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October 20, 2012

Final take: Huskers survive

EVANSTAN, Ill. - With 8:31 left in the fourth quarter Northwestern scored what appeared to be a back-breaking touchdown to put the Wildcats up 28-16.

Of the over 25,000 Nebraska fans in attendance at Ryan Field, some began to make their way to the exit aisles. Thankfully for the Huskers over 95 percent of the fans in attendance decided to stay.

Husker nation occupied well over half of Northwestern's stadium on Saturday, and you can argue they kept Nebraska on life support after countless miscues. Husker nation helped will Nebraska to a 29-28 come from behind victory - tying the largest fourth quarter comeback in school history.

If you are in Ann Arbor or Columbus this probably doesn't happen, but the large contingent of fans that traveled to Chicago kept this team alive when it looked they were being read their last rights. The season was on the line and the Huskers delivered when it counted the most.

"What do you say about that one," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I'm proud of our team and the resiliency they showed. I thought it was a good team win."

Most importantly junior quarterback Taylor Martinez delivered.

So many times in this situation when Nebraska has been down on the road Martinez has struggled to make the throws in the clutch. Today was a different story.

Martinez arguably played his best game as a Husker finishing 27-of-39 with 342 yards and three touchdowns. In the fourth quarter alone Martinez was 10-of-14 for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

"He was poised the whole time," Pelini said of Martinez. "He kept his poise better than his head coach did."

Going forward it's hard to say what this win will mean. If Nebraska is able to "win out," people will go back to this fourth quarter comeback in Northwestern was the turning point of the season.

The key is they need to build off it. The mistakes and miscues we saw today were inexcusable. The Huskers were very fortunate to pull this game out after having three costly fumbles and committing eight penalties.

"I firmly believe we can win them all," Pelini said. "We can play with anyone we play, but we can't do the things we did today. We can't give up possessions and turn the football over. We have to keep working. We have to keep getting better and more efficient. We pulled this out."


What I saw on Saturday

***The status of running back Rex Burkhead going forward looks in doubt. Saturday is the third time in seven weeks he has hurt his knee. Makes you wonder if he came back on it too fast, but it's hard to look back now. It's going to be a week-to-week battle with Burkhead going forward.

***I would really like to see sophomore Braylon Heard get some more carries with the offense instead of only being used situationally. Heard had Nebraska's longest run of the day of 18 yards and it was his only touch of the game.

***Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell and junior Quincy Enunwa are one of the better one-two punches the Huskers have had in a while. There was only one drop today for Nebraska's receivers and there have only been seven on the season. Bell and Enunwa are a big reason why this number is so low.

***Junior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste may have gotten beat deep once, but I thought both he and Ciante Evans played outstanding games. Evans neutralized Kain Colter to just three catches for 17 yards, while Jean-Baptiste had five pass break-ups in coverage downfield.

***The injuries across the board for Nebraska right now are pretty eye-popping. Defensive tackles Chase Rome and Kevin Williams were out with concussions, defensive end Avery Moss was out with an injury and starting cornerback Josh Mitchell was out today with an ankle injury. It had to be a stressful week for both defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski and defensive coordinator John Papuchis knowing the amount of guys they were going to be without on Saturday.

***With so many injuries on NU's defensive line I thought it was smart the Huskers played senior Cameron Meredith inside at defensive tackle. This is something Meredith has done in the past when injuries have hit Nebraska up front. Makes you wonder where Aaron Curry is right now? Could NU be trying to medical redshirt him?

***On the fourth down play Nebraska failed to convert offensive coordinator Tim Beck said tight end Kyler Reed went the wrong way, which left his man unblocked.

"He thought the play was going left and we were going right," Beck said. "The guy he was supposed to block made the play."

The final grades

Rushing offense: B

Nebraska rushed for 237 yards on 44 carries. The Huskers didn't have a single run longer than 18 yards. It was just a solid move the chains performance. What you have to be disappointed with though is Nebraska was unable to convert on multiple third-and-short situations and they have to get that fixed going forward.

Passing offense: A

Martinez was simply amazing down the stretch for Nebraska keeping his composure in a lot of tough situations. Martinez finished 27-of-39 for 342 yards and three touchdowns engineering two fourth quarter drives all through the air to get NU 13 points.

Rushing defense: B+

The quarterback run game was nonexistent for Northwestern, as Colter had only 35 yards on 14 carries. The only thing you can downgrade Nebraska on is allowing Venric Mark to bust loose for an 80 yard touchdown. Take away that run and Northwestern averaged just 2.7 yards on their other 37 carries.

Passing defense: A-

The Huskers made the Wildcats almost one-dimensional by taking away the QB run game and knocking Mark out of the game with what appeared to be a concussion. This forced Trevor Siemian into a lot of obvious throwing situations and he finished the game just 15-of-35 for 116 yards. It was a solid game all-around for Nebraska's pass defense shutting down the Wildcats spread offense.

Special teams: F

Special teams nearly lost the game for Nebraska today, as the Huskers muffed two punts and Daimion Stafford got a personal four penalty on another punt that took away a fumble recovery on a dropped punt by Northwestern that could've made the game 10-0. Brett Maher also shanked a 16 yard punt that led to a Wildcat touchdown to give them the lead for the first time. These were critical, critical mistakes that you typically aren't going to be able to overcome in a football game.

Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.


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