Nebraska-Kansas St. Preview
Nebraska has had some time to think about a sloppy offensive performance. The Cornhuskers know they will likely need to be much sharper on that side of the ball if they want to win their Big 12 opener.
Coming off a bye week, the No. 7 Huskers look to open 5-0 for the first time since 2003 as they head to Manhattan to face Kansas State on Thursday night.
Nebraska is unbeaten largely because of the excellent start by quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is averaging 124 rushing yards - 11th most in the country - and has scored eight touchdowns on the ground.
The redshirt freshman had begun to hear his name in Heisman Trophy discussions after three straight 100-yard rushing games, but his inexperience showed during a 17-3 win over South Dakota State on Sept. 25.
Martinez lost a fumble on Nebraska's first possession and threw two interceptions later in the game. He went 6 of 14 for 140 yards with a touchdown, and was held to a season-low 75 rushing yards before being replaced by Cody Green in the fourth quarter.
"Sometimes I tried too hard to try to make the offense make a play," Martinez said. "I tried my best. Obviously, it didn't work out very well."
Martinez received a vote of confidence from offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.
"He'll live to see another day," Watson said. "He has to learn from this experience and then get back in the saddle. He's a tough kid, a tough competitor. He told me he's fine and he'll be ready to go back to work."
Martinez should have a good chance to bounce back against Kansas State, which is allowing a Big 12-worst 195.5 rushing yards per game.
Nebraska ran for 205 yards against South Dakota State, but averaged 4.3 yards per carry and went 4 of 13 on third-down conversions.
While the offense struggled, Nebraska limited the Jackrabbits' Thomas O'Brien to 95 passing yards.
Linebacker Lavonte David recorded 19 tackles, the most by a Husker since 2004, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard picked off a pass for the third consecutive game.
Nebraska is allowing 12.8 points a contest, tied for seventh fewest in the nation, and has given up 126.3 passing yards per game - third best in the country. The Huskers, though, are allowing 139 yards a game on the ground, and they face a tough task in stopping Kansas State's Daniel Thomas.
The senior ran for 552 yards and six TDs in the first three games but was shut down in a 17-13 victory over Central Florida on Sept. 25, rushing for a season-low 76 yards on 22 carries with no scores.
Thomas, though, had 99 yards rushing and 51 receiving in a 17-3 loss at Nebraska on Nov. 21, and the Huskers took notice.
I do get excited. I'm not going to lie,'' safety Rickey Thenarse said. '' ... So it's time to step up to a running back and show what we're all about. We're not backing down. I'm not backing down. I'm looking forward to this challenge.''
Kansas State (4-0, 1-0) capped its comeback win over Central Florida on quarterback Carson Coffman's 7-yard TD run with 24 seconds left. Coffman, who led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, went 11 for 22 for 189 yards, one touchdown pass and one interception.
"We laid a massive egg during the first half of the ballgame and a good portion of the second half," coach Bill Snyder said. "But when we had to have it, we were able to get it."
While the Huskers have beaten the Wildcats five straight times, coach Bo Pelini expects a battle Thursday.
"They are a good football team," he said. "They are well coached. They are physical. They are good team. It will be a real challenge on the road. We're looking forward to it."
Kansas State, which defeated Iowa State 27-20 on Sept. 18, has not started 2-0 in Big 12 play since 2000.
Nebraska leads the all-time series 77-15-2.