alternate headline: man does job
taylor martinez no longer throws like a girl who can't throw a football
Where have you gone, perfect-passin' Taylor?
Nebraska needed two touchdowns in the final six minutes to eke by Northwestern on the "road," 29-28, last Saturday. The game wasn't nearly as close as the score would indicate, however, as it took three Husker fumbles—two on muffed punts—to nearly negate a 543-301 total yardage advantage. For most of the game, Northwestern's best offense was to punt to Nebraska and dive on the football.
The first seven minutes of the game and the final two minutes were cut off, respectively, by the Ohio State-Purdue overtime and my DVR (note to self: extend recording an hour, not 30 minutes), and there's no torrent available, so this breakdown covers the middle 51 or so minutes.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? The Husker offense leans heavily spread-run, with the vast majority of the snaps coming out of the shotgun except in short-yardage situations, when they usually go I-form.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? A team that runs as much as Nebraska is going to show both gap and zone blocking concepts. They run a fair amount of inside and outside zone, but also showed some interesting ways to get Martinez on the edge with pulling linemen (see the play breakdown below).
Hurry it up or grind it out? Nebraska had a slightly above-average pace last year and looks to be in the same range this year; they're not a sprint-to-the-line spread squad.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): You're likely pretty familiar with Taylor Martinez, who currently sits behind only Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller in the rushing standings among Big Ten quarterbacks. He's always been a very solid runner, with speed only surpassed by Denard among B1G QBs, and he broke a surprising number of tackles against Northwestern. The threat he provides with his legs makes the Husker offense very difficult to defend—I'll give him an 8, and that could easily be a 9.
Dangerman: With running back Rex Burkhead likely out of the game this weekend, Martinez becomes the focal point of the Husker offense. Another player to watch is sophomore wideout Kenny Bell, currently leading the team in receiving with 26 catches for 540 yards (20.8 ypc) and five touchdowns. He's a tough cover, dangerous both going downfield or catching short passes and getting big YAC, and that's worrisome if Raymon Taylor is limited at all this weekend.
Zook Factor: Despite having one of the best rushing attacks in the country, Bo Pelini is quite conservative on fourth down, only going for it three times this year. The Huskers have converted twice, but the failure came against Northwestern, when they dialed up the same QB sweep that they ran on the previous play for seven yards—the Wildcats sniffed it out and stuffed in the backfield.
HenneChart: If you've listened to the podcast in the last couple of week, you know that the Big Ten's passing efficiency leader—by a wide margin, no less—is none other than Taylor Martinez. Yes, the very same Taylor Martinez who completed 56% of his passes with a 13/8 TD-to-INT ratio last year. T-Magic completed 27-of-39 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern. This must be a fluke, right?
Sure, part of Martinez's performance can be credited to Northwestern's craptastic secondary (107th in pass yardage, 54th in efficiency). However, most of it was due to improved mechanics and better decision-making. There were still flashes of the old T-Magic—back-to-back fourth-quarter passes earned the dreaded "Bad Read" label, and both were potentially game-sealing interceptions that were dropped by the Wildcats—but by and large he looks like a completely different quarterback.
[The rest of the breakdown goes after THE JUMP.]