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October 22, 2012
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez has his fair share of critics, but you cannot deny the improvements he's made this season - and I'm not just talking from a statistical standpoint.
Yes the negative Martinez fans are going to point to his play against Ohio State and UCLA, but you could argue that if not for Martinez the Huskers would've had a hard time beating both Wisconsin and Northwestern.
The biggest thing I've noticed with Martinez since his freshman season is he's become more of a game manager and on-field leader.
On Saturday when things were going bad, you never saw Martinez try to force something that wasn't there, even though it would've been very easy to do. The moment that probably sticks out the most from Saturday was when Martinez made two of his better throws all season on a third-and-15 and a third-and-20 only to have them both overturned due to carless penalties.
"I was really pissed about those third down plays," Martinez said. "It was third-and-15 and we got the first and then the third-and-20 we got the first. It just didn't seem like anything was going right."
Instead of getting upset and losing his cool Martinez kept his composure. The young Taylor Martinez may not have been able to handle a meltdown like this.
The Taylor Martinez we saw at Northwestern didn't let the plays bother him and he moved on to the next possession.
"He really stepped up and showed that he wants to help our team win," wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said. "There were a few situations on the field where he made sure the offensive line was staying focused and making sure the receivers were focused and catching every ball.
"He's just being more vocal about it. He's making sure that we are as focused as he is."
When the rest of the offense sees Martinez acting like this it makes a big impact on everybody else.
"No matter the situation or no matter the score or no matter how late in the game it is he's going to stay calm, he's going to stay confident and he's going to do his thing in the backfield and it's a lot of fun to play with him," senior tight end Ben Cotton said. "He's a great leader. It's easy to play with a guy that is so calm and keeps his composure. He never snaps off and it's easy to be with a guy like that on the field."
Kaczenski has had success against Robinson
If I'm head coach Bo Pelini one guy I'm talking to more this week about coming up with a good game plan in slowing down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski.
In three games against the Wolverines at Iowa Kaczenski was a perfect 3-0. In last year's win against Michigan in Kaczenski's front four got constant pressure on Robinson and did a great job of bottling him up.
Robinson was just 17-of-37 passing for 194 yards against the Hawkeyes to go along with 55 yards rushing. In three games against Iowa Robinson has completed just 33-of-59 passes and rushed for 213 yards on 39 carries. The biggest thing I noticed about the three games is the Hawkeyes did a nice job of limiting Robinson's big plays, which a lot of times have a hard time doing.
If anything hopefully Kaczenski can bring a few fresh ideas to the meeting room on how they had success at Iowa on slowing down Robinson.
Nebraska plays big under the lights
I know a lot of Nebraska fans were surprised to see that the Huskers were a 2 ? to 3 point favorite against the Wolverines on Saturday.
However, if you follow NU's night game history you will see the Big Red rarely loses at home under the lights. Since the first night game in 1986 Nebraska is 36-5 and they have won 10 straight night games at home.
Of NU's five losses, all were to top 20 ranked opponents and four of them came against top 10 teams.
28 of NU's 36 night game wins at home have been by 13 points or more. The bottom line is the Huskers are a tough out at home.
It's tough to play at Memorial Stadium period, and at night it's almost worth an extra 7 points for the Big Red because the crowd has the ability to impact the game much more than an 11 am or 2:30 pm kickoff. I look for the atmosphere to play a big factor on Saturday, just like it did for Ohio State in Columbus earlier this season.
Around the state
***A big time congrats goes out to Lincoln Southwester linebacker Josh Banderas for officially accepting his U.S. Army All-American Bowl invite on Monday. Banderas is as good of a role model and leader that I've covered in my 14 seasons around Nebraska high school football.
***If you want good football, you'll get your pick of it on Friday. There will be two Class A playoff games at Seacrest Field in Lincoln featuring Lincoln Southeast and Lincoln Southwest and three games at Buell Stadium in Omaha featuring Millard North, Millard South and Millard West. The game of the day will be the 8 pm nightcap at Seacrest featuring a rematch of Omaha North vs. Lincoln Southwest.
***HuskerOnline.com video producer Gregg Peterson has seen as much high football as anyone locally, and he tells me that 2015 Omaha North running back Calvin Strong is as good as any sophomore running back he's ever covered.
***Millard North quarterback Isaac Aakre was more than just a workhorse this past week. On Friday he had 43 carries for 262 yards and three touchdowns in their 37-31 win over Omaha North.
Three and out
***Both Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Robinson made the semifinal list today for the O'Brien Award given to the nation's best quarterback. I feel like if you are going to put Robinson on there, Martinez is just as worthy. Even if you take away the Notre Dame and Alabama games from Robinson's stat line, he hasn't played that much better than Martinez if at all. To me it's more his name recognition and big play highlights. If you were to take the straight numbers right now, Martinez blows Robinson away.
***If Nebraska doesn't win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl it's going to be hard for the Outback Bowl in Tampa to pass on them. I don't see the Capital One Bowl taking the Big Red two years in a row and the Outback Bowl isn't going to take Michigan State two years in row. That leaves them with the option of Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue or Nebraska. It's hard for me to see them taking any of those teams over the Big Red. The Capital One Bowl would also love to get their hands on either Michigan or Wisconsin.
***It pains me to watch senior running back Rex Burkhead battle through his knee injury right now. He's one of the "good guys" in college football and "good guys" don't deserve to go out like this. Hopefully he can get healed up and we can see the true Burkhead down the final stretch run.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.