The Good – The Bad
With just under 11 minutes to go in the first quarter, Nebraska's first play from scrimmage was a fumble by Taylor Martinez as he tried to get extra yards off the right side. The turnover gave SDSU first down at the Husker 24-yard line. Martinez has few weaknesses, but five turnovers on the season, three here today, should be a red flag for the Huskers. It doesn't get any better when you go to the second string as sophomore Cody Green fumbled the ball twice against Washington last week in spot duty behind Martinez.
With just over a minute and a half to go in the first quarter, the Huskers had no points, no first downs and 13 total yards along with one turnover. SDSU had just 56 total yards, but had four first downs against the Husker defense which ironically had just received their Blackshirts this week. They would finish the quarter with two first downs.
Despite a woeful first quarter, the Huskers opened up strong in the second with a 64-yard completion to Michael McNeill, giving the Huskers first down at the SDSU three-yard line. It was a solid pass to the boundary by Martinez, which McNeill took, stutter stepped to stay in bounds and then made it almost to the goal line before he had to cut back against a pursuing defensive back at around the three where he was ultimately taken down. McNeill led all receivers in yards for the day with that one catch. The reception was the longest in McNeill's career.
With just under 11 minutes to go in the second quarter, Martinez had what appeared to be an obvious quarterback scramble off the right side as he avoided SDSU pressure up the middle. But just when you thought Martinez was going to tuck and go, he stopped after recognizing a wide open Kyler Reed down the left side and hit him for the 33-yard score, putting the Huskers up, 14-0. Martinez said after the game that he was indeed going to take off, but Reed opened up deep and Martinez hit him for Nebraska's only passing TD on the day. That reception for Reed was the longest of his career at Nebraska.
Just over three minutes to go in the first half and Niles Paul fields an SDSU punt, and he promptly fumbles the ball, which was fortunately covered by Tim Marlowe. Paul seems unable to get through a game without some sort of miscue, whether it's a mental hiccup or ball security issues which have been an issue with him almost his entire Husker career. Marlowe didn't help his own cause as he fumbled a punt of his own, but managed to pounce on it before the SDSU players could arrive.
At around 1:40 to go in the first half, Martinez threw a ball right at an SDSU defender, trying to get a ball to Niles Paul, who was running a crossing route behind where the rabbit linebacker was positioned. Martinez seemed oblivious to the defender as the ball went right to him. This is certainly not an indictment of Martinez' ability to pass as he has been effective at times. But his consistency is still an obvious issue when recognizing what defenses are doing and in this case, where they are. This was the second turnover by the Huskers, both attributed to the NU starting QB. Martinez would throw another interception late in the game, one which was actually taken back for a touchdown from 66-yards out. The touchdown was called back for a penalty after the interception, but this was another ball Martinez almost gift wrapped to an SDSU defender, because it seemed as if Martinez didn't see him there.
Taylor Martinez now has 496 yards rushing on the season, the most ever by a freshman quarterback at Nebraska. While his game performance wasn't stellar by his early-season standards, in just four games he's eclipsed Eric Crouch who had 459 yards in 1998.
Linebacker Lavonte David had 11 tackles through the first half and 19 tackles on the game, the most since Barrett Ruud had 19 against Kansas State in 2004. The JUCO linebacker continues to prove the theory about his instincts for the ball. He also had a big pass break up in the latter stages of the third quarter, which helped stall South Dakota State's best drive of the game.
With a bit over 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, Nebraska went on a drive which was typical of how pedestrian the Huskers had been up to that point. And it was highlighted by a pass by Martinez which was deflected in the backfield. Similar to when he threw the interception earlier in the game, Martinez seems to be throwing to receivers, but he's seemingly oblivious to the defenders between him and where he's throwing the ball.
Around the halfway point of the third quarter, SDSU mounted a drive that started at their own eight-yard line. Some of the highlights for SDSU were Kyle Minnett running for 26 yards off the left tackle. That was followed up a couple of plays later by a 19-yard completion to the tight end, taking the ball down to the Husker 37-yard line. The drive stalled, but the Jackrabbits managed to score a field goal off the 12-play, 73 yard drive which took up close to five minutes of the game.
A 66-yard return for a touchdown off a Taylor Martinez interception, another pass that Martinez threw directly to an SDSU player, seemingly oblivious yet again to the defense as he was trying for Brandon Kinnie, who was behind the player who intercepted the ball. The good from this is that an SDSU penalty took what was a touchdown play that cut the lead to three, instead into a 14-yard run after the pick, the Jackrabbits taking over possession after the foul, at their own 33-yard line.
On the very next play after the change of possession, O'Brien, the Jackrabbit QB, hit receiver Tyler Kool down the left side for a 33-yard gain, giving SDSU first down at the Nebraska 34-yard line.
On that same drive of SDSU, the 33-yard completion was followed up two plays later by an interception, where Alfonzo Dennard made a leaping pick of the Jackrabbit QB, giving the Huskers possession at their own two-yard line. It was Dennard's third pick of the season, the top total on the team thus far this year.
Summarizing the Good
Linebacker Lavonte David continues to be one of the key players on that entire defense. It's probably because the line hasn't been as good that David is seeing some of the opportunities he might not have, had he played when Ndamukong Suh was here. But when asked to step up he has, and he's done it against the run up the middle, going to the edge, defending the pass out in the flats and just being a basic nuisance to the offense. He's the real deal, and this is just his fourth game of his Husker career. Imagine where he'll be at the end of the season.
Yes, it's a horrible Brightside, unless you are actually looking at a loss. And if this kind of game doesn't wake a team up, they might as well go back to sleep. It was a horrid performance against a team that Nebraska should have matched up favorably with at almost every position on the field.
But they won, and they are undefeated for another day.
Oh, and Texas lost, which means Nebraska won't take all of the beating by the media this week.
Summarizing the Bad
Where do you start with the most pedestrian effort the Huskers have put together on either side of the ball this year? Against Idaho it was about turnovers that could have been, but against SDSU, an FCS team that came into the game not ranked, a losing record and giving up over 224 yards rushing per game.
Also, it's not a stretch to think that Nebraska played down to their competition here. But don't tell that to Bo Pelini. When I asked him about that very notion, he said he didn't believe in it, but by the end of his explanation as to why that wasn't the case, he basically said that's what his team did today. Junior linebacker lavonte David echoed that saying that Nebraska should have played to their own level rather than playing down to South Dakota State's.
But look at the statistics, and you realize Nebraska gave up yet another 100-yard rusher, and to a player who hadn't had a 100-yard game yet this year. And then you look at how South Dakota State came into this contest giving up 224 yards rushing to teams like Delaware and Illinois State, and Nebraska, one of the top rushing teams in the entire country, managed just five yards over 200.
Defensive Coordinator Carl Pelini said that without overanalyzing things he thought the defensive line played "pretty well."
Nebraska has given up over a hundred yards to two running backs, one from Western Kentucky and one from South Dakota State.
There's so much bad about this game, the fact that they won is almost a miracle. But they did and now they have a bye week to get ready for conference play.
They need it though. From trying to figure out how Martinez can stop turning the ball over to trying to figure out how SDSU exposed them in so many areas. Yes, this was their super bowl. They played out of their minds while Nebraska seemed to be thinking about anything other than this contest. But they won, and now they move on.
Let's hope for them, they do..