September 18, 2010
Nebraska 56, Washington 21. I can't say definitively that Washington quarterback Jake Locker's afternoon was the worst regular-season performance ever by a quasi-serious Heisman candidate on national television. Star players come and go, and their many forgettable efforts over the years have been, you know, forgettable. But for a guy who'd already been "etched in stone" as the No. 1 overall pick next year, it might have been ugly enough to cost him a little bit of money.
Whatever the scouts think, it was certainly ugly enough – in the hyped, early showcase game for the Huskies' long-awaited comeback tour from the depths of the Pac-10 – to relegate Locker to the ranks of former Heisman candidates before the discussion can really begin.
Locker made up for the dismal passing day with a decent effort as a runner (11 carries for 59 yards, one touchdown), but even there he was vastly overshadowed by his far less-heralded Nebraska counterpart, redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, who used his first road start at Nebraska as a platform to run for 139 yards and three touchdowns, one of them an 80-yard sprint that slammed the door on the Huskies' comeback hopes on the first play of the second half.
Back in the spring, Martinez was still an obscure "athlete" who had been vastly overshadowed by Cody Green in the 'Huskers' 2009 recruiting class and barely qualified as an afterthought in the quarterback picture as a true freshman – he was even behind a converted linebacker, Latravis Washington, who coaches moved to QB explicitly to shore up depth. Six months later, he's the unquestioned starter for a top-10 team that suddenly has the look of a contender.
Some of that has to do with Nebraska's defense being much, much better than Washington's (along with Martinez, running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu also pounded out 100-yards effort on the ground), which was no surprise. But the story of this game was supposed to be the stingy 'Husker D against an up-and-coming attack that was supposed to score enough behind Locker and an explosive supporting cast to keep Washington in every game. Instead, it was Nebraska – the epitome of a lame-duck offense last year, when it lost games in which the nation's No. 1 scoring defense held opponents to 16, 9 and 13 points – that exploded like it was playing another of the Sun Belt or WAC patsies it shredded in the first two weeks. Washington may turn out to be that bad defensively. But until further notice, Nebraska may suddenly have an offense, too.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.