EVANSTON - Bo Pelini talked to Taylor Martinez in the concourse of Northwestern’s Ryan Field, put a hand on his quarterback’s shoulder and said “I’m proud of you.”
Martinez had just led Nebraska to a 29-28 come-from-behind victory that may have saved Nebraska’s season. The junior quarterback was 10 for 14 passing in the fourth quarter for 140 yards and two touchdowns – one of which took the lead for the win.
“Taylor played a pretty outstanding football game,” Pelini said. “He was poised the whole time.”
The Huskers desperately needed someone to step up. Nebraska’s offense, the best in the Big Ten in points and yards per game, had put up only 16 points by the end of the third quarter.
They were outgaining Northwestern 384 yards to 214, yet they still trailed by five points, with the Wildcats adding another seven points to the deficit minutes later. Nebraska’s offense had been hindered by poor execution, having lost three fumbles and only converting on one third down in ten attempts through three quarters.
“We’ve got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” Pelini said. “Besides the turnovers, there were a number of third-and-shorts that we didn’t convert that really hurt us. Those kill you. They kill momentum and they kill drives.
“I thought we had a lack of awareness at times and obviously a lack of execution in those areas.”
The Huskers hit rock bottom with penalties when, on back-to-back third downs, the Huskers converted, only to have the play brought back due to penalty.
“It was like we can’t get out of our own way,” Pelini said. “(It was) just ridiculous, careless penalties in that situation.”
It looked grim. Northwestern’s stadium was filled seemingly with more red bodies than purple ones, and the mock home crowd was groaning, with a few fans melting out of the stadium with heads hanging.
Nebraska’s quarterback was faced with the task of leading the team to victory – the same quarterback that has gone under heat time and time again for losing games, or chances at games, because of turnovers.
A little more than eight minutes remained in the game when Martinez took over, trying to bring the Huskers back from the dead. The signal caller needed to do something the team hadn’t done effectively all game in order to come away with a win – move the ball consistently.
The team had to use all it had in its arsenal, including the Husker-heavy crowd. Coaches and players said the scarlet supporters helped pump life into the team as they began to string together plays.
“Our crowd was phenomenal,” Pelini said. “I thought they brought great energy to us, they stuck behind us. At times, it felt like a home game.
“They had a big time impact on this game.”
It took Nebraska two drives to piece things back together. Martinez passed a near-perfect 9-10 to end the game, connecting on all five passes on the go-ahead drive. A touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Taariq Allen, the first of Allen’s career, and a game-winner to senior Ben Cotton sealed the victory for Martinez, who threw for the third most yards of his NU career.
“He hung in there and he kept battling,” running backs coach Ron Brown said. “Taylor definitely led that charge, without a doubt.”
When the final whistle sounded, the team left Ryan Field to a standing ovation from Nebraska’s fans. Pelini waved his hand up to the crowd, with a smile that had eluded his face for most of the game. Players and coaches were cheered off the field like it was a home win.
“When it’s all said and done, no one will remember the score of the game or the outcome,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “Just that it’s a W.”