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.