Saturday night was a bad night behind the wheel for two Huskers. Around 11 pm, a Lincoln police report cited Eric Martin for backing his 1997 Oldsmobile Aurora into a 2003 Chevy Monte Carlo in the Wal-Mart parking lot on north 27th Street in Lincoln. Martin and a female passengers glanced at the Monte Carlo, and later told police that they didn't think there was any damage, so they drove away. On Sunday, police ticketed Martin for leaving the scene of an accident.
Two hours later, police found Mike Caputo asleep inside his Ford F-150 pickup at a convenience store with the engine running. Caputo was taken into custody, and a preliminary test showed his blood-alcohol level at .103. The legal limit in Nebraska is .08; charges are pending against Caputo.While the legal system will work through the issues on their own schedule, a decision by Bo Pelini and Tom Osborne on the status of Martin and Caputo will need to be made sooner. Based on past precedent, it's likely that Caputo's career at Nebraska is over. Earlier this afternoon, Pelini released a statement on Caputo, saying that he's awaiting more information before commenting further. But look at past history: Rickey Thenarse and Baker Steinkuhler were both suspended for last year's Holiday Bowl after being charged with driving under the influence last December. Thenarse was a senior like Caputo as well.
Martin's situation is a little more nebulous, as the charge is not as serious as Caputo's. It remains to be seen what punishment Martin will receive as a result of this incident.
I always cringe about talking about the football impacts of these situation because it truly is secondary to the legal situation. In Caputo's situation, the loss of Nebraska's starting center on the offensive line is a huge blow. Sophomore Cole Pensick and redshirt freshman Mark Pelini (nephew of Bo and Carl Pelini) have seen very limited action this season in relief of Caputo; both players likely will be candidates to replace Caputo in the Capital One Bowl. Sophomore Spencer Long also practiced some at center in preseason practice before focusing on offensive guard.
This injury highlights one criticism I've had with Nebraska's coaching staff this season with the offensive line: lack of substitution. Nebraska has preferred to play their best offensive linemen in each game, so the backups have not received much in-game experience except in blowouts. With the strength of the schedule that Nebraska has faced this season, mop-up time has been in short supply this season. Now, it may come back to bite Nebraska as the Huskers may need to go into a bowl game with a huge question mark at center.
Personally, I like the idea of getting the top backups on the offensive line time in each and every game. It spells the starters, keeping them fresher for later in the game. It develops depth which comes in handy in future (whether it's an injury, a suspension, or graduation; remember that Caputo is a senior), and helps wear down the defensive line even further. But Nebraska's coaching staff apparently feels different on that issue.
While Martin hasn't starter, he's seen increased playing time in recent games in relief of Jason Ankrah. If Martin's availability against South Carolina is affected, look for junior college transfer Joe Carter to see even more action backing up Ankrah.
Those two hours on Saturday night are going to be rather costly to two Nebraska players, and the repercussions of that night could have a big impact on the Capital One Bowl game against South Carolina. It's definitely not the news that Nebraska fans want to hear.