S. Dakota State-Nebraska Preview

Led by its young star quarterback, Nebraska sprinted through its

first major test of the season last week. This week’s game could be

even less challenging.

After an impressive road victory, Taylor Martinez and the

sixth-ranked Cornhuskers try to wrap up non-conference play

unbeaten for the first time since 2005 when they host winless FCS

opponent South Dakota State on Saturday night.

Martinez opened the scoring in a 56-21 rout at Washington last

Saturday with a touchdown pass, but again was more potent on the

ground with 137 yards and three TDs on 19 carries.

Through three games, the freshman has completed 28 of 43 passes

for 392 yards, but he’s seventh among FBS rushers with 421 and

leads the nation with eight rushing touchdowns. While putting his

name among the early Heisman Trophy candidates, Martinez is

matching the exploits of the school’s previous winner.

He’s the first Nebraska quarterback to top 100 rushing yards in

three consecutive games since Eric Crouch did so to conclude his

2001 Heisman-winning campaign. Crouch also had four such games in a

row earlier that same season.

Martinez’s 80-yard TD run to open the second half against

Washington was the second-longest by a quarterback in school

history behind Crouch’s 95-yarder in 2001. That helped boost

Martinez’s average to 10.5 yards per carry – second-best in the

FBS.

“We put him in there because that’s what we thought he could be.

He’s an explosive athlete,” coach Bo Pelini said. “The most

exciting thing about it is he’s got a long way to go. There’s so

many areas where he can get better at. As he goes and keeps

progressing, we can be even more exciting.”

Trying to ascend back to its former height as a national power,

Nebraska (3-0) is using a familiar formula. The Huskers are fourth

in the FBS with 344.0 rushing yards per game. Roy Helu and Rex

Burkhead also topped 100 yards in the win over Washington.

Nebraska also is among the top 25 teams nationally in total

defense and points allowed. Last week, the Huskers defense handed

potential first-round draft pick Jake Locker one of his worst

career performances – 4 of 20 for 71 yards and two

interceptions.

Alfonzo Dennard returned one of those 31 yards for a touchdown.

Dennard and P.J. Smith have accounted for half of the team’s eight

interceptions, which ties Nebraska for second in the FBS behind

Florida’s 10.

Nebraska’s power on both sides of the ball might prove to be too

much for the Jackrabbits (0-2), who will face the Huskers for the

second time in school history.

Following its first FCS playoff appearance in 2009, South Dakota

State began this season ranked in the top 10 in a pair of polls but

has been outscored 50-17 in its first two games. The Jackrabbits

trailed 24-0 after three quarters last Saturday against visiting

Illinois State before scoring their first two touchdowns of the

season in the fourth of a 24-14 loss.

Senior Kyle Minett was one of the few bright spots with 120

yards on 18 carries after being held to 32 on 14 attempts in the

season opener at Delaware.

In 1963, South Dakota State, then a Division II program, sent 35

players to Lincoln and left with a 58-7 loss. With more parity

showing recently among the NCAA’s top two levels, Pelini said he

won’t take anything for granted.

“We’re going to treat this like any other game. If we don’t,

then we might have problems,” he said. “You look across the board;

(FCS) is pretty good. When they come to play an (FBS) opponent,

those players are out to prove they belong.”

This game is Nebraska’s first against an FCS opponent since a

56-7 win over Nicholls State in 2006.

The Huskers were 3-0 in non-conference play in 2005 and

previously finished 4-0 in 2003.