From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In their final tune-up before heading into the Big 12 season, the sixth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers host the South Dakota State Jackrabbits this weekend in Lincoln.
The 'Huskers faced their stiffest test of the season last weekend and passed with flying colors, trouncing Washington, 56-21, in Seattle.
"Coming into a hostile environment, I thought it was a good step for our football team," said head coach Bo Pelini. "I thought it'd be a nice test for us, going against a good football team on the road. I thought it was a pretty full effort by our football team."
As for SDSU, it is a Football Championship Subdivision program that earned a preseason Top-10 national ranking after making the playoffs last season. The Jackrabbits however, haven't lived up to the billing, dropping their first two games to Delaware (26-3) and most recently Illinois State (24-14) last weekend.
SDSU and Nebraska are meeting for just the second time on the gridiron and the first since the 'Huskers coasted to a 58-7 victory all the way back in 1963.
Quarterback Thomas O'Brien is off to a slow start for the Jackrabbits, as he has thrown five INTs against just one TD. That ratio doesn't sit well and things won't get any easier this weekend, as Nebraska has one of the top defensive units around. It hasn't been all O'Brien's fault, however, as SDSU has yet to get things going on the ground, averaging just 77 yards through the firs two games. Kyle Minett's 152 rushing yards lead the squad and he will surely receive a healthy dose of carries this weekend. Tyrel Kool is the team's top pass catcher with 12 receptions for 142 yards, so expect O'Brien to look his way a few times.
If the Jackrabbits are to hang around, they will need a better effort from their defense. The unit has been especially vulnerable to the run, permitting 224.5 ypg on the ground. SDSJU has forced just one turnover, another area in need of improvement, and the defense has managed only two sacks.
Anthony Wise heads the defense with 23 stops, while Derek Domino has 21 tackles to his credit. Much like the rest of the unit, these players have spent a lot of time on the field, as opponents are possessing the ball for over 36 minutes against the Jackrabbits
The 'Huskers turned in an impressive performance on offense last weekend, as they totaled 533 yards, including 383 on the ground. Nebraska, which is now averaging a ridiculous 344.0 rushing ypg, scored six of its seven offensive TDs on the ground in the rout of Washington.
"I thought we executed our game plan well, from start to finish, on the offense," said Pelini.
Three Nebraska players cracked the century mark in the win, the first time that has happened since 2001. QB Taylor Martinez led the charge with 137 yards and three TDs on 19 carries. The freshman sensation, who also threw for 150 yards and a score, is the first Nebraska QB to rush for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games since Eric Crouch in 2001. He had an 80-yard TD run in the third quarter, the second-longest ever by a Nebraska QB. His eight rushing TDs are already a freshman QB record for the program, as Martinez is obviously living up to the hype.
Roy Helu Jr. added 110 yards and two scores on 10 totes, while Rex Burkhead finished with 104 yards and a TD on 13 carries. The 'Huskers have no shortage of options for a ground attack that has already produced 15 TDs this season.
Facing Washington's Jake Locker, the possible top pick in the next NFL Draft, the 'Huskers knew they were in for a challenge. They responded by holding the Heisman hopeful to a miserable 4-of-20 performance through the air for 71 yards. Nebraska also came up with two INTs, one of which was returned 31 yards for a TD by Alfonzo Dennard. That gives the 'Huskers three returned INTs in their last two games.
"Our guys did well, I thought they covered well, I thought we had a good push up front. For the most part, we kept them in the pocket, which was good because these are obviously really athletic guys," stated Pelini.
Nebraska now has a total of eight INTs to its credit, to go along with nine sacks. Baker Steinkuler tops the roster with 3.5 sacks and four TFLs, while Lavonte Davis leads the way with 25 stops.