September 11, 2010

Huskers cruise to second win despite miscues

Game Ticker | Box Score

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini wanted to see a much better performance from his defense against Idaho on Saturday after it put on what he described as "an absolute embarrassment" last week.

Needless to say, he got almost everything he could ask for.

Highlighted by back-to-back interceptions returned for touchdowns by safeties DeJon Gomes and Rickey Thenarse, the Huskers (2-0) dominated the Vandals (1-1) in almost all phases en route to a 38-17 victory.

Along with the two pick-sixes, NU's defenses held Idaho's offense to just 60 rushing yards, forced six turnovers and recorded seven quarterback sacks and nine tackles for loss.

Had the defense not been on the field for essentially all of the final eight minutes of the first half and then had late struggles with its second- and third-team units, the final score would have looked even more lopsided than it already was.

"It's huge," Pelini said of the defense's impact. "That is what we talk about, about attacking the football. Like I said, defensively we stepped up, those guys played well. We played very well defensively. We did a lot of good things. Now we weren't perfect, but I saw a lot of good things."

Facing an offense that didn't score less than 21 points all of last season, Nebraska made it difficult for the Vandals to even cross midfield to open the game. In fact, Idaho reached NU territory just three times the entire first half.

While the defense stepped it up on their end, NU's offense also chipped in with some big plays. After sputtering out of the gates with an opening drive foiled by penalties and a fumble by quarterback Taylor Martinez on the second possession, the Huskers finally got going and scored touchdowns on their only two other possessions of the half.

The first score came on another highlight touchdown run by Martinez, as the redshirt freshman broke a 67-yard scamper up the middle to put NU up 10-0. The second TD was another big run, this time by senior running back Roy Helu on a 58-yard sweep around the left side on the first play of the drive to make it 17-0 with 8:22 left in the second quarter.

That run would be the last snap the offense would take for the rest of the half, as the Huskers' defense took care of the rest.

"I'm very pleased," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "I asked our guys to take the field with intensity, late-season intensity, (with) a chip on their shoulder. Challenge every throw, challenge every block, challenge every run, and I think they did that. I thought we played really well on defense.

"I don't know what the heck it was - seven sacks, six turnovers, I mean, shoot, 14 defensive points - that's a heck of defensive performance. I applaud our guys."

The second half didn't go nearly as well for Nebraska, however. With the offense scoring just seven points after halftime and the defense's second- and third-stringers unable to replicate the first-team's success, Idaho actually ended up outscoring NU 14-7 after halftime.

Of Nebraska's eight possessions in the second half, it produced one touchdown, four turnovers, two punts and had its final drive end run out the clock. Asked if the fact that the defense produced so many points in the second quarter had any effect on the offense's attention to detail, Bo Pelini was obviously not interested in looking for any excuses.

"There are no excuses," Pelini said. "We play one way and that is to execute. That is to play to an extremely high standard. I don't want to hear anything about the defense, did (the offense) relax? No. That's a bunch of b-s. That isn't what we're about around this place. We play with a high standard. You have to live up to the standard if you walk out on the field and you're one of 11. If you're not, it's time to go find a different program.

"Our attention to detail needs to pick up, our attitude needs to pick up and our standard needs to pick up. We'll get that fixed this week. We'll be fully ready as a football team to go to Seattle. I can promise you that."

- Robin Washut

Penalties, turnovers damper otherwise solid win

Nebraska definitely wasn't perfect on Saturday, as it continuously found ways to shoot itself in the foot with penalties and turnovers.

Altogether, the Huskers committed 10 penalties for 123 yards, and the majority were of the 15-yard variety that either negated big plays on offense or set Idaho up for scoring chances. They also fumbled the ball a staggering eight times in the game, losing three of them, and added an interception.

"We were explosive, but the problem was we were sloppy at the same time," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "Obviously a really big thing is the ball security part, but little things like footwork in critical situations like goal line situations, just doing the right things. Even though there were explosion plays, we were really sloppy in our play."

On NU's first possession of the game, the offense was called for two personal fouls that brought back a 12-yard run by running back Roy Helu and then a 34-yard run by Martinez.

As a result, the Huskers had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Alex Henery.

Later in the second half, guard Ricky Henry (false start) and tight end Ben Cotton (clipping) were flagged on consecutive plays during the Huskers' opening drive of the third quarter, taking NU from a first-and-10 at the Idaho 22 to a first-and-30 at the 42.

The drive ended with a Henry punt.

The worst penalty of all came on the next possession, as Martinez broke off another big run that looked to be a 25-yard touchdown, but a holding call on receiver Brandon Kinnie took the points off the board.

Receiver Niles Paul was also flagged for holding two plays later, but luckily for the Huskers, all ended well on the drive as Martinez scored on a 20-yard run two plays after that. Granted, he did fumble on the run before scooping it back up in the end zone.

"The penalties were frustrating," Watson said. "We obviously have to clean that up. Turning the ball over and penalties, you can't do that. You cannot do that. Those are for bidden things in football. That's just the culture of our program. Those things cannot happen."

Even more frustrating for Watson and the rest of the coaching staff were the four turnovers NU committed and the four other that nearly were turnovers. Not to say there's ever a good time for a turnover, but two came when the Huskers had the ball inside the Idaho 13-yard line and another at their own 16.

"It's definitely frustrating when you get things going at such a good pace and those fumbles and dumb mistakes happen," said Paul, who had a fumble of his own on the first play of the second half. "It's easily correctable. It was just a lack of concentration by the offense in the second half. We're going to turn it up a notch in practice this week and get it going."

- Robin Washut

Martinez shines again

After last week's breakout performance, Martinez was sure to come back down to Earth at least a little bit on Saturday, right?

Not quite.

Once again, Martinez looked as if he was playing a different speed than everyone else on the field, as he added even more big runs to his already lengthy highlight reel. By the time the game was over, Martinez had racked up 263 yards of total offense, with 14 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns and 106 yards passing.

With Nebraska's offense struggling to find its rhythm early on, Martinez again provided the spark with a 67-yard scoring run on NU's third possession. The run was the longest ever by a Husker freshman quarterback, and it was also the team's longest run by a quarterback since Eric Crouch in 2001.

As would be expected for a redshirt freshman starting just his second career game, Martinez also had his share of mistakes.

Along with missing some open receivers, including a potential touchdown to Mike McNeill on the opening drive, Martinez made a very poor decision when he tried to force the ball to McNeill and was intercepted in the third quarter.

Even on his second touchdown run, the Corona, Calif., native put a scare into the 85,732 fans in attendance when he fumbled and then picked it back up before getting in the end zone.

"That's where he's at," Watson said. "He's a young guy. He's a work in progress, a great work in progress. We've just got to keep ringing in the details."

Still, based on his first two performances, there's little question that NU's coaching staff made the right choice in naming Martinez the starting quarterback.

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Second maybe to the turnovers, Carl Pelini said he was maybe the most pleased with the pressure his defense got on the quarterback all game.

"I heard all week about one sack last week," Carl Pelini said. "When teams are throwing out of big personnel and max protecting (like Western Kentucky did), you're not going to get a lot of sacks. But this team (Idaho) ran their offense. They ran their spread, and I knew going in we were going to have an opportunity to get pressure, and our guys responded. Teams always have to think about protection against us. We're every bit as good a pass rushing team as we were a year ago. We knew that coming into this game."

***Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle's homecoming definitely didn't go the way he had hoped. After throwing his fifth interception to Anthony West early in the fourth quarter, the North Platte native was benched in favor of Brian Reader. Enderle finished the day 16-of-31 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown and five interceptions. He was also sacked five times.

***Sophomore defensive end Cameron Meredith, who was listed as questionable for Saturday's game after dislocating his shoulder last week, started as usual.

***On Paul's fumble to open the second half, he was lined up as the quarterback in one of Nebraska's Wildcat formations. After taking the snap, Paul lost control of the ball while faking the handoff to running back Rex Burkhead. Had he not lost the ball, Paul said the play was shaping up to go for big yardage, if not a touchdown.

"All week we had been practicing it, practicing it, practicing it. It was our little Wildcat play," Paul said. "It was definitely a big play. We knew it was going to open up like that. All I had to do was carry out the fake. It was a good snap by (Mike Caputo), I held out the fake and tried to get the ball back and (the ball) just wasn't there."

***Defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders said Thenarse's pick-six was exactly what he had been showing in practice since the start of fall camp.

"The young man has persevered, and I've talked about his consistency and how he's practiced all of camp, and that's what he's shown in camp, that consistency," Sanders said. "You know that he has that big play capability, he's just got to wait until he's got the opportunity, and that's what he's doing now. He's waiting on the opportunities to come instead of trying to make things happen and get out of place."

***Martinez's 157 rushing yards tied for the fifth most ever by an NU freshman and also tied for the 10th-most by a Husker quarterback. He's also put together two straight 100-yard games on the ground, making him the first Nebraska QB to do so since Jammal Lord in 2003.

***With 107 yards on nine carries, Helu also broke the 100-yard rushing mark on Saturday. He and Martinez became the first NU duo to rush for 100 yards since 2006, when Brandon Jackson and Cody Glenn did it against Iowa State.

***Henery's first-quarter field goal made him just the fifth Husker to reach the 300-point scoring mark for his career. Henery (304) joined the likes of Mike Rozier (312), Josh Brown (315), Crouch (368) and Kris Brown (388). The field goal was also the 51st of his career, moving him even closer to Kris Brown's NU career record of 57.

***Thenarse and Gomes' interceptions for touchdowns marked the first time NU had run back to picks for scores since 2005 (Pittsburgh).

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!