LINCOLN — The cold November reality of Nebraska football debuted Saturday at Memorial Stadium, with a stifling defense and a quarterback still seemingly slowed by injury.
It was ugly but thorough, a 20-3 NU victory over Kansas that edged the eighth-ranked Huskers within one win of a repeat as North Division champs in their final year of Big 12 play.
Nebraska held the Jayhawks to 87 yards of offense, the fewest gained by an NU foe in more than a decade. But this 21st straight win in Lincoln over KU, on a chilly night before 85,587, also generated a few questions.
Atop the list, what’s the condition of Taylor Martinez’s right ankle? He looked more than a step slow Saturday despite rushing for 71 yards on 11 carries. The redshirt freshman, after missing a start last week, recorded no gain longer than 18 yards against the nation’s 108th-ranked rushing defense.
Martinez said he’s “almost 100 percent” healthy.
NU coach Bo Pelini dismissed questions about Martinez’s recovery. “He’s fine,” Pelini said.
But others were more forthcoming.
“I think it was obvious that he wasn't absolutely full speed,” offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. “But he’ll be back to his old self next week.”
We’ll see. This week, the Huskers visit rejuvenated Texas A&M, which after a rocky start has won four straight, including Saturday’s 42-30 win over Baylor.
“It was very important for me to get back out there,” said Martinez, who threw an interception and lost a fumble against KU, “just to know that it’s my team and no one else’s team — and for me to start establishing a rhythm once we go into Texas A&M and Colorado, like bigger games.”
Defensively, the Huskers look ready for the final stretch.
Kansas quarterback Quinn Mecham, the engineer of a 35-point comeback win last weekend against Colorado, completed 3 of 13 passes for 15 yards, none after halftime. The Blackshirts sacked the first-year starter six times.
“I’m very impressed,” said NU defensive tackle Jared Crick, who contributed two sacks among his nine tackles, “but also, I knew we could do that.”
Kansas drove across midfield just once, on its opening possession after returning the kickoff to its 45. The Jayhawks managed five first downs and scored only after linebacker Steven Johnson recovered a Martinez fumble at the NU 47 late in the third quarter. A 42-yard Jacob Branstetter field goal followed after a 22-yard drive, Kansas’ longest of the game.
“I've never been involved in anything even close to that,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “These days, teams in college football are hanging up 700 yards, so to hold a team to 200 or 300 is considered a good defensive game. To hold a team to 87 is unbelievable.”
The last team to gain so few against the Huskers? Baylor in 2000, which produced 84 yards.
Even Bo Pelini, typically hard to please, found little to criticize about the defense.
“You don’t hold somebody to that type of yardage without playing well across the board,” the third-year coach said.
Nebraska’s ninth straight November win required just 2 hours, 37 minutes to complete, a product of the defensive dominance and maybe a desire by both teams to get past this game.
It marked the return of Turner Gill to Lincoln. The former Nebraska quarterback and longtime assistant coach, in his first year as the KU coach, described the homecoming as “awkward.”
Pelini, meanwhile, experienced his own awkward moment after the victory when asked about the end of the nation’s longest continuous series after 105 straight years of NU-KU games.
“I don’t care,” Pelini said, adding that he has not experienced much of the series.
And perhaps that explains the finish as Nebraska fired the football downfield in the last minute before calling a timeout with 10 seconds left to finally down it.
“We hadn’t played our best football,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.
Rex Burkhead scored out of the Wildcat with 33 seconds left in the first quarter. Roy Helu danced into the end zone on a 20-yard run late in the second quarter. But Martinez turned it over on two of the first three possessions of the second half to help Kansas stay alive.
“He was OK,” Bo Pelini said. “I thought he was a little rusty, especially to start. We tried to protect him out there a little bit. That was kind of the plan going in, let him ease back into it.”
Martinez, too, described his showing as “OK.”
This time of year, OK works.
“It’s a win,” Cotton said, “and championships are won in November.”
|Yards per carry||2.1||4.7|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Western Kentucky||Sept. 4|
|South Dakota State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 20|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Nov. 13. See them all »
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