You know what was nice about this Illinois game, coming off the bye week? The lack of drama. Other than the short-lived question on whether Taylor Martinez was going to play for the Huskers this weekend, Nebraska got back to the business of football.
We knew going into game time that Tommy Armstrong was going to start and that there was a stabilizing factor in Ron Kellogg III behind the rookie. There was comfort in that for our fan base, nevermind that many of us are starting to think that TStrong > TMagic anyway. I made this argument to a fellow fan of mine earlier in the week, so follow this a bit. When I was covering Nebraska-Omaha hockey in its early days, the team had a goaltender, Kendall Sidoruk. Sid was a good goalie and was apt to make the spectacular save at least once a game, and he won some games for the Mavericks. He took the Mavericks farther than they ever had, smacking an egotistical Michigan team back to Ann Arbor on their way to the CCHA Championship Game in the team’s first year in the league.
At the same time he was equally susceptible to giving up a bonehead goal or two in a game. At times, you would watch and flinch, just a bit, every time a shot came his way. To me, this is where we are at with Taylor Martinez. He can be spectacular. He can take a potential sack and break it for a 92-yard touchdown. He can conjure a positive play out of the black hat, he can be TMagic. He can also be TFumble and lead the country in turnovers. This is the juice.
Perhaps it’s not fair to put Taylor in a vacuum like that. Turnovers were a cause for concern for the entire team coming into 2013. The Huskers were tied for second-to-last in turnovers last year with 35 lost (2.5 per game) and 108th in turnover margin at -12. So far this season the Huskers are tied for 18th in turnover margin at +5 through five games and have turned the ball over just 7 times (1.4 per game). This is ***buzz word alert*** progress of over 1 full turnover per game. Martinez was the QB for three of those five games, so he’s due a bit of credit also.
However, there is no “flinch factor” in me with either Tommy Armstrong or RKIII. There is no uneasy feeling when Armstrong lets it fly, his form passes the eyeball test in a way Martinez’ never will. I get the feeling that the team follows Armstrong into battle willingly, enthusiastically. Where it feels like the team follows Martinez as a function of the structure, maybe no other reason.
This all leads to far less drama. As much as I enjoyed the 20-point win over Illinois on Saturday, I found myself at times bored. There was no roller coaster. There was an immediate answer to any trepidation about Illinois and their dynamic senior quarterback Nathan Sheelhaase being an issue for the Huskers defense. Sheelhaase threw for just 135 yards on 50% completion and no touchdowns. The Huskers jumped out to a 17-0 lead didn’t look back.
Seeing Ameer Abdullah run for 225 yards was the ultimate calm from the storm. The fury and flurry of his running prowess but to bed any pressure on the young Armstrong and he wasn’t asked to do any more than just manage the situation, which he did in perfect drama-free fashion. It should be noted that Abdullah currently ranks ninth in the country in yards per game and seventh in total rushing yards. He is emerging as a true star, leading the Huskers to a ninth overall rank in rushing nationally, just under 300 yards per game.
That’s not to say things were perfect Saturday. The two missed extra points are something Huskers fans aren’t use to seeing. With the pipeline of pro-level kickers that have funneled through Lincoln, seeing free points squandered is puzzling. Also, the Imani Cross safety run was a mistake as well. Cross is a bruising runner and to run him out of that set to get off the goal line was the right play, but the east-west execution was a poor decision. These mistakes are small in a 20-point blowout, and are correctable, but still deserve some weekday attention.
Home sweet home is over for now. Time to go out and get our ranking back! (Which we did in the USA Today Poll, for what it’s worth)
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