First off, Nebraska will not freeze up and has the ability to recover from getting down early in a ball game. Being 21 points down to a team like Ohio State more often than not means you have lost the ball game. Nebraska played all 60 minutes of the game.
Secondly, I would put the performance of Taylor Martinez that night into a top three or top two of his Nebraska career. I would say that both Kansas State and Oklahoma State last year, to me anyway, are right up there. Martinez, a target for a lot of controversy that week, endured and showed what he was capable of doing.
Finally, the defense was a strength in the second half. It was a big play by Lavonte David that really got things going, but the interception by Stanley Jean-Baptiste was clutch. I can't remember exactly at which point in the second half Crick was lost, but the Huskers finished up the night without him on the field.
Now the Huskers are headed back on the road for just their second away game of the season. Nebraska, now 5-1 and 1-1 in the conference, visits Minnesota, 1-5 and 0-2 in the conference; square off at 2:30 on ABC this Saturday. Here are some story-lines I will be paying close attention to on Saturday afternoon:
1. How does Nebraska replace/scheme around losing Crick? Let's be honest there has been a lack of production not only along the defensive front, but on the defensive side as a whole. There has been a lack of fundamentals at time and flat out sloppy play. What Nebraska loses in Crick though is a physical presence inside that no body else on the team, as just a single person, can provide. Nebraska will have to find the right rotation, right scheme and blitz packages to compensate for losing Crick.
2. What is the offense going to look like this week? The offense has been a chameleon of sorts. And it's not just a weekly change of game plan, but it's also a game plan that seems to change at a point of the game. Many would like to see a lot of reps for the younger running backs and that will likely happen. However, Nebraska can't get too far away from what they want to do weekly with their offense because it needs work and time on the field as much as the defense does. Look for some lower level players to get playing time, but Nebraska needs to come out and, not to sound cliché, but they need to execute their offense and get ready for Michigan State.
3. Efficiency on the early downs; offensive and defensive. Sitting in the stands, watching the game against Ohio State something become much more clear to me than having watched this team on television and I don't know why. On offense, Nebraska fails to gain a lot of yards locking them into second and third and long situations typically. On the flip side, the Nebraska defense was gouged against Ohio State for anywhere from three to six yards it seemed every time Ohio State touched the ball on first down. Nebraska needs to get tougher, maybe get a little more creative and less predictable, and try to get a little more efficient in the early downs of a series.
This game on Saturday is interesting to say the least. There has been this off period following a huge come from behind win and now Nebraska is on the road. How will they respond? For everything good that had happened that night it's been somewhat erased with the loss of Crick for the season.
That's not to say that Nebraska is in jeopardy of losing the football game on Saturday. Minnesota isn't a good team right now. They are talented individually at a lot of positions, but as a unit they haven't played very well. Nebraska is struggling to find an identity still to some extent, but not like Minnesota is.
I do expect to see a lot of touches for the young running backs, possibly another quarterback too, on Saturday. There is no need to tire out Rex Burkhead on Saturday and leave anything in the tank with all three of the freshman running backs now healthy again. Give them the ball.
Still, while the extra carries for the young kids will be exciting to see I don't think that Nebraska will go out of their way all that much to get them reps. The offense as a whole is coming together with the introduction of the diamond and you'd like to see more work out of that formation as well as the wildcat. Nebraska wins soundly, 45-20.