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September 18, 2010

Do you think we've found an offense here?

You know that Nebraska football is headed in the right direction when the Blackshirts make a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback look bad, and it’s not the major topic of conversation afterward.

What many had suspected, what NU coaches had predicted, is coming true. Nebraska has an offense again, and the rest of the nation is going to have to deal with it. Nebraska hung half a hundred on a respectable Pac-10 team opponent and piled up more than 500 yards of total offense in the process.

You couldn’t blame folks in Austin, Manhattan, Columbia and even Seattle for their skepticism. Except for one impressive Holiday Bowl performance, Nebraska hadn’t shown much on offense in the past year. But now it’s 2010, Taylor Martinez is gaining momentum at quarterback and the Cornhuskers have an offensive line that shows a lot of promise.

There are a lot of warning flags going up around the nation right now.

In its first two non-conference games, Nebraska had shown that it might be explosive this year, but in its 56-21 win at Washington, NU looks like it can be consistent as well. And best of all, Martinez provided early evidence that he can be an adequate passer as a freshman.

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Nebraska hasn’t defeated a Top 15 team yet, but Saturday in Seattle, the Huskers showed that they can. Even more surprising, they will keep the Shawn Watson doubters and Barney Cotton bashers quiet for at least a couple of weeks. They put together three plays of 20-plus yards in their first four snaps, and gained momentum from there.

The Callahan era is far behind us now. NU is on a stretch where it’s won nine of 10 games, and owns five consecutive wins in true road games.

The Husker offensive line chewed up a mediocre Husky defense, enabling Martinez to find success on the outside while Rex Burkhead shredded Washington between the tackles. Meanwhile, Roy Helu Jr. looked like a high-powered sports car once again. Nebraska rushed 54 times for 383 yards.

Three Huskers over 100 yards for the first time in nearly a decade. A nine-minute advantage in time of possession. Thirteen yards per passing attempt and seven per rush — all in a loud, hostile environment. The only way to make old-school Husker fans feel better right now would be to hand the doggoned ball to the fullback once in a while.

The Huskers are putting together a running game with enough power and speed — and just enough passing — to strike fear into the Big 12. Just like old times.

Could it be that Watson’s plan is coming together? Stay tuned as tougher defenses line up across from the Big Red.

Martinez went turnover-free and made a lot of good decisions. Most notably, he converted several third-and-medium or third-and-long situations with his arm instead of his legs. Defensive coordinators may still pack the box against Martinez, but they will wince a lot while doing it, knowing they may well get burned.

This team still has a ways to go. Penalties are still a weakness, but there was improvement even in that category. The Huskers had seven penalties for 49 yards, fewer than half the penalty yardage of a week ago. The encouraging sign was that after suffering through a sloppy streak, after racking up three penalties for 25 yards in seven-play stretch late in the first quarter, with the Husky fans seemingly getting into the heads of the Nebraska o-linemen, the Huskers suddenly got a grip on their problem, committing only one more penalty until the game was well in hand.

If you want something to be concerned about — and most true Husker fans do — you can fret about the way Washington ran the ball up the middle against the Blackshirts in the first half. Big 12 opponents will try to find a way to exploit the softness in the middle, starting with Kansas State on Oct. 7, but I think the Pelini brothers will find a way to shut down that highway.

The Blackshirts deserve credit for shutting down Jake Locker just as thoroughly as they did another good NFL prospect, Nathan Enderle, the week before. Even with two top-caliber linebackers sidelined by injuries, this defense can do what needs to be done. And even better news: the offense appears to be getting the same idea, as well.

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 tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive