Lincoln, NE - Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has a knack for coach speak.
Often phrases like “take it one game at a time,” “it's a process,” or “we have to work on us,” are used during pressers.
His go to line: “we have to stay the course.”
It's something Nebraska didn't do against Wisconsin a week prior to last night's contest. It's hard for young players and even young coordinators to stay patient – there isn't a 20 point play in football.
Last night's match-up had all the makings to be the same outcome as Nebraska's 31 point defeat to the Badgers. Ohio State came out in the first half and punched Nebraska in the mouth – climbing out to a 20-6 lead at half and a 27-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
But this night was different. Instead of going to their corner and refusing to fight anymore, the Huskers “stayed the course.” A few jabs got them back into the fight. A haymaker gave them the momentum. And a hook to the body was the knockout punch.
Last night's 28 unanswered points by Nebraska for a comeback victory was a team growing up – young fighters learning from and dealing with adversity.
Nebraska's first home Big Ten contest will be remembered as a game junior running back Rex Burkhead really showed he is Supeman. After just seven yards in the first half, Burkhead finished the game with a tough 119 yards on the ground and 59 yards receiving. His two touchdowns tied and eventually won the game for Nebraska. His performance in the second half – it could be called epic.
Rex Burkhead was special, really it's just what Nebraska fans have come to expect from Mr. Reliable. But don't be fooled. This night belonged to sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez and first year offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
A week after dealing with New York style criticism from the media and fans, Martinez looked like a different quarterback against Ohio State. It wasn't his 10-for-10 start throwing the ball, it was his poise when his team was down 21 points. Poise after being booed off the field in the first half.
“It was loud, we heard it,” said Nebraska running back's coach Ron Brown. “He showed what a leader he was...We have been trying to tell you guys he is the guy, he's a leader.
“He's still not all the way there yet, he's going to continue to come, but you can't give up on people...I have been here long enough, I have seen young quarterbacks go through the growing pains. I have seen coaches stick with them and them turn out to be good players – Heisman trophy winners.”
Against Wisconsin, Nebraska was very balanced in the first quarter and Taylor Martinez looked comfortable throwing the football. But losing momentum and down a score, Beck had Martinez become something he's not – a pass first quarterback. Three interceptions later, it was a rough week in Lincoln.
Credit Beck though, down 21 points last night in the third quarter, he didn't abandoned the run as he did in Madison. He stuck with it and in the process Martinez shined. When he was asked to pass, he looked comfortable doing it. Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez played off each other last night.
Martinez shows he can throw the ball downfield, Burkhead has open lanes to run the football. Ohio State has to respect the run, Martinez finds open receivers down field. It's that simple.
It's just one contest, a game that might be forgotten about in two to three weeks. But it also has the potential to be a night where the media and fans alike look back and think, Taylor Martinez changed as a quarterback that night – he grew up.
"Taylor played his butt off. He's one of the leaders on the team, and I'm proud of him,” said Pelini. “Everyone wants to doubt him. Whatever. You guys can choose to write whatever you want and attack him like the fans will, and now they'll praise him. But I told him, you're not as bad as you think you are. There was a lot of things he can do better out there tonight, but he kept fighting, he led the team, he played a heck of a second half. I'm proud of how he responded, how he played. That's why he's the starting quarterback right now."