It’s Not Easy Beating Green

To my followers, family, Facebook friends, and anybody else who ends up here:

Thanks for stopping by!  I appreciate you taking the time read this.  But I’d greatly appreciate it if you read this fine article on, as I earn a fraction of a penny per page view – and I’m hoping to earn enough this year to buy my wife a steak dinner – and I’m guessing she’d rather go to Misty’s over Steak ‘n Shake.



Oh Taylor Martinez.

We love you.

We hate you.

We hate to love you and love to hate you.

When my kids and grandkids ask me to explain who this Martinez guy who owns all of the Nebraska career offensive records is, I’m going to point to this game.  The 2012 Michigan State game is the perfect snapshot of the imperfect quarterback; the Husker who inspires praise and rage in equal amounts.  T-Magic and T-ragic.

In this game, Martinez (in no particular order):

  • Rushed for a season high 205 yards, with runs of 35, 59, and 71 yards.
  • Tied a season high with three interceptions.
  • Set the Nebraska record for total offense in a career, surpassing a Heisman Trophy winner.
  • Promptly lost 10 yards on a sack.
  • Completed passes to eight different receivers.
  • Completed one pass using a throwing motion that was a weird hybrid of a forward option pitch and a basketball chest pass.
  • Was 8 of 14 passing on 3rd and 4th down, (including 4 of 6 in the 4th quarter) picking up six first downs and a touchdown.
  • Turned a manageable 3rd and 7 into 4th & 26 after an ill-advised intentional grounding call.
  • Had a hand in all four Nebraska touchdowns.
  • Contributed to two Michigan State touchdowns (they followed interceptions).
  • Drove the team 80 yard in 80 seconds to win the game.

The throwing motion is greatly improved, as is his patience, knowledge of the offense, and (for the most part) his decision making.  Is he perfect?  Heck no.

The thing that I find the most interesting about Martinez is his perception.  Most fans in the Big 10 and across the county will acknowledge that he is a dangerous quarterback that can hurt a defense in different ways.  Many fans here fully expect him to lose his starting job as a senior.  The media describes him a “quirky”, “mercurial”, and “not comfortable” with the press and limelight, but parses every word he says looking for hidden meaning, signs of immaturity, and anything else they can write about.

My advice?  Enjoy the ride.  Yes, he does things that make you want to pull your hair out.  He is a turnover waiting to happen.  But he is also a threat to score from anywhere on the field.  And I’ll take that any day.

So what did we learn?

The penalties and turnovers aren’t going anywhere.  We’ve held out hope, we’ve offered theories on how they can be eliminated or at least reduced, but it is time to accept the facts:  In every game Nebraska plays this year, they will turn it over twice and pick up 70 or so yards in penalties.  Once you accept it (and expect it) you can focus your energies on having the team overcome the mistake.  I don’t like it any more than you do, and I hope it goes away next year too, but I wouldn’t count on it.

When Nebraska rushes for more than 300 yards, they will (almost always) win.  After Saturday’s victory, Nebraska improved to 12-0 under Pelini when rushing for more than 300 yards.  I couldn’t find the number from the Osborne/Solich eras (although I believe you could count the number of losses on one hand), but I know that 300 yards almost always equals a W.

You can safely make hotel reservations for Indianapolis.  This was a big hurdle in Nebraska’s hopes to play for the conference championship.  We’re at the point where you should reserve a hotel room, but keep the cancellation number just in case.  Personally I’d hold off on buying tickets and booking flights until after this weekend.  If Nebraska can get past Penn State, it would take losses to Minnesota and Iowa or one loss and a Michigan win at Ohio State (with Dennard Robinson at less than 100%) to keep NU out of the title game.

So what don’t we know?

How many years is this season going to take off of my life?  Dramatic fourth quarter comebacks are fun to watch  – except when your team is involved.  Then, it becomes a nerve-wracking experience where every miscue causes your blood pressure to rise.  If the stress doesn’t get me, my wife probably will for some of the new words our daughter is picking up.  Nebraska football was a much healthier pursuit in the 90s.  Blowouts are much easier on my heart.

What happened to Nebraska’s kick return game?  Remember back when Ameer Abdullah returned a punt for a touchdown?  Or when Abdullah and Kenny Bell were providing a big spark (and good field position) on kickoff returns?  It seems like so long ago.  Obviously with Abdullah being such a key part of the offense, he really shouldn’t be back there shagging kicks.  But certainly there is a better punt return option than Tim Marlowe doing his Santino Panico impression.  I wonder if Pelini and special teams coordinator Ross Els are still shaken from the muffed punts in the Northwestern game and trading explosiveness (and field position) for ball security.  By law, I’m required to suggest Jamal Turner field some punts at this point.

Moving on to kickoff returns, credit Michigan State’s kicker for putting four of five kickoffs deep into the end zone.  With the new touchback rule, there is little sense in bring out a kick that lands five yards in the end zone.  But since the Wisconsin game, where Abdullah had an 83 yard kickoff return, Nebraska returns have broken 30 yards twice.

How is Nebraska’s health?  Rex Burkhead in street clothes.  Mike Marrow didn’t play.  Tim Marlowe was helped off the field.  Twice.  Quincy Enunwa looked in pain after several plays.  Justin Jackson had to leave the field, and was limping at a different point in the game.  I’m sure I’m missing several more without accounting for all of the miscellaneous bumps, bruises, strains, and sprains that every team has this time of year.  So far, Nebraska has been fortunate that injuries have been minor or at positions with strong depth.  (Now, let’s all find a nice piece of wood to knock on).

Where are my Keys?

At the beginning of the season, I laid out three simple keys for Nebraska to have a strong season:  1) Win the turnover battle, 2) Own 3rd Down, 3) Limit penalties.  Throughout the year, I’ll be tracking Nebraska’s progress:

Penalties Penalty Yds. 3rd Down Conv.   (NU) 3rd Down Conv. (Opp) Turnover Margin
So. Miss 2 30 80.0% 50.0% 1
UCLA 7 60 9.1% 45.0% -1
Arkansas St. 4 34 76.9% 37.5% -2
Idaho St. 9 104 45.5% 13.3% 0
Wisconsin 6 70 38.5% 26.7% -1
Ohio St. 9 75 35.7% 45.5% -3
Northwestern 8 62 21.4% 25.0% -3
Michigan 8 104 33.3% 33.3% 1
Michigan St. 9 72 42.9% 40.0% -1
2012 Per Game 6.9 67.9 43.3% 34.8% -9
2011 Per Game 7.2 57.3 42.3% 40.2% -1

The turnovers and penalties should have been the telling stats here, but they were trumped by Michigan State’s 100 penalty yards, (which doesn’t do justice to the pick-six they lost).  MSU’s penalties were just as costly (if not more so) than Nebraska’s.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Taylor Martinez.  Love him or hate him (sometimes in the same play), but recognize there is no way Nebraska is where they are right now without him.  And he continues to improve.
  2. Ameer Abdullah.  What more can be said about what Abdullah has done this year?
  3. Jamal Turner.  The kid picked a pretty darn good time to come up with his first career touchdown.  Previously I said that once Turner got that first TD out of the way, he could really take off, and I stand by this statement.  Look for a more relaxed and confident Turner to finish with a flourish.
  4. Damian Stafford.  I still think he should focus more on wrapping up instead of making the highlight reel hit, but he had a very strong game.  And frankly, I think he’d be in the Top 5 solely for what felt like the first forced fumble since 2003.
  5. Offensive Line.  I’ve always said that there will be a spot here for the O line when NU rushes for 300+.  This wasn’t one of the line’s greatest performances (some silly penalties, and if I’m a MSU fan, I’m pointing at multiple holds on the final drive that likely should have been called), but when it is all said and done, Nebraska put up a big rushing day against one of the nation’s best run defenses.

Honorable Mention:  Kenny Bell, Will Compton, Eric Martin, Kyler Reed, Sean Fisher

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Dropped passes.  Nebraska’s receivers have been simply outstanding in catching almost everything thrown their way (you may insert your own Martinez joke here if you so desire).  So it was disappointing to see a number of dropped passes coming from receivers (Bell, Cotton, Enunwa, etc.) who have been automatic all year long.
  2. Stanley Jean-Baptiste.  I’ve been encouraged by how SJB has taken a starting role and been a steady performer.  But I’d like to see him take advantage of more of the opportunities he has to intercept passes.  I’m confident this will happen.
  3. Brett Maher.  I’ll make you a deal, Brett:  I’ll defend you against the fans with unrealistic expectations.  You make 95% of field goals inside 40 yards.  Deal?
  4. P.J. Smith.  You had another strong game (a team high 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and pass break up), but you know why you are here:  you got crushed by Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell.  Alonzo Whaley had a great line that even P.J.’s dad took off his #13 jersey after that hit.  My young son has been sporting a #13 jersey this year (technically, a Zac Taylor hand-me-down, but that’s beside the point).  While we didn’t take the jersey off after that hit, we did discuss proper technique and how not to end up on the bad end of a YouTube clip.
  5. Johnny Adams.  You saw the play – just before halftime, NU ran a basic dive play.  Kenny Bell was blocking MSU’s Johnny Adams up to (and through) the whistle.  As they disengaged, Bell gave Adams a final shove.  Adams tried to pick up a foul by doing the most blatant flop I’ve ever seen in a football game.  Thankfully, the officials – who were otherwise quick with the flags – didn’t buy this horrible acting job.  Flopping like that has no place in football.  And the football gods agree – Adams was flagged for the personal foul that erased Darqueze Dennard’s interception return for a touchdown.  Sometimes, Karma is a real bitch.

What do you think?

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