Mike McNeill was wide open.

The senior wide receiver broke free over the middle on Nebraska's opening drive Saturday, and quarterback Taylor Martinez slung a pass his way.

It might have been a 58-yard touchdown — except for the fact that Martinez skipped the ball to McNeill's feet.

After that incompletion, McNeill said he didn't even need to open his mouth.

"I just walked back to the huddle and went to the next play," he said. "There was nothing to say."

Wide receiver Niles Paul then tripped on a comeback route and watched the ball sail out of bounds on the next play.

Later in the drive, tight end Ben Cotton committed a personal foul and Martinez fumbled the ball. Despite all that, the Cornhuskers still mustered a field goal.

If the Western Kentucky game displayed the potential of Martinez and the new offensive scheme, Saturday's tilt with Idaho showcased growing pains. The inconsistency of that first Husker drive proved a harbinger of things to come.

Though offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said his quarterback's inexperience showed itself in impulse decisions and poor ball security, he's still excited by Martinez's potential.

"He had some freshman in him (Saturday)," Watson said. "He's a work in progress — a great work in progress."

Martinez was, at times, electrifying in running for 177 yards and two touchdowns, and he now ranks seventh nationally in rushing.

But the redshirt freshman also showed his youth with four fumbles. While those miscues need correcting, NU coach Bo Pelini said the blame for his offense's inconsistency doesn't just go to Martinez.

"It goes well beyond the quarterback," he said. "It was a lot more than the quarterback out there playing. It wasn't just one guy."

Offensive line coach Barney Cotton said he was disappointed with the play of his group. Multiple penalties by tight end Ben Cotton and guard Ricky Henry and failures in short-yardage situations (including one on the goal line) put a damper on the team's 360-yard rushing performance.

"I'd like to be a little bit more upbeat," Barney Cotton said, "but I kind of dwell on the fact that we didn't get a fourth and one, we didn't get a score from the six-inch line."

Nebraska's defense, which Pelini called an "absolute embarrassment" after the Western Kentucky game, helped the offense out with six turnovers. Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle threw five interceptions, two of which were returned for Husker touchdowns. Those big plays gave the offense energy, Martinez said, but they weren't able to take advantage.

"It changed the game a lot, just because the defense was out there (and) they did such a great job," Martinez said. "It kind of rested our offense.

"Maybe it was bad, maybe it wasn't, because in the second half, we came out pretty sloppy."

Still, the Husker running game was dominant in the opening half. After the second quarter, Martinez and running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. all were averaging more than 15 yards per carry.

Martinez had 109 yards rushing in the first half after a 67-yard touchdown run, and Helu added a 58-yard scoring dash of his own. The Huskers led 31-3 at the half, and it appeared week two of the Martinez Era would be another rousing success.

But the third quarter was another story. Nebraska's first three drives ended in a lost fumble, punt and interception. And when Martinez scored his second rushing touchdown on the fourth drive, he did so by recovering his own fumble on the one-yard line.

Watson said his unit will work to eliminate those mental errors before taking on Washington in Seattle on Saturday afternoon.

"We were sloppy, just sloppy," Watson said. "I felt like we were just sloppy and not focused."

Regaining the success of week one and avoiding miscues like the incompletion to McNeill will be key for Martinez, who said he's not worried about playing in a hostile Husky Stadium.

"We had a lot of momentum at first," Martinez said. "We just couldn't put the ball in the end zone.

"It just wasn't very good."

MITCHMSMITH@

DAILYNEBRASKAN.COM