The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off their first loss of the season, the 14th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers face another tough test this weekend as they visit the 17th-ranked and unbeaten Oklahoma State Cowboys in a Big 12 Conference showdown.
Nebraska opened the campaign with five consecutive wins, all of which came by at least two touchdowns over modest competition. Therefore, Texas represented the first true challenge of the season for the Cornhuskers last week, and that home game resulted in a surprising 20-13 setback.
"Football comes down to execution, it comes down to fundamentals, it comes down to technique, it comes down to playing the right way," said a visibly disappointed Bo Pelini, head coach of the Huskers, after the loss. "We didn't play the right way today."
As for Oklahoma State, it seems to be flying under the radar, but a win this weekend will certainly garner plenty of attention. The Cowboys are 6-0 thus far, and the most recent triumph came last weekend over Texas Tech by a 34-17 final. The 34 points scored in that tilt actually marked a season-low for Oklahoma State, which defeated Texas Tech on the road for the first time since 1944.
"That was a good win for our football team," said head coach Mike Gundy. "I thought it was the most complete game that we have played in all three phases."
While Nebraska owns a dominant 36-5-1 series lead over Oklahoma State, the Cowboys have won the last two meetings.
Nebraska freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez had gained momentum as a Heisman candidate through the first five games of the season, so it was certainly surprising when he was pulled from the game against Texas in favor of 2009 starter Zac Lee.
"We weren't pointing the finger at Taylor when we made the change, we just felt like we needed a spark," said coach Pelini. "We needed something different. Like I said, we didn't coach it well enough today."
The fact that Nebraska, which entered with one of the most feared rushing attacks in the nation, was held to 125 rushing yards on 44 carries by Texas was surprising. The Cornhuskers managed a mere 202 total yards and were 5- of-16 on third down conversions. Martinez committed just 4-of-12 passes for 63 yards and rushed for only 21 yards on 13 attempts. Meanwhile, the Nebraska defense was doing all it could to keep things close. The Cornhuskers only permitted 271 total yards to Texas, an impressive effort by any standards.
Despite the sluggish offensive performance against the Longhorns, Nebraska is still averaging 36.8 ppg and 445.7 total ypg. The Cornhuskers are running for a stellar average of 302.2 ypg at a clip of 6.9 ypc, and Martinez is largely responsible for that output. He has racked up 758 yards and 12 scores while averaging an eye-popping 9.4 yards per attempt. As a passer, he has completed 56.6 percent of his passes for 723 yard and three scores with three picks. Roy Helu Jr. is another productive runner for the Huskers, as he has posted 458 yards and five scores on 62 attempts.
The Cornhusker defense continues to be one of the most consistent and feared units in all of college football. Opponents are managing only 14.0 ppg against Nebraska, which is yielding 274.3 total ypg. The play against the pass has been most impressive, as opposing quarterbacks have combined to complete fewer than 50 percent of their passes for only 117.0 ypg and 11 interceptions with just four touchdowns. Nebraska hasn't been quite as impressive against the run, and that was an area of weakness against Texas last week.
As for Oklahoma State, it rolled up 30 first downs and 581 total yards in the victory over Texas Tech last weekend. Justin Blackmon continues his darkhorse Heisman campaign with a 10-catch, 207-yard performance, and the receiver reached the end zone once in that tilt. Quarterback Brandon Weeden was intercepted twice, but he threw for 356 yards. As for the ground attack, Kendall Hunter tallied 130 yards and a score.
Hunter has rushed for 830 yards and 10 touchdowns through six games, and the Cowboys are racking up 49.5 ppg to go along with 535.3 total ypg. Weeden has completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 1,966 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions. As for Blackmon, who has been utterly dominant, he has made 57 catches for 955 yards and 12 scores.
"This sounds crazy, but I don't look for him every play, sometimes he's my third read and I look over and he's wide open," says Weeden of Blackmon.
Facing a formidable offensive opponent, the Oklahoma State defense put forth a stellar effort last weekend, as it is nearly impossible to hold Texas Tech to 17 points in a game, especially in Lubbock. A pair of takeaways certainly helped the cause, as did the fact that the Cowboys limited the Red Raiders to 6-of-18 success on third down conversion attempts.
Opponents are posting 27.2 ppg against Oklahoma State, which is permitting 404.5 total ypg. The Cowboys have been strong against the run, yielding a mere 3.3 yards per carry and five touchdowns through six outings. The pass defense is permitting 280.0 ypg and has allowed 13 touchdowns, although foes are still averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion. Keep an eye on Orie Lemon, as his 62 tackles are 30 more than his closest teammate.