Randy York’s N-Sider
Whoever switched channels on their TVs, turned off their radios, bolted from their favorite watch site or left the stadium early because they expected a different outcome Saturday should know better. When are you going to learn not to give up on a Nebraska football team that has now recovered from double-digit deficits in the second half to win three Big Ten Conference games this fall? If beating Wisconsin in Lincoln and Northwestern in Evanston didn’t teach you anything, maybe the rally that hijacked Michigan State, 28-24, in East Lansing, will.
Those with stout hearts and stainless steel stomachs saw the Taylor Martinez legacy continue to grow, plus the beginning of the place Jamal Turner seeks in Husker history – a milestone that just might be big enough to take Bo Pelini and his express all the way to a Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis and a Rose Bowl berth in Pasadena.
If you were one of the guilty parties that pulled the plug on your favorite team or became a Doubting Thomas in whatever overcrowded pew you were sitting, or standing, or pacing through, you missed the capstone of Martinez passing Eric Crouch as Nebraska’s career total offense leader, not to mention Turner’s first career Husker touchdown.
We all know how Jamal Turner lit up high school scoreboards in Texas. He was a quarterback with speed, talent and swagger. He was also smart and strategic when he caught a glimpse of what life might be like watching Martinez at the controls of an explosive offense one year after another.
Turner Did What It Takes to Be a Go-To Man
That thought triggered another – looking at a different field of dreams and envisioning yourself catching passes instead of throwing them. What Turner didn’t factor in was everything else related to making the move to receiver. You know, little things, such as learning how to block and how to run precise routes, plus how to study, what to absorb and why it’s so hard to compete immediately at a position you’ve never played before.
But there was Turner, a sophomore and onetime prep quarterback superstar, in the end zone, late Saturday afternoon in East Lansing. He was calm and collected catching a five-yard pass from Martinez, a pass loaded with 500 pounds of pressure. Talk about two proud, polished and poised athletes connecting for 6 points with 6 seconds left on the clock and 6 teammates that immediately want to surround the hero, slap him on the back and send him to the sidelines with the kind of celebratory hug that a catch like that deserves.
“I can’t believe that I won the game,” Turner said. “I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life.” If he wondered what a magical moment like that would feel like, he need not wonder anymore. The experience included yelling and hugging and young men on the verge of tears, some tears so real that their owners turned away to avoid detection. This was a true celebration, and Turner was right in the middle of it. “It was crazy,” he said.
Crazy Describes Game, Postgame Celebration
Somehow, crazy was an appropriate word for Pelini, too, especially when he tried to balance and reconcile the jubilation with the boatload of mistakes and penalties his team made. As always, Pelini was harder on himself than he should have been. When Nebraska took the Big Ten’s best offense into a stadium that’s home to the league’s best defense, who wouldn’t expect a train wreck when both teams get on the same track and start coming full speed right at each other?
Yes, the game’s biggest hero threw three interceptions. Martinez also fumbled, but Pelini mentioned twice that he couldn’t say enough about his junior quarterback with senior stats and how he played and finished the game.
“He made some mistakes, but you know, everybody does,” Pelini said. “When it came right down to the end, he didn’t blink an eye. He put this football team on his back, and he made some plays with his arm and his legs.”
Martinez Had a Hand in All Four Touchdowns
In addition to throwing short touchdown passes to Turner and Ameer Abdullah, Martinez scored two touchdowns himself – the first on a 71-yard run in the second quarter to pull the Huskers into a 14-14 tie and the second on a 35-yard sprint to bring Nebraska within 24-21 with 7:02 remaining in the game. On 17 carries, Martinez gained 236 yards and lost 31, giving him a net of 205 yards rushing for a 12.1-yard average.
The biggest Martinez stat of the day was accumulating 176 of his 355 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter after the Nebraska offense went AWOL in 3Q and the Blackshirts struggled repeatedly to get off the field.
Here’s another amazing stat to mull over: Before Saturday, Michigan State had given up only two second-half touchdowns all season. Yet Martinez engineered two TDs himself in the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter, scoring one and throwing for another.
The biggest play of the game came on a fourth-down-and-10 at the Nebraska 42 with 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Martinez found senior tight end Kyler Reed for a 38-yard strike that took the Huskers to the Michigan State 20. You know the rest of the story, but let's add this footnote from Martinez, who said: "We've been in that situation before, and we know that we can't be stopped. Coach Pelini called a great series of plays on that last drive, and our receivers were able to make some big plays, especially Jamal on that last play. It's great that he was finally able to get that first career touchdown."
Beck Said Pass to Reed Was the Best Call
Pelini revealed on his postgame radio show what went through his mind before giving the green light to the play designed to keep the winning touchdown drive alive. “I asked Tim Beck: ‘Is this your best call?’” Pelini related. “Tim said: ‘Yes, I like it going to Kyler’ and I trusted Tim on that.”
Pelini also trusted the last Nebraska play of the game. “That was definitely going to be our last snap from center,” Nebraska’s head coach said. “I trusted Taylor to make the play. It was a big-time throw and a big-time catch.”
At that point of the game, five yards looked more like 50. “Every yard was tough to get, and every yard was earned,” Pelini said. “I’m proud of these guys. We’ve had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in two straight road games. That’s good, but I told the kids: ‘Let’s not do it that way anymore’. I wish we could make it easier on us. I’m aging quick … I’m 44, but I don’t know how old I am now after the last couple weeks.”
Pelini does know the Huskers are halfway home on the six-game winning streak required to keep them in the Cat Bird’s seat and control their own destiny in the Big Ten's Legends Division. Next up is Penn State Saturday. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. on ABC. The matchup could be another intense Big Ten battle, so whether you have a game ticket or decide to watch or listen somewhere else, here's a suggestion: Don’t give up on Pelini’s Kardiac Kids.
Huskers Have Leadership, Character, Heart
“I’ve been saying all along this is a special group with great leadership and tremendous character,” Pelini said. “These kids want it bad. We don’t always play as smart as we need to play, but one thing you can’t question about the guys in that locker room is their heart.” In my opinion, there's no doubt about that. It’s the rest of our hearts that need tuning up.
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Voices from Husker Nation
My son and I live in Illinois and attended the Northwestern game. One Wildcat fan with whom we exchanged friendly banter referred to his team as the Cardiac Cats because they always seem to be involved in nail-biters. After the Huskers made another of their game-winning fourth-quarter rallies at Michigan State, I suggested that Nebraska was perhaps the "Corn-ary Kids." By the way, hats off to Northwestern fans. You were very friendly and cordial. One even told us that he went to Lincoln for last year's game and was impressed with how well they were treated before, during, and after the game, even though Nebraska lost. I am always proud to hear that. Congrats on another incredible win at MSU, and GO BIG RED. Rich MacMillan, Shorewood, Illinois
Somewhere up in Heaven late Saturday afternoon, all the Saints were hearing, "Man, Woman, and Child!" Kevin Horn, Alliance, Nebraska
Your article after Michigan State was excellent, witty and captured the character and grit of the team. Penn State will be rough! Dan Holstrom, Morrisville, Pennsylvania
I just had a chance to read your article about the presentation of the game ball to the Marine after the Michigan game. That was a great piece and quite a story. It was great to read about the deep emotional effect that Major Kapitulik had on the team--and I'm sure the coaches---and reflect on the outcome of the Michigan game. What was really penetrating was reading the article this morning after the outcome of last night's game at Michigan State. One can only imagine that the deep impact from the week before carried over to last night with only seconds remaining. Let's hope there is continuing carry over through the remaining games--including a Rose Bowl victory. We can only hope that a bit less drama is needed for our coming wins.Tony Acone, Lincoln, Nebraska/Palm Desert, California
Aren’t some of us getting a little old to handle these kinds of come-from-behind Husker victories? Ken Thomas, Overland Park, Kansas
Thanks for one of the greatest articles I have read on the Huskers since graduating from NU in 1954. I am due for my third pacemaker in three months, but after Saturday’s game at Michigan State, I may have to move that date up!! Dick Weller (I live 20 miles south of Rapid City, S.D., in the Black Hills, 2.5 miles on the backside of Mt. Rushmore)
Christmas comes early to Nebraska. firstname.lastname@example.org