Category Archives: Taylor Martinez

Nebraska Defensive Line Plays far Below Blackshirts’ Standards

BY TODD NEELEY

I wrote on the pages of this blog before the beginning of the 2010 season that Nebraska’s biggest concern coming in was the loss of Ndamukong Suh and other key defenders from a 2009 defense that was among the best in the country, https://neeley10.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/suhs-departure-shouldnt-be-lost-in-preseason-qb-discussion/.

But the press glossed over Suh’s departure as if we’ve returned back to the days when Nebraska just reloads.

In three of the past four games we’ve seen clearly that those days are long gone.

If this is Nebraska’s attempt to reload on the defensive line, then the program is out of ammunition.

The Nebraska run defense is horrible — (thank you Captain Obvious).

Junior Jared Crick has underperformed, and the trio of Baker Steinkuhler, Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith have been a huge letdown.

If Nebraska is going to win titles in 2010 it will be because Bo Pelini and company coached their tails off.

A pretty average Texas team pushed NU’s defensive line all over the field, and put pressure on a back seven that struggled to tackle in a 20-13 Nebraska loss in Lincoln.

Saturday on the road at Oklahoma State the Nebraska defense took another step back.

Kendall Hunter rushed for more than 200 yards and OSU made mincemeat of the Nebraska defense in the first half in NU’s 51-41 win.

And much has been made about how well Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense played against the Cowboys. But Martinez’ 400-plus total yards of offense is something that should have been expected against what was a bad defense — so nothing much has changed.

As a friend of mine said after the ugly win against South Dakota State in Lincoln, let’s see how Nebraska does against good competition before we say this program is “back.”

Nebraska is back, but it’s not the badass it was in the ’90s.

NU’s offensive performance was ‘pretty’ but it’s not much to realistically get excited about. At some point the Nebraska offense is going to have to explode against a team with a good defense.

And the alarm bells should be sounding on this Nebraska defense.

NU’s highly touted corner backs Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard found themselves out of position for much of the first half against OSU.

Talk about putting guys on an island.

They’re arguably the best pair of corners in the country, but Nebraska’s startling lack of pass rush is hurting this team.

Against Oklahoma State NU coaches rarely called blitzes. This allowed OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden to stand in the pocket in the first half and throw bombs to Justin Blackmon, or hand off to Hunter who made it look easy to get to the second level of the Nebraska defense.

The spin in the Nebraska press Sunday is ‘well, Nebraska made stops when it had to.’

That’s true, but Nebraska took control of the game in the second half because its offense kept OSU off the field by moving at will against an even worse Cowboy defense.

It wasn’t that the NU defensive line strapped it on in the second half, it didn’t have to.

Now Missouri comes to Lincoln after knocking off No. 1 Oklahoma in Columbia.

Here’s how I see it.

My biggest criticism of undefeated MU to this point has been that the Tigers hadn’t really beaten anyone of significance so far — yeah, kinda like Nebraska.

Against OU Missouri proved it is for real.

Unless the Nebraska defense finds religion this week in practice this game could be Missouri’s to lose.

The MU offensive line is one of the best I’ve seen this season. They are experienced and they give quarterback Blaine Gabbert plenty of time to throw. That’s bad news for Nebraska.

This doesn’t bode well for a Nebraska defensive line that hasn’t been able to get a push up front in the games that have mattered.

And surprisingly, the Missouri running game led by Henry Josey, De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence, was potent against the Sooners. They don’t line it up and just run right at teams, but with the spread offense teams get lulled into defending five receivers and the next thing you know, boom, they pop off a 30-yard run.

You’d think the Nebraska defense would be better equipped than many teams because it faces NU’s spread offense in practice every week. I don’t suspect this will matter much this week.

The main reason Nebraska overcame a 12-0 defecit in the second half at Missouri last year to win 27-12, was that Suh never let Gabbert get comfortable in the pocket.

There’s not a defensive lineman on the Nebraska roster that will be able to get a push on that MU offensive line.

To make matters worse, NU could be without injured defensive end Piere Allen. Unfortunately it is difficult to blitz Gabbert and that offense because he doesn’t hang on to the ball long and is athletic enough to run when things break down.

The case can be made that Nebraska faced the best offense it will see in the regular season against Oklahoma State, and that MU doesn’t have anywhere near the same caliber of playmakers on offense as the Cowboys.

But what Nebraska doesn’t need at this point in the season is to go up against probably the best offensive line it will face all season.

That’s where the game will be lost for NU unless Pelini and company can find a way to pressure Gabbert.

Oddly enough, I think Nebraska would be better off playing this game in Columbia.

NU has been awful at home this season and has proven that no matter how charged the home crowd is, it just isn’t a factor that favors Nebraska.

Here’s how it will shake out on Saturday.

Nebraska will have to hope its offense continues the momentum it gained this week, because the Blackshirts are in for a long day. Right now, though, the Missouri defense is much improved from last season and playing very well.

I think NU will be able to score on this defense, but I think we’re starting to see the unraveling of the Nebraska defense — at least in 2010.

Missouri 31, Nebraska 28

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Nebraska’s Martinez a Rarity in College Football

BY TODD NEELEY

At this point in the 2010 season Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez is the freshman of the year in college football.

But it may not end there.

Though Denard Robinson at Michigan is getting all the press, Martinez’ 241-yard rushing, four-touchdown performance on national television Thursday against Kansas State may have shaken the country wide awake. On Saturday Robinson struggled in Michigan’s loss to Michigan State in Ann Arbor — maybe taking Robinson out of the discussion in the Heisman Trophy race.

I think there were a few doubts after Martinez struggled against South Dakota State as to whether the early season success was just a flash in the pan.

Now we know he’s just a flash, a total freak of an athlete.

Nebraska’s average 35-point margin of victory on the road this season is no fluke. In both games Martinez ripped off several long touchdown runs against KSU and Washington, and in both wins he played like a Heisman candidate.

Yeah, I think he’s at least part of the conversation now. It will step up to a fever pitch if Nebraska and Martinez play well and beat Texas in Lincoln Saturday.

The Longhorns are down, but let’s face it, Martinez will leap to near the top in the Heisman race if he’s able to shred what is still a good and athletic Texas defense.

So far this season Martinez has rushed for 796 yards and passed for 660. At the current pace with seven regular-season games left, Martinez would finish with about 1,800 yards rushing and nearly 1,600 yards passing.

At 3,400 yards of total offense Martinez would turn in the second-best, single-season total offense mark, just behind Joe Ganz’ 3,826 yards in 2008. The most amazing part is that Ganz set that record in what was a pass-happy offense — Martinez would likely do it with his feet.

And at this pace, 1,800 yards rushing would put Martinez in the top three all time at Nebraska for most yards rushing in a season — in the same company with Mike Rozier and Ahman Green.

Exciting stuff, but let’s keep this in perspective.

Martinez has played only five games for Nebraska and the next four games will be telling — Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Missouri, with two of the four in Lincoln. Win those games, win the conference and maybe be in the running for the national title.

There’s little doubt that Martinez will only get better, but will he be as good against teams that have athletes?

Nebraska showed just a glimpse of what he can do in the passing game. After putting the Wildcat defense on edge by gouging holes with the zone read, Martinez dropped back to complete a 79-yard touchdown pass to tightend Kyler Reed in the second half.

When Martinez makes good decisions on the zone read and is able to be accurate enough in the passing game to put defenses on their heels, he’s lethal.

Sure, Martinez’ speed is something not everyday in this game. Even Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne made a comment that Martinez is the fastest player he’s ever seen — this coming from a guy not big on cliches and definitely not the master of overstatement.

There’s more to it though.

Martinez proved against KSU that opposing defenses have little margin for error. On one particular play Martinez saw the defensive end take one step outside, kept the ball and darted up the middle for one of his many long runs.

In other words, if Martinez is allowed past the line of scrimmage there’s a better-than-average chance he’ll score from anywhere on the field.

It’s a rare sight to see — a freak of nature really.

What’s more, teams cannot possibly simulate Martinez’ speed in practice, as not even many wide receivers in the college game run a sub-4.4, 40-yard dash.

Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini continues to say there’s a lot more out there yet for this team, and he’s not talking about just winning the north.

With Alabama’s loss Saturday to South Carolina, Oregon’s less-than-impressive win over Washington State, TCU and Boise State’s weak schedules ahead, and an Ohio State team that doesn’t exactly knock your socks off, Nebraska’s chances at running the table are real.

Pretty much as real as the guy behind center for the Huskers.

Then throw into the mix a Nebraska defense that is getting better each game, the best one-two running back punch in the country in Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead, and there’s plenty of reason for Nebraska to strike fear in opponents.

Is Nebraska Back in National Championship Hunt?

BY TODD NEELEY

Any doubts about how good Nebraska is pretty much vanished on a sunny day in Seattle Saturday. OK, not to mistake this Jake Locker-led Washington team for the same one that came back on Nebraska in Lincoln during a national title run in the ’90s, but playing in Seattle is a tough chore no matter what.

What we saw yesterday was a poised redshirt freshman quarterback, a powerful Husker running game and a stingy defense that made the expected top pick in the NFL draft look like an amateur in Nebraska’s 56-21 win. This isn’t to say it was the perfect game, but it just had the feel of Husker dominance of old.

There was a time in mid ’90s when you had no doubt about the outcome everytime Nebraska stepped on the field. You just expected NU to step on the field and call the score.

The biggest question mark heading into Saturday’s contest was whether Nebraska’s offense was really as good as it seemed in the first two games. Well, against the Huskies it was even better. The penalties virtually disappeared, NU took much better care of the ball, and Bo Pelini’s defense continues to show why it is the best unit in college football.

Redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez was the best player on the field Saturday, and if he’s not already raising eyebrows on a national scale he should be. Should he be a Heisman Trophy candidate? Not yet, but Martinez’ speed continues to garner attention. And most importantly, Martinez didn’t flinch once although the noise in Seattle was deafening.

Martinez made big, big plays on national television, on the road in a loud and hostile environment, and he put to rest anymore discussion about who is Nebraska’s quarterback for the next four years.

Although Bo played close to the vest about the quarterback spot all through fall camp, there’s no way he can make the case that it is a close race between Martinez, Cody Green and Zac Lee.

Pelini wanted to protect his young quarterback — it’s the only reason he told the media where to go during fall camp.

Barring injury, Martinez should make a serious run at the Heisman starting in his sophomore season. What’s more, the guy is nowhere near being polished as a quarterback. That’s what makes the kid so dangerous.

The sky is the limit.

The same goes for the Nebraska football program as a whole.

As history has shown, Pelini’s defenses only get better as the season goes on, and this unit already is pretty dang good. The only thing that kept Nebraska from making a run at a national title last season was its offense.

It makes you wonder if coaches could have somehow gotten Martinez ready to play as a true freshman?

Let’s not get too carried away here. Washington clearly has one of the worst defenses in the Pac 10 and I thought Locker was a huge letdown in one of the biggest games he’s played in awhile. I definitely thought this game would go well into the fourth quarter, but Locker and the Huskies just didn’t stack up.

Nebraska’s defense is good, but it’s time to stop buying into the Locker hype. He’s not ready for the NFL.

NU proved it can be a great road team and maybe a national title contender.

That Thursday night game against Kansas State in Manhattan will be a better test for Nebraska. The Wildcats have a formidable running game and are well-coached. Still, you’ll be hard pressed to find a tougher road game for Nebraska the rest of the way.

Suddenly the trips to College Station and Stillwater don’t seem as daunting. When you combine the running prowess of Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr., along with Martinez and his ability to beat teams throwing as well, it’s a no-brainer that this team is built for the road.

Where can Nebraska improve?

Probably the one area is in the deep passing game. Right now Nebraska hasn’t had to throw deep because of a staggering running game. To compete for a national title NU will have to show it can hurt teams with the pass.

Defensively, though the defensive line has played well, this unit hasn’t dominated every down like it wants. Not to nitpick — it’s difficult to find anything wrong with this team.

Then you throw in the play of the special teams led by Alex Henery, and Nebraska has the potential to dominate every game.

Now, if Nebraska can dismantle KSU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State on the road, and handle Texas in Lincoln, NU will be sitting pretty in the national picture.

Could NU Become too one-Dimensional with Martinez?

By Todd Neeley

Not to complain about a 49-10 win, but Nebraska’s performance against Western Kentucky Saturday in Lincoln was a mixed bag.

The comparisons already made between Nebraska freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez and former Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch are legitimate.

Sure as shootin’ that Martinez looks like Crouch in uniform, has comparable speed and arguably appears to be a little better passer than Crouch.

There is one similarity that should be of concern to coaches and fans alike.

After game one this Nebraska offense has taken on one very similar look to the Crouch-led offenses that went flat in the national championship game in the Rose Bowl against Miami in 2002. In that game Crouch had 176 of Nebraska’s 259 total yards. That was Nebraska’s offense in a nutshell with Crouch.

If Martinez remains the starter for the rest of the season, it’s obvious that he’s the guy NU will build the offense around.

This is where Nebraska runs the risk of becoming entirely one dimensional — Martinez right, Martinez left, Martinez on the scramble.

There weren’t a lot of weapons around Crouch, and in fact NU’s best “threats” at I-back during those years was Dahran Diedrick and Thunder Collins. Neither guy could carry the load like Nebraska I-backs of old.

The good news for Nebraska and Martinez is that Rex Burkhead is emerging as the top I-back.

OK, no mistaking the Western Kentucky defense for Texas, but Burkhead finished with 57 yards rushing on just five carries and a 24-yard touchdown run, along with two receptions for 47 yards. Give the guy 15 carries and the math changes dramatically for the better.

The combination of Burkhead and Martinez clearly appears to be the best way to go for this offense that will be running more often than not.

Following Nebraska’s win local media continued to pound home the notion that the quarterback race will be ongoing — good for keeping an intriguing story alive I guess.

I don’t buy it.

I know what I saw Saturday. It wasn’t much of a quarterback race.

Nebraska is more explosive with Martinez in the lineup. Cody Green and Zac Lee are decent backups, but neither guy has the big-play ability NU needs at the position.

Obviously Bo Pelini wants to keep the QB race ongoing as he does with every position, but it really is Martinez’ job to lose at this point.

When you start hearing comparisons to Crouch, and that Martinez is the first Nebraska QB to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since Jammal Lord, it speaks volumes for what this offense needs — a threat, not a game manager, at quarterback.

NU can’t go back to the days of the one-man show and have a shot at a national title.

Nebraska needs to find a way to get the ball to receivers Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie, who combined caught 11 passes against WKU for 151 yards and one touchdown.

Nice numbers. But except for the Paul 33-yard touchdown catch, neither player put fear into the Hilltoppers’ defense.

And as has been the case throughout his entire career at Nebraska, Roy Helu Jr. was just kind of there at I-back. He finished the night with 29 yards on five carries and one touchdown.

Ho-hum.

This was the kind of game Nebraska teams of old would produce two or three 100-yard rushers.

Now, on to the defense.

Pelini was irritated with what he called an “absolute embarrassment” in describing Nebraska’s defensive performance. It wasn’t as if the Hilltoppers manhandled the NU defensive line, but really it was more a product of playing two inexperienced linebackers as a result of injuries to Will Compton and Sean Fisher.

Communication was a big problem, most evident on a 47-yard touchdown run by Bobby Rainey that was nullified on a fumble. There was a gaping hole in the middle of the Nebraska defense that coaches later said was a result of defenders not being on the same page on the play called from the sideline.

I’m going to beat a dead horse here.

Ndamukong Suh’s absense was painfully obvious.

Jared Crick had a so-so performance with six tackles and a jarring hit on WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes. But Crick, Pierre Allen, Cameron Meredith, Terrence Moore, Baker Steinkuhler and the rest of the defensive line have a long way to go before the trip to Washington in two weeks.

No doubt, this was typical of many opening games for Nebraska.

Things will get better.