The Nebraska running game appears to be alive and well after all. Let the Husker Nation breathe a sigh of relief.
That was the main piece of news that came out of the Cornhuskers’ wild and entertaining 51-38 victory over Washington Saturday in Memorial Stadium. Entertaining, that is, if you are not a defensive purist. But I digress.
You wanted to see the Husker offense do something besides break big plays or go three-and-out? You got it. NU scored six touchdowns, none of them longer than 25 yards. Rex Burkhead ran effectively everywhere, including between the tackles, Taylor Martinez looked steadier as he directed the Huskers, fullback Tyler Legate carried the ball – twice – and two freshmen I-backs looked good as they carried the ball five times apiece.
You wanted to see the offensive line provide some push? You got it. While it will never be mistaken for the 1994 and 1995 versions of the Pipeline, the young Husker o-line is starting to grow up. Piling up 309 rushing yards against a respectable defense is extremely good news. It looked cohesive even while playing three walk-ons for much of the game. Andrew Rodriguez missed the whole game, but Jeremiah Sirles increased his playing time, Brent Qvale saw action and Jake Cotton started, getting some much-needed reps at right guard before Spencer Long took over for much of the afternoon. Marcel Jones may finally be putting his nagging back problems behind him, and Brandon Thompson got some snaps.
Barney Cotton has not developed much depth at offensive line yet, but games like this are just the thing you need to do it. The sharp-eyed folks who keep a close watch on the Nebraska offensive line – which includes at least two-thirds of the 1.7 million people who live in the Cornhusker State and another million or so more Big Red fans around the nation – should be breathing a little easier now.
Speaking of depth, how about 70 rushing yards from Braylon Heard and Aaron Green? That was something I really didn’t think I would see against the Huskies, who tied the Nebraska offense in knots last December in the Holiday Bowl.
In fact, it would have been a good, old-fashioned feel-good win all the way around if Brion Carnes had gotten some playing time at quarterback and the defensive line could have put more pressure on Keith Price, U-Dub’s promising young sophomore signal-caller, to take some pressure off the Husker secondary (which misses Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback in the worst way).
But that’s another story for another day.
You wanted to see the offense give the Blackshirts a chance to rest on the sidelines? You got it. The Husker offense generated 22 first downs, maintained possession for a shade over 30 minutes and ran 76 plays to 68 for Washington without losing the ball once. The only turnover came on special teams.
Martinez deserves credit for the relatively clean game on offense. He didn’t pile up staggering numbers, but he didn’t give the impression that he was teetering on the brink of disaster for half the game, either. That’s a net gain, in my opinion. He passed well enough early in the game to make Washington respect his arm, which opened up Nebraska’s running game.
While the Huskers didn’t do quite as well penalty-wise as they did the first two weeks of the season, they still had fewer penalties for less yardage than did Washington.
It was entertaining, and fans of Husker offense exactly what they wanted to see. Has Nebraska transformed itself from a team that wins low-scoring games to a team that has enough offense to win a shootout? It appears so.
Tim Beck had a good game plan. Any lingering memory of Shawn Watson has receded far into the background.
Whether the defense returns to form is a question – a very big question – for another day. Was that really the Blackshirts out there on the field? Can someone check into that?
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org