|South Dakota State||0||0||3||0||3|
LINCOLN — It wasn't so obvious at the time, but maybe that first offensive play Saturday night was the sign of things to come for Nebraska.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, so smooth and so effective through his first three games, ran into a South Dakota State defender and lost the football.
Hardly reason to panic, especially considering that Nos. 6 and 7 Nebraska had nearly 56 minutes of football left against a winless lower-division team that was supposed to be overwhelmed by a Memorial Stadium crowd of 85,573.
But a good chunk of the next 63 snaps didn't go much better for Martinez and the NU offense, and the 17-3 victory likely raised some eyebrows as the score made its way across tickers and into national television roundups.
“We played bad football,” NU coach Bo Pelini said. “Tonight we were a bad football team.”
Pelini said to put the blame “squarely on my shoulders,” that he didn't have his team ready to play, but struggled to explain why.
And this one begged for some explaining.
“We didn't play up to our standards,” NU offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. “Nebraska here has a great standard, and that’s not what we lived up to today. That’s not the way we play football around here and that’s not the way things need to be done around here, and that needs to change.”
Nebraska (4-0) will come out of September unbeaten for the first time since 2005, but the plug was at least temporarily pulled on the momentum it seemed to be building.
It was most obvious on offense, where South Dakota State (0-3) flustered a Martinez-led unit that came into the game ranking No. 4 nationally in rushing, No. 5 in scoring and No. 8 in total yards.
It was inevitable that Martinez would eventually hit some bumps, but they weren't expected to come against an SDSU program that just six years ago made the jump from NCAA Division II to I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision). Before being replaced by Cody Green with just under 10 minutes left to play, Martinez had thrown two interceptions, lost a fumble and was penalized 15 yards for taunting.
You had to wonder about the fumble — caused by safety Anthony Wise and recovered by Winston Wright — which would have put Nebraska in a 7-0 hole if not for an SDSU penalty on a potential touchdown and then a Husker goal-line stand.
“It’s not good getting started that way, obviously,” NU offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “We all know that. He’s a tough guy, so he’s going to try to tough his way through that and put it behind him, but I’m sure in the back of his head that was on him. It’s just natural.”
Martinez did recover, throwing a 64-yard pass to Mike McNeill to set up the Huskers’ first score and notching the second with a 33-yard TD pass to Kyler Reed. But the rhythm and explosiveness weren't quite the same as the past three games, as Pelini said Martinez made some bad decisions and others around him failed to execute as well.
“He didn’t have a very good day, but it goes well beyond the quarterback position, I promise you,” Pelini said. “There were a lot of issues out there.”
After getting the 14-0 lead with 10:46 left before halftime, the NU offense went its next five possessions without scoring. After a 30-yard field goal by Alex Henery to start the fourth quarter, Martinez’s last play was a pass that he fired right into the gut of linebacker Derek Domino.
Domino ran it back 66 yards for an apparent score, but the return was negated by teammate Andy Mink being called for a block below the waist near midfield.
“At times I tried too hard to try to make the offense get a play,” Martinez said. “I tried my best, and obviously it didn't work very well.”
Nebraska finished with a season-low 345 total yards. Only three of its 64 plays went for longer than 20. After Martinez and I-backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead all reached 100 yards rushing at Washington, none managed more than 75 on Saturday night.
“I don’t want to say we took a step back, but we did not play well,” Watson said.
Throw some credit the way of the Jackrabbits, who took some of the air out of rising expectations as NU heads into Big 12 play.
“I thought they outplayed us,” Pelini said. “They outhit us. They flew around with more passion than we did. For us to walk out in our stadium and play like that ... I’m embarrassed.”
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier pointed to his defensive coaches for a good game plan against what he called a tough offense to defend. He also pointed to that first play being indicative of what might be ahead for Martinez.
“The first time they ran the ball, our free safety came up and smacked him and he fumbled the ball,” Stiegelmeier said. “Many times we had two guys on him. We wanted to take him out of the game.”
|Yards per carry||3.8||4.3|
Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against South Dakota State.
|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 11 games on Sept. 25. See them all »
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