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September 11, 2010

A good day for big plays, but ...

It was a good day for big plays. It was a bad day for consistency.

If you like highlight-reel football, the second quarter alone of Nebraska’s 38-17 victory over Idaho should keep you happy all week. If you like solid execution on offense, you are very nervous as the Cornhuskers prepare for a Week 3 road trip to Seattle.

gomes (2K)
Photo courtesy
of Huskers.com
The defense took a step forward Saturday in a 38-17 win over Idaho, and the offense showed signs of doing the same — until it started shooting itself in both feet.

Nebraska had consecutive scoring plays of 67, 58, 40 and 47 yards in an electric second quarter the last two on interception returns by DeJon Gomes and Rickey Thenarse. After that, the Husker offense seemed satisfied to settle back and watch the highlights on the big screen at Memorial Stadium.

NU gained 360 yards rushing on 41 attempts. For the first time in five years, it had two 100-yard rushers in the same game — very encouraging signs. I-backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead showed some punch, and they combined for 18 carries and 184 yards.

On the other hand, Nebraska had five red-zone chances and scored one touchdown and one field goal. The Huskers were stopped on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. If you can’t convert that against Idaho, what is going to happen when you have to do it against Texas or Kansas State?

thenarse (2K)
Photo courtesy
of Huskers.com
It was very inconsistent day of work for the Husker offense. Four turnovers and 10 penalties were like so much sand and gravel in the crankcase of a Corvette. It’s a wonder the Huskers cranked out as much yardage as they did.

Freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, who started his second game, again showed explosiveness and big-play ability, rushing for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries and passing for 106 yards. He also made a couple of rookie mistakes. He forced a while trying to avoid a sack, and paid the price with an interceptions. He also lost the ball as he approached the goal line in the third quarter. Martinez managed to jump on his own fumble in the end zone, or Nebraska would have had no touchdowns in five red zone chances.

Both mistakes were fairly inexpensive against Idaho, and if Martinez is a quick learner, their memory will serve him well later this season.

His counterpart, Idaho senior Nathan Enderle, had a forgettable return to his home state, throwing five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and was sacked five times. His mistakes were devastating. Normally a high-percentage passer, Enderle completed just 16 of 31 throws for 141 yards, which doesn’t cut it in the Vandals’ short passing game.

The Blackshirts cuffed Enderle around for most of the game, but they inexplicably let up late in the fourth quarter and allowed second-string quarterback Brian Reader to move the Vandals 98 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown with 2:31 remaining.

It was a day that looked a little better than it really was. It was one of those classic “mixed bag” games that Tom Osborne used to talk about. If the Huskers can learn from it and cut down their mistakes in next week’s game at Washington, it will have been worth a lot. That bad taste of a lackadaisical second half leaves Bo Pelini and the Huskers with a lot to work on this week in practice.

“Finish” is a nice team motto for the Huskers. It remains to be seen whether the Big Red will actually take it to heart and live it out this season. After two games, they have learned some valuable lessons, but the Huskers have not been overly impressive. If they want to stay in the Top 10, they’ll have to start playing like they belong there.

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker has covered University of Nebraska and state high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. | Archive