Grading the Huskers

Check out our grades from the Huskers' Big 12 Championship match up with the Oklahoma Sooners.


Now that the dust is settled, the secrecy behind the Martinez start for today's game, might have backfired a bit, as Nebraska's secret weapon backfired in a big way. Bo Pelini said after the game that Martinez was healthy. But does a healthy Martinez, who at around the midway point of the season was among the top five rushers in the country, reel off a whopping negative 32 yards against Oklahoma, going down behind the line of scrimmage seven times? No way. And Martinez is a freshman. We have to remember that, because many of the mistakes he made were what you would expect from someone who isn't ready for pressure. He would lock in on receivers, and when that option wasn't there and the pressure was on him, which it was most of the game, he would panic, which resulted in him either taking a sack he didn't need to take or in the worst case, fumbling the ball away. Nebraska put five balls on the ground, three of those by Martinez, one of which he lost. And Martinez also had the interception. He had a couple of good throws, but this game won't go down as one of his best. It might be one of his worst, and perhaps, he shouldn't have even been playing the game.

Is Cody Green really that bad?


145 yards net rushing doesn't look good. But when the quarterback is taking off almost 40 of that from sacks, Nebraska put together a decent running game, which came out of the gates with a vengeance as Roy Helu Jr. reeled off a 66-yard TD run early in the game to put Nebraska on top. Out of the Wildcat formation, Rex Burkhead really seemed to be in his element, and the curiosity is why Nebraska kept going away from it when it was working, especially in the second half. That's for another category in this game. But when the OU defense obviously has Martinez figured out, and they are playing him as if he can't run, it's going to be hard to get anything going on the ground for NU. But they did, and Burkhead once again proved just how valuable he is as not just a good runner, but as an all-around player. He had a net 92 yards while Helu had 102. But Burkhead got his the old fashioned way, one hard yard after another. It was a game effort in the backfield, but a lack of production at QB along with turnovers in the backfield by both Burkhead and Helu, knock this grade down a bit in the end. Helu's turnover which led to a touchdown was such a big turn in the game. It was one of the biggest impact plays for the Huskers, but the wrong way.


Honestly, this might be one of their better games of the year, at least when it comes to catching the ball. We have often found ourselves trying to count all the drops, but most of those not caught by the Husker receivers and/or tight ends, weren't catchable in the first place. Michael McNeill finally found himself a huge part of the game plan, and a good one at that, leading the team in receptions with four and yards with 63. It was tight end Kyler Reed who got the lone receiving TD, which was a good play by Martinez.  But McNeill had his best game to date, as both a threat on those outside patterns in the flats or on the slants going inside. Senior wideout Joe Broekemeir had a nice game in his second opportunity on the field in as many games, catching all three balls he had a chance to pull in. It's hard to find too many negatives about what this group did, because considering the circumstances, like the offensive line, they might have done all they could do.


Honestly, I thought they did about what they could do against a decent defensive line that knew Nebraska couldn't consistently beat them in the passing game. The success of the Wildcat proved that as well as some big runs by both Helu and Burkhead. And when it comes to penalties, this was one of Nebraska's best games to date. Yes, Martinez was consistently under pressure, but Jeremy Beal, the superstar defensive end for the Sooners, had no sacks and only one hurry to his name. OU was making hay with the blitz. There's only so much an offensive line can do about that. When your quarterback is imploding, even a great offensive line isn't going to be able to do a lot in the end, and I think they did about as much as they could.


You can't say enough about this group in this game. The stats say just two sacks and two quarterback hurries, but on fourth down conversions, Oklahoma got stifled twice in a row in the first half. On third-down conversions the Sooners were a staggering 1-of-17, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that the defensive line may not have been in Landry Jones' face all day, but they were taking away passing lanes, which is what they are supposed to do as they leave their secondary and linebackers to do the job. And another job is to open up lanes for the linebacker or linebackers, which they did as well. Jared Crick had perhaps his best game, especially late in the game. His late sack of Landry Jones should have been a drive killer, putting OU back with 3rd and 24. They pursued along the line well, stopping most of the lateral runs OU was trying. The Sooners would finish the game with an average rush of less than three yards a pop. Where they really held up was in the red zone as OU scored four out of five chances, but only got a touchdown on one of those, which came as a result of a quarterback sneak from the half-yard line by Jones.


It's kind of sad, but when you are grading the linebackers, you are essentially grading one guy. That is, of course, Lavonte David, who notched yet another whopper of a game in regard to tackles, totaling 17 against the Sooners. He had a couple of lapses on lateral runs and was beat once in coverage. But once again, his speed and instincts allowed him to be in position to make a lot of tackles either right at the line or close to it. Most of the plays OU was making for bigger gains, but not necessarily big plays, were in the short middle part of the field, just behind where David spent a lot of his time. But for his job and what he was asked to do, you can nitpick on a couple of tackles missed here and there, and perhaps one blown assignment, but it was overall a pretty effective game.


There were two big pass plays in the game, one which went over the head of senior safety Eric Hagg and the other going over the head of junior safety Austin Cassidy. These are the kinds of plays this group  is supposed to be geared to stop. But give credit to OU from a personnel standpoint as they just used athleticism to outrun the defense. Also give wide receiver Cameron Kenney props, as he was giving Prince Amukamara fits all game, especially with that comeback route, where he beat Nebraska's All-American corner twice for big first downs. This secondary is asked to do a lot, perhaps more than most you will see. They may not be in man coverage all game long, but I'd bet money they are in it more than any other team you'll see. They didn't get a lot of dumb penalties, but the two big plays where the offense got behind them, those should never happen in this system. That's what this system is designed specifically to stop. But OU got them. But OU has one of the best passing offenses in the country for a reason, which they proved as they totaled 342 net yards against the Husker "D."


Alex Henery gets an A+, and it's only nitpicking on some coverage issues where the Huskers might have lost a bit in this area. Even Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit, who were calling the game, said Henery is the best kicker they have ever seen. On the game Alex averaged over 46 yards per punt and he went two-for-two on field goals, his longest coming from 53 yards out. He is quite simply one of the most lethal weapons this program has ever had, and that includes the Heisman winners who have preceded him. It's just too bad that he couldn't have gotten one last chance to make an attempt at tying this game at the end. Would you bet against him? I know I wouldn't. As another note, if that fake that Nebraska was looking to try late in the game, that got thwarted by the OU timeout, had worked, I'd have bumped this up to perfect, even if Nebraska hadn't won the game.


Early on I thought this was called about the way you should call a game if you know your quarterback isn't healthy. And he wasn't, despite what Pelini said after the game. When it became even more painfully obvious just how ineffective Martinez was running, and then how much of a liability he was becoming in the passing game when having to make decisions under pressure, going to the Wildcat with Burkhead made sense. But in the second half, that's a head scratcher, especially when you go to the end of the game, and they call that pass to Martinez deep down the field out of the Wildcat. Up to that point Nebraska had been averaging over four yards per rush on that drive. They were moving the ball with Burkhead just keeping it. And on second and long they go for this cute little play that had it worked, we might be calling Shawn Watson a genius. It didn't, and because they were forced into third and long with Martinez back behind center, you have to wonder if he got too cute for his own good. That's been an observation made of Watson throughout the season, that sometimes he can't stop himself from going away from what is working, so that he can throw in something that they didn't need. Sometimes it worked, but this time it most definitely didn't. I will add on this that there is only so much you call when your mobile QB isn't mobile, and your offensive unit is turning into a turnover machine. Plays that worked are now overshadowed by plays that didn't, which you as the offensive coordinator, have no power over, at all. But it seemed that when Nebraska was getting it going late in the game, when they needed to stay with what worked, Watson went to a play they never even tried in a game prior to that moment. When you try to be tricky and it works, people love you. When you try it and it fails, they don't.

Overall: A hell of a game with an almost typical result when you look at how the Huskers have played this year. They did enough to win, but once again found a way to lose. It's only the third loss on the year, but go back to Texas and it was three dropped balls in the end zone. Go back to Texas A&M, and yeah, the refs didn't help, but the offense was absolutely brutal. Now go back to this, and turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. This team has talent. This team has speed. This team has a hell of a defense. But why is it they continue to make their own life harder than it has to be? What is it? They had better figure that out, because those mental mistakes are the only thing that stands between a good Nebraska team from becoming a great one. Until they can overcome themselves, they won't win the biggest games.




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