Nebraska 48, Kansas State 13
I know Kansas State is a mediocre Big 12 team and came into the game against Nebraska last in the Big 12 against the run and 102nd in the nation allowing 196 yards per game (despite facing the likes of UCLA, Missouri State, Iowa State and UCF), but on national TV and in front of a fired up Wildcat crowd, Nebraska put on a tremendous show.
Now do it again.
Because of the schedule and the defense, which came into Manhattan ranked first in the nation in pass efficiency D and left allowing KSU to connect on a pathetic 4.7 yards per pass, Nebraska was a reasonable sleeper pick to get to the BCS Championship. At least I thought that way when I spent all offseason saying the Huskers were going to be in Glendale, before wussing out on the call when push came to shove, but no one could've foreseen Taylor Martinez and the offense working like this. Nebraska has the Big Red Machine running game going, and while it might not be out of the I, it's tearing off yards in chunks and letting the defense take care of the rest.
Now do it against Texas.
Texas, at Oklahoma State, and Missouri. The next three weeks will show whether or not this is all a mirage, or if Nebraska needs to be thrown into the Alabama-Ohio State-Oregon mix of BCS teams that deserve to be in the national title discussion. Throw in the road date at Texas A&M, and the improved play of Iowa State and Colorado (and forgetting that the Kansas game will be little more than a speed bump), and the schedule suddenly appears to be much better than it first looked. But if the offensive line can open up the ten-mile-wide holes like it did in Manhattan, there shouldn't be any problems.
Nebraska is hardly perfect right now, the defensive line needs to make more plays in the backfield, the punting game has been a bit spotty at times, and Martinez will never be confused with Drew Brees throwing the ball, but the Huskers are now five-for-five against vastly inferior blowouts, and coming up with the blowouts needed against all five. But Texas will get the luxury of having two weeks off to rest of and prepare, and now will come the biggest test for the spread.
Ask anyone who has to face Georgia Tech, and they'll say time is the key. Time is the must for defenses to learn all the gaps that need to be filled, the angles that need to be taken, and the discipline that's needed to stop the high-powered option attack. The same might hold true to slow down the Nebraska spread. Texas has the athletes, the talent, and the nation's ninth ranked defense that does a phenomenal job of getting into the backfield and is great at stopping plays before they get started. So if the Husker offense can rock next week and show that it doesn't matter what anyone does and how much prep time there is, then it'll be time to really get jacked up about the possibilities.
Shouldn't the Big Ten have checked Taylor Martinez's eligibility before extending an offer to Nebraska to join the league? It might have reconsidered if it knew the quarterback was so darn young.
Beginning in 2011 and for two years after that, the redshirt freshman is the rest of the Big Ten's problem. Good luck with that. Looking like a modern-day version of Scott Frost or Eric Crouch, Martinez introduced himself to the entire country Thursday night, rushing 15 times for well over 200 yards and four touchdowns, three that went for at least 35 yards. And for good measure, he connected with Kyler Reed on a 79-yard touchdown pass. Martinez hits the seams in the defense like a sprinter and gets to second gear in a hurry. Plus, he has the heft to take on tacklers and pick up extra yards after contact. Denard who?
In the bigger picture, how close are we to talking about the Huskers in the same breath as Ohio State, currently the next best thing to Alabama in the pecking order? Coordinator Shawn Watson has deftly adapted to his offensive personnel, crafting an attack that accentuates the ground game, namely Martinez and backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead. Carl Pelini's defense somehow hasn't skipped a beat in the first year without DT Ndamukong Suh. His kids are tough at the point of attack, don't miss tackles in the open field, and are difficult to beat through the air. The special teams are in the capable hands of P/PK Alex Henery and returner Niles Paul. Where's the weakness? Where's the regular season game that's going to rattle this team?
Nebraska is peaking around a precocious quarterback, who's performing as if he was manufactured in one of Tom Osborne's laboratories. If the Huskers keep this up, they're going to force their way into the national championship discussion.
By Matt Zemek
Well, quite the debate emerged Thursday night, as Taylor Martinez torched the Kansas State defense for an ungodly amount of yards. It's rare that a 45-6 game at the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter inspires such passionate debate, but the realm of cyberspace was alive with thoughtful yet still speculative discussion about the trajectory Mr. Martinez's career will acquire. The words "2011 Heisman candidate" were mentioned after Martinez's second (impressive, rocket-powered) ball-fake-based touchdown. Other voices wished that Oregon could play Nebraska, as though to suggest that the Ducks' and Huskers' offenses exist on anything close to the same plane. Still other online commentators pointed out that on November 19, 2011 – not 2010, but 2011 – Martinez and Nebraska will face Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines.
Here's the thing to realize about pumping up athletes before they have fully earned the highest hosannas imaginable: Premature praise does the athlete him(her)self no favors. Taylor Martinez is a good quarterback at this point in time. He's not an elite quarterback. He needs to beat teams more impressive than Washington and Kansas State. He needs to be consistent. He needs to make Nebraska an elite team in a very thin Big 12 Conference before his place in the pantheon can be elevated. Will Martinez get to that point? It's very possible – no cautionary voice or patience-preaching critic is trying to take anything away from him; precisely the opposite.
Let's allow big achievements to be big achievements. Let's not treat the conquering of Kansas State as this great "Moses On Mount Sinai" moment when Martinez received two stone tablets and was made the 2011 Heisman frontrunner. That hurts Martinez himself and is unfair to a young man who shouldn't have to bear Atlas-level expectations before the appropriate time and place. Overdoing the Martinez hype right now will only fuel the familiar "build ‘em up and tear ‘em down" pattern that sadly but genuinely permeates so much of our 24/7 coverage of sports (and politics, and celebrity). It honors the season and Martinez himself to hold off on the ultra-effusive and extremely exclamatory ejaculations.
Framing Martinez's performance in Heisman terms, let's remember something about the Heisman Trophy race: Saying that a given person should not win the Heisman does not represent a knock against that individual. It merely means that person isn't one of the three or four best players in the United States. If you're one of the 50 best players in America, you've done quite well for yourself, so let's not think that an "anti-Heisman" sentiment with regard to a certain player represents a statement clothed in hatred. Seeing Heisman discussions (and more specifically, arguments against candidates, not for them) within a prism of hatred-versus-approval entirely misses the mark.
Taylor Martinez is a really good player who had a really good game. Let's wait to say anything more at this point in time. Praise him, yes, but praise him modestly, and not with the fanfare worthy of Julius Caesar or any other historic-political figure Beano Cook might invoke in one of his more colorful moments.