big numbers for Thursday night's game against the Wildcats.

They were out in Aggieville this afternoon, and they're still tailgating in the parking lot about 90 minutes before kickoff. The purple-clad students have found their seats for a game on an unseasonably warm October night, with temperatures in the low 80s and the sun on its way down. It'll cool down eventually, but I definitely broke a sweat from the parking lot to the press box.

It's a little warm, but the skies are clear, a welcome sight compared to the last time Bill Snyder Family Stadium hosted a game.

I'll be live-blogging tonight's game with national blogger Andrea Adelson, so look for that post to go up around game time, 7:30 p.m. ET.

Until then, let's hear your questions in my Mailbag for a post Friday. Best ones make the cut. And since I've noticed a trend in these little calls to action, I'll get out in front of it. Here are my picks for this week. No need to ask.

See you all in the chat room.