Nebraska entered Saturday’s nationally televised showdown ranked No. 111 in passing offense (out of 120 teams), but Martinez looked more like Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway than a first-year quarterback who had thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns (three of each) in his first six games.
Martinez completed 23 of 35 passes for 323 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions against a Cowboy defense that looked overmatched throughout the day. Although he entered the game averaging more than 126 rushing yards per game (10th in the nation), Martinez did his damage Saturday with his throwing arm – early and often.
An incredibly fast and elusive runner, he also rushed for 112 yards on 19 carries, including scrambles of 13 and 26 yards. The Cowboy defense appeared to have Martinez wrapped up for losses or short gains several times but he would escape.
“He’s an exceptional player and he broke a lot of tackles, and their backs did the same things, and their receivers made some plays. But it’s our job to stop them and we didn’t get it done. We didn’t play nearly as well as we need to play, and I didn’t coach nearly as well as I need to coach,” said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young.
“He’s exceptionally fast too, but what I think he did better than what we’d seen on film is he threw the ball more accurately. He threw some great balls today.
“I don’t think fatigue was a factor, I just don’t think we wrapped up and tackled very well. We were very, very disappointed in the way we tackled,” Young added.
Defensive end Richetti Jones said it was a frustrating game for the Cowboys.
“He’s one of the fastest quarterbacks I’ve ever played against in high school or college. He’s a great athlete. I say he’s the master of the art of escape. We had him so many times tonight and he escaped us so many times. I feel like he’s one of the best in the country,” said Jones, who recorded four tackles.
Martinez’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Kinnie – the first of three to the junior wide receiver – less than four minutes into the game gave the Cornhuskers a 7-0 lead, and he was just getting started.
The Nebraska quarterback, whose previous best was 150 passing yards against Washington earlier this season, would add touchdown passes of 1 yard to Tyler Legate, 9 yards to Kinnie, 41 yards to Kyler Reed, and 8 yards to Kinnie.
The Cornhuskers finished with 540 total yards, nearly 136 more than Oklahoma State’s defense had been allowing this season.
“We really were (surprised at how well he threw the ball),” said Jones, the OSU defensive end. “Most of the games we saw on film he didn’t do too much throwing the ball. We messed up on defense because we couldn’t convert on third down and tackle them. He did a great job of throwing the ball even though he’s not known for being a great passer.”
Oklahoma State, which was looking to improve to 7-0 for only the fourth time in the 110-year history of the school’s football program, had 495 total yards and scored 41 points but the defense did not get the job done.
The Cowboys allowed the Cornhuskers to convert on 8-of-18 third-down plays, including a third-and-11 and third-and-14 in the second half, and Nebraska also was 2-of-2 on fourth-down conversions.
“We didn’t stop them on third down. They did a good job of converting on third down. We have to give them credit they played a good game,” added Jones.
Running back Kendall Hunter rushed for 201 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Quarterback Brandon Weeden struggled against the No. 1-ranked passing efficiency defense in the nation and finished 18 of 35 for 283 yards with two touchdowns (both to Justin Blackmon) and one interception.
"Taylor Martinez grew up today. It's a big step in his career," said Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. "Today you got to see what we see every day in practice.
"He has a great arm and he can compete with his arm. He's just young. He's a redshirt freshman and he's never played at this level until now," Watson added.
Oklahoma State was playing catchup against the Cornhuskers after falling behind 7-0 on Martinez’s first touchdown pass to Kinnie early in the game. The Cowboys stayed within one score throughout much of the first half and even took the lead on Weeden’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Blackmon.
The Cowboys used a trick play – a flea flicker in which the OSU quarterback handed off to running back Joseph Randle, who then tossed the ball back to Weeden who threw long down the field to Blackmon who outjumped Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara and raced untouched into the end zone – to take a 27-24 lead with six minutes left in the first half.
But the Cornhuskers regained the lead 31-27 right before halftime and then scored the first 10 points of the second half to take a 14-point lead that was too much for the Cowboys to overcome.
“What is got down to is we couldn’t catch them,” said OSU head coach Mike Gundy. “They kept scoring and we couldn’t catch them.”
The Cowboys, 6-1, will travel to Manhattan, Kan., next Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff against the Kansas State Wildcats.
“They have now been faced with adversity, the true tell sign with what a man is made of is during difficult times,” Gundy said. “They understand that and I expect them to come back tomorrow and go to work. I expect the coaching staff to show up with a smile on their face because college football is a long season and we have to get ready to play the next game.”