No. 16 Nebraska looks for offense to improve
Nebraska's quarterback is gimpy, its offense is struggling and resurgent Colorado is coming to Lincoln on Friday.
The Cornhuskers figured they would go into Thanksgiving week celebrating a second straight Big 12 North title. But their penalty-filled 9-6 loss at Texas A&M on Saturday night means they need to beat the Buffaloes to make it back to Arlington, Texas, to play for the Big 12 championship in their last year in the league.
The Big Ten-bound Huskers would back into the North title if Kansas upsets Missouri this week.
''If we take care of business next Friday, we'll give ourselves a chance at the league championship. That's our main focus anyway,'' coach Bo Pelini said.
Nebraska (9-2, 5-2) dropped from No. 9 to No. 16 in The Associated Press poll Sunday after its dismal offensive performance against the Aggies (8-3, 5-2).
The Huskers have produced two touchdowns in their last nine quarters of regulation play. The offensive slowdown has coincided with the injury problems of quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Martinez was mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate at midseason, but he hasn't been able to get over a right ankle sprain he sustained against Missouri on Oct. 30.
Martinez aggravated the injury in the first quarter against A&M when center Mike Caputo stepped on the ankle as an Aggies defender pushed him backward. Martinez returned in the second quarter and finished with 17 yards on 11 carries and 11-of-17 passing for 107 yards, with an interception.
''I don't think he played well,'' Pelini said. ''He did some things OK, but he missed some wide-open receivers. It was good that he came back out there and sucked it up for us.''
The ankle clearly was giving Martinez problems in the passing game. He wasn't able to push off his right foot.
Pelini said he played Martinez in the second half rather than continue with Cody Green because he thought the redshirt freshman was healthy enough. The coach said he didn't know if that was the case after the game.
''It's too early to tell,'' Pelini said. ''He finished the game fine, so I figure he'll be fine for next Friday.''
Rex Burkhead ran for 74 yards and Roy Helu Jr. for 52, but 64 of their combined 126 yards came on two carries. The offense was called for three false starts, two holds and two illegal formations.
''We didn't play well offensively,'' he said. ''It was a disappointment. We need to pick it up.''
The Huskers were flagged 16 times for 140 yards, both school records. Among them were five personal fouls - two each on Ben Cotton and Eric Martin and one on D.J. Jones - and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Pelini for one of his numerous sideline tirades against the officials.
The biggest penalty was a questionable roughing-the-passer call on safety Courtney Osborne that kept alive the Aggies' game-winning drive. Ryan Tannehill threw incomplete to Kenric McNeal on third-and-11 from the Nebraska 49, but Osborne hit the quarterback in the chest just after he released the pass.
The penalty gave A&M a first down at the Nebraska 34, and six plays later Randy Bullock kicked a 19-yard field goal for the 9-6 lead with 3:02 left.
''That penalty hurt us, obviously,'' Pelini said. ''We were off the field right there.''