We read story after story about Taylor Martinez's work with quarterback guru Steve Calhoun in the spring and summer. Some believed it, some dismissed it. Some insisted it was too late and ridiculed the whole notion. Now after game one, it's not just talk anymore. It's absolutely real. Sure Martinez has had good games throwing the ball before: see the Oklahoma State in 2010 or Northwestern in 2011. But this one was different; in past games, the passes sometimes were caught despite themselves. Against Southern Miss, the accuracy was improved and more importantly, the touch was there. Yes, it's just one game, but it is more substantial than talk. We'll see if Martinez can do it again, but for now, we have to give the man credit.
Each week, we'll grade the Huskers performance by position as well as make a few selected grades about the rest of college football. (Yes, we saw what you did, Steve Pederson!) After the jump, we begin with the Huskers.QB: You know what's more impressive about Martinez's day? It's not the 76.5% completion percentage, it's the fact that Martinez only carried the ball six times on the day. Martinez was a one-dimensional quarterback against Southern Miss, and it was by choice. Oh, and he's mastering the "game manager" part as well. On that touchdown pass to Kenny Bell, you can watch him audible into the play and get the audible properly signaled to both sides of the field. Martinez didn't need to carry the ball on Saturday, and you know he hasn't forgotten how to bust a long run. Ron Kellogg III played the last half of the fourth quarter, but merely handed off. Tommy Armstrong III stayed on the bench, so you have to think the coaches are hoping to redshirt him. Brion Carnes didn't even appear to be suited up on the sideline. Grade: A
RB: Rex Burkhead had a really nice touchdown run which highlighted why I don't see him as a serious Heisman candidate. He simply doesn't have that burst, that fourth gear where he can separate from the secondary on a long run. Don't get me wrong on Burkhead; he's a great back...but I just don't see him having enough SportsCenter "ooh" plays to win the Hypesman. But that's all moot at this point; a sprained MCL in his knee ended his day before the first quarter was over. Now the big question is how long he'll be out. Pelini called him "day-to-day" or "week-to-week". My guess is that he'll be back for the Wisconsin game, if I'm reading the Pelini coach-speak properly. Ameer Abdullah looked fine in relief, looking better running between the tackles than he did last season. Nice hands on that touchdown catch as well. Braylon Heard looked really good on his three carries; I'd like to see a little more of him. Imani Cross looked pretty powerful, and Mike Marrow makes the triple option another little thing defenses need to prepare for. Grade: B+
WR: The receivers deserve a lot of credit for Martinez's big day; not every ball was perfectly thrown, but they caught just about everything they could. 9 guys caught passes, including guys who hadn't played much like Steven Osborne. Kyler Reed looks to be back after an injury plagued 2011 season. Jamal Turner led the Huskers with 43 yards after the catch, showing us the playmaking ability we've been waiting to see. Most importantly, he was blocking downfield on Burkhead's long run. He's no longer the liability away from the ball that he was last season. With Tim Marlowe apparently out for a while, Turner is going to get his chance to shine...and a national prime-time telecast on Fox with Gus Johnson and Erin Andrews is the perfect showcase. Grade: A+
OL: Looking around the interwebs, I don't see any armed mobs headed towards Barney Cotton...so the line must have been fine. Other than that sack by Jamie Collins, the line performed admirably. Collins is going to be playing on Sundays next year, so that's probably not a huge negative. I didn't notice as much rotation as I had hoped, but the ball was snapped so quickly, I didn't get as good of a read on that. Grade: A-
DL: This is one of those grades that has changed since I left the stadium. Originally, I was disappointed with the push upfront. It seemed that Southern Miss was able to run when they wanted to, and get good yardage. On third down, they just couldn't get off the field. Then I thought about it a bit; Nebraska really didn't know what Southern Miss was going to do. John Papuchis had to do most of his scouting based on newspaper reports out of Hattiesburg. So they had to play a little vanilla and adjust on the fly. Then I looked at the stat sheet with eight tackles for loss. Considering USM had four starters returning on their offensive line, that's not such a bad performance. Grade: B-
LB: The biggest surprise to me was that Alonzo Whaley played so much in lieu of Sean Fisher. When I saw Whaley listed as a backup to Fisher, I assumed that was because Whaley wasn't going to play as much when Nebraska was going to be in a nickel package. Both Whaley and Will Compton (who led the Huskers with 12 tackles) had decent games. Again, I'm feeling better on this now than I did yesterday afternoon. Grade: B-
Secondary: Inexperience at quarterback for Southern Miss meant that the secondary wasn't really tested. I was impressed by some of the youngsters in the second half. Corey Cooper had a big-time stop on run defense out of the dime, and Josh Mitchell launched everything he had trying to stop Anthony Alford on a scramble. (He missed, but only because Alford ducked out of bounds.) Andrew Green got called for a bogus pass interference penalty. Grade: B+
Special Teams: Brett Maher had one of those days where he frankly, couldn't do much of anything right. He was so good last year, I have to pass it off as just "one of THOSE days". Let's hope that it was just that. Kick coverage was pretty abysmal, and that's something that HAS to be fixed. If nothing else, just bang it through the end zone with the kickoff moved up five yards. Or if you can't do that regularly, just go ahead and kick it out of bounds...you only lose 10 yards as long as you get it past the 35 yard line. Grade: F
Overall: B+ Pretty good opening performance. Lots to be optimistic about, but still a few things to be worked on. It's just one game, so don't go reading more into this than that. But let's also note that Nebraska's performance was the best in the B1G in the first week.
Game Management: F The staff at the stadium failed in the basics for the first game. Lines were incredibly long to get into the game, and at one gate in the northeast corner of the stadium, they closed the gate with people still waiting to get into the game. Some concession stands ran out of drinks, which could have been deadly in this heat. Nobody should have been surprised by the heat; it's been broiling all summer long. And one bottle of water I bought at halftime was past it's expiration date; how does THAT happen?
Elsewhere in College Football
Alabama: A+ Wow. Simply wow.
Michigan: D The Weasels had a lot of things bounce right for them in 2011. I don't think Michigan is that bad, but they aren't as good as some people thought they were.
Michigan State: C The Spartans will only go as far as Le'Veon Bell and their defense can carry them. Anybody who was surprised by what happened against Boise State either didn't do their research or are easily mislead by preseason talk.
Ohio: A Good job by Frank Solich and the Bobcats by winning at Penn State.
Iowa: C- Well, Northern Illinois was a bowl team last year.
Wisconsin: D- You nearly gave Kevin Kugler an Appalachian State moment.
B1G: C- Ohio State looked good, but Miami-Ohio isn't much of an opponent.
Oregon First Half: A+ Go for two on the first touchdown of the season, then lead Arkansas State 43-3 with just 4 minutes gone in the second quarter? Chip Kelly, you RUTSSOB.
Oregon Second Half: F Now I know why you ran the score up in the first half. A 57-34 final?
Pitt: 0 Heck of a deal for Steve Pederson. It only cost $400,000 to get Youngstown State to come to Heinz Field and kick the Panthers around. The entire state of Pennsylvania felt the effects of Pederson's incompetence, when you combine this with Ohio's victory over Penn state.