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September 25, 2010

A very curious affair, indeed

This is not the way I envisioned the Nebraska-South Dakota State game going down.

The Cornhuskers were supposed to be getting some snaps for their third-string quarterback in the fourth quarter, not fighting to keep the Jackrabbits in the rearview mirror. The word “struggle“ was not supposed to appear in this column.

NU beat South Dakota State 17-3 Saturday night, and it was a struggle all the way.

There was no wearing down the outmanned opponent and pulling away in the fourth quarter. The Jacks outgained NU in the fourth quarter while the Huskers mostly walked around looking confused and frustrated, playing into the hands of the visitors from the north who wanted a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game.

SDSU showed the game plan to beat Nebraska. On offense, pound the Huskers between the tackles. On defense, force their inexperienced quarterbacks to beat you throwing the ball. You can bet that Bill Snyder will review this game film quite carefully.

Taylor Martinez and Cody Green were not up to the challenge against the Jackrabbits. Neither was the rest of the offense, especially the line, which dominated Washington but was often ineffective against a lower-division team that seemed to have a lot more gas in its tank than Nebraska did.

Niles Paul? The senior fumbled a punt, otherwise, was pretty much invisible. To this point, Paul has not become the consistent force that NU coaches hoped he would.

Guys like Zac Lee, Andrew Rodriguez, Cole Pensick and Jason Ankrah, who should have gotten a lot of meaningful snaps? They never saw the field against the Jacks.

In fact, if SDSU only had a few more good athletes, it might have won the game. As it was, if the Jacks hadn’t had a couple of touchdowns called back by penalties well, you get the idea.

When Steve Pederson scheduled this one, it was supposed to provide an easy win for Bill Callahan and the Cornhuskers. Those coaching arrangements changed along the way, and with them came an improvement in Husker football fortunes. That’s what made Nebraska’s sleepwalking performance all the more puzzling. This Husker offense was about as effective as Callahan’s 2004 model.

The main satisfaction that Nebraska fans can take out of this weekend was that Pederson’s present school, the University of Pittsburgh, looked even worse than the Big Red, getting clobbered 31-3 by Miami on its home field. And that Texas lost to UCLA, the team that lost at Kansas State to open the season. Whoops, guess who’s up next?

But there was trouble in Manhattan too. The Wildcats almost fell to Central Florida before scoring the winning touchdown in the final minute, and Oklahoma had to recover an onside kick late in the game to hold off 1-3 Cincinnati. None of the major players in the Big 12 had a good week.

Nebraska simply was not in the right frame of mind to play well, and Bo Pelini took responsibility for that after the game. Nobody – including Pelini – looked good against SDSU, especially Martinez and Green.

When reporters asked Shawn Watson earlier this fall if opponents would cause the Huskers problems by stuffing the box with defenders, the offensive coordinator confidently predicted that Martinez would make them pay with his passing arm, which we heard was much improved.

We also heard that Martinez was passing as well or better as any quarterback Watson has ever coached.

Well, Martinez has a lot of promise, but has a long way to go to catch Joe Ganz when it comes to throwing the ball. Heck, he’s a long way from being as good a passer as Bobby Pesavento, who flourished under Watson at Colorado in 2001. Martinez looked good throwing the ball in Seattle, but against SDSU, T-Magic looked just like a freshman in his fourth game.

Green is a sophomore, and as was the case against Oklahoma last year, he came into the game after the starter had faltered with a chance to prove himself. He did nothing of the sort. Green continues to be a disappointment.

Against Washington, the Huskers humbled all the naysayers who said they were overrated coming into the 2010 season. Against South Dakota State, the Huskers made them all look like geniuses.

So Nebraska is having trouble with consistency, the way most other college football teams – except Alabama, Ohio State and Boise State – have so far this year. But under Pelini, Nebraska has played more consistently on the road than it has at home.

IF the Husker coaching staff is right, and if Homecoming 2010 really was one unending series of execution problem, then things should get better quickly. Envisioning is a dangerous thing these days, but I look for the Huskers to regain their focus and play extremely well against Kansas State on Oct. 7.

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