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October 7, 2010

Martinez unleashes mass devastation in Manhattan

This was surgical. The victim was dead before he even hit the ground.

With a few swift strokes, Nebraska ripped the guts out of the previously unbeaten Kansas State Wildcats, drained the blood out of what was supposed to be the most ravenous crowd in the history of Manhattan, Kan., and left town with a 48-13 victory Thursday night in front of a national television audience.

Wielding the scalpel was freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, who ran the zone read option to perfection and clawed the Cats for 241 yards rushing, including touchdowns of 14, 35, 80 and 41 yards.

Something in this kid makes him rise to the occasion. He went to Seattle on the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death and shredded the University of Washington in the great guitarist’s hometown. Now he goes and thoroughly embarrasses Bill Snyder in his own stadium – on his birthday.

His passing arm looked average at best, but the Huskers really didn’t need his arm on this night. Maybe next week against Texas they will, but in Manhattan, it was a reprise of a dreaded drama that the Little Apple thought – well, maybe hoped – it had seen for the last time.

Nebraska was back to its old tricks, pounding the life out of an outmanned opponent with its running game. Sure, it was the shotgun formation and the zone read option instead of the old power I option attack, but the results were predictably the same. The Huskers piled up 451 yards rushing and struck once for a long touchdown pass – 79 yards to Kyler Reed in the third quarter.

There was far too much talent, way too much execution for even the most hard-core Husker-hating crowd to withstand.

You know the drill. Dejected fans leave early, abandoning the stadium to the red-clad hordes. That’s how Nebraska fans left Manhattan for the last time after watching their team kick the Wildcats clear back to the bad old days of the 1980s.

Nebraska’s offensive line looked revitalized, and it steamrolled a K-State defense that had been suspect against the run going into the game. It appears that this experienced o-line is capable of great things when properly motivated and properly focused.

And the defense, after a slow start, played well. Its biggest moment came at the end of the Wildcats’ first drive, when Jared Crick stuffed quarterback Carson Coffman at the Husker 24-yard line on a fourth-and-2 option play. After that slow start, Nebraska played well on defense for the most part, giving up the majority of K-State’s 315 total yards long after the game was decided.

The Blackshirts looked very confident, and junior college transfer linebacker Lavonte David is starting to make sense of the Pelini brothers’ defensive schemes. That was David you saw wrapped around Daniel Thomas much of the night, helping hold the Big 12’s leading rusher to 63 yards on 22 carries and only 36 receiving yards on eight receptions. David had 16 tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack.

Neither Roy Helu nor Rex Burkhead even worked up a sweat. Helu cut loose for a 68-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 110 yards on eight carries. Burkhead had 57 yards on 11 rushes.

Second-string quarterback Cody Green made a decent showing, coming in for the last 10 minutes of the game, completing a pass and leading a sustained drive that ended in Alex Henery’s second field goal of the night.

But the night belonged to Martinez. The ESPN broadcast crew oohed and ahhed over the freshman, and you couldn’t blame them. Once T-Magic gets an opening and turns upfield, the next 30 yards are just a blur. And he appears to be starting to learn what to do with the ball when he can’t hit a home run. But it’s a bit too early for the Heisman talk; on Oct. 16, the Texas defense will make things more difficult for Martinez and the Big Red.

Manhattan is in the rearview mirror for the last time, and the hunt for a Big Red October is underway.

Photos courtesy of Huskers.com

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