Nebraska QB scrambles to throw the ball against Purdue
Photo Credit: Purdue Athletics

Martinez, Stille, Liewer and More Make Big Plays Against Purdue

December 06, 2020

Highlighting positive plays in a loss was getting kind of old, huh? For the first time in a while, we get a chance to simply sit back and enjoy a good performance as the Huskers improved to 2-4 with a 37-27 win at Purdue.

Let’s look back on some of the best plays Nebraska made on Saturday.

In week two’s loss to Northwestern, Adrian Martinez seemed to get so far inside his own head that he couldn’t even complete the gimme throws, to the point where Scott Frost thought Luke McCaffrey gave Nebraska a better chance to win.

McCaffrey did get the Huskers a win against Penn State in week three, but McCaffrey showed his limitations in the week four loss to Illinois. Frost went back to Martinez late against the Illinois and started him the last two weeks.

Since his return from the benching, Martinez has completed 81.5% of his passes for 459 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Martinez had a good day passing on Saturday, and Nebraska’s offensive line gave him time with just one sack all game, but Martinez’s most impressive play came on the ground.

Special teams gifted Nebraska a 7-0 lead thanks to a punt blocked recovered at the 1, and special teams gave the offense another short field thanks to a 27-yard return by Cam Taylor-Britt with a 15-yard penalty on Purdue tacked on. Nebraska’s drive began inside the red zone.

The Boilermakers tackled running back Luke McCaffrey for a loss of 3 on first down, then Martinez hit Levi Falck for a 7-yard gain on second down, setting up a third-and-6 from the 13. From there Martinez took things into his own hands — or legs.

Martinez sent receiver Oliver Martin on a jet motion from right to left then took the snap. Dedrick Mills took off at the snap and worked his way downfield, but Purdue sent outside linebacker Tyler Coyle on a blitz and he ignored Mills, making a beeline for Martinez.

Martinez saw him coming and showed off some fancy footwork to avoid Coyle then shot forward, shooting through the pocket just as it collapsed around him and continuing forward. Falck, Mills and Wan’Dale Robinson were downfield throwing blocks and Martinez ran behind them to pickup the first down, then he ran through three more tackle attempts and made a great effort to stay off the turf as he launched himself into the end zone for the touchdown.

I counted at least seven different Boilermakers that had a chance to tackle Martinez, but Nebraska’s quarterback wouldn’t be denied. Martinez hasn’t been posting the big rushing yardage totals he did the first two weeks, but he’s still capable of making a spectacular play with his legs at any moment.

After a couple of field goals from Connor Culp, Nebraska found the end zone again in the second quarter. Purdue’s kickoff went out of bounds, setting Nebraska up at its own 35, and after a slow start a third-and-10 conversion to Robinson got the offense going, and Nebraska marched down the field. Another big play by Robinson — this time a 22-yard reception — set the Huskers up at the Purdue 10. On the next play, Nebraska got just its third passing touchdown of the year.

Nebraska showed one look then changed things up, overloading the short side of the field. Wideout Wyatt Liewer settled behind tight end Austin Allen and Falck in a trips formation, and Purdue only sent one extra defender over there, giving the Huskers the numbers advantage.

Martinez threw it to Liewer for a quick screen while Allen and Falck blocked the defenders. Liewer sprinted up the sideline and into the end zone before another Boilermaker could get near him.

Many Nebraska fans have come to hate screen plays and swing passes, but Frost keeps calling them for a reason — they work when the offense has the numbers advantage and they’re properly executed.

Liewer, a redshirt sophomore walk-on, has gotten a few opportunities throughout the first five games but wasn’t able to make a play, and for that reason it was cool to see the Huskers execute so well and give the O’Neill High School graduate a chance to score his first collegiate touchdown.

On the defensive side of the ball, Nebraska has struggled to generate a pass rush for most of the season. However, against the Boilermakers, the Huskers matched their season-high set against Ohio State with three sacks.

Ben Stille has been Nebraska’s most important defensive lineman this season, leading the line in snaps, total tackles and solo tackles. He’s generated some good pressure in the first five games, but hadn’t managed to add to his career total of 11.5 sacks. He changed that on Saturday.

After the Martinez touchdown put the Huskers up 14-0, Damion Daniels took down quarterback Jack Plummer for a loss of 2 then Dicaprio Bootle broke up a pass intended  for Milton Wright, setting up a third-and-12. Nebraska has struggled to get off the field in third-and-long situations all season, but not on this day.

Nebraska showed that it was sending four rushers, but Caleb Tannor actually dropped back into coverage, leaving it as a three-man rush. Didn’t matter.

Stille absolutely whooped the center off the snap, running right by him and wrapping up Plummer before the quarterback even had a chance to react. It was his first sack of the season, but not his last. Stille added another half-sack (sharing it with Garrett Nelson) later in the game, and that one was on third down as well. Nelson also had a third-down sack on Purdue’s first drive, which was also his first sack of the season.

Nebraska’s defense came up big at the end of the first half as well.

With the Huskers leading 27-10, Purdue got the ball back at the Nebraska 40 and less than two minutes to go until halftime. After a 9-yard gain on first down, Nebraska stuffed running back Zander Horvath at the line on back-to-back plays. Instead settling for a long field goal, Jeff Brohm decided to go for it, and once again, he gave the ball to Horvath, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound bruiser of a tailback.

No dice.

Purdue lined up in the shotgun with Horvath next to Plummer. Tight end Kyle Bilodeau came across in motion and Purdue snapped the ball. Plummer gave it to Horvath, and Nelson did a great job of defeating his initial block from tight end Payne Durham, so Bilodeau pitched in to take out Nelson. With Nelson and the tight ends in the way, Horvath made a jump cut looking for a new hole to run through.

That hole didn’t exist, however, as Cam Taylor-Britt, Luke Reimer and Deontai Williams were all there to tackle Horvath for a loss of one, getting the ball back for the offense. Nebraska went three-and-out and Purdue blocked the punt, so the Boilermakers still got three points before the break, but the fourth-down stop might have prevented Purdue from getting seven. Taylor-Britt and Reimer got credited for the tackle for loss, but Nelson gets credit for blowing the play up, and Brohm probably got a bit too cute with such a slow-developing play when they only needed 1 yard.

Stille and Nelson both had big days, and it led to an overall strong defensive performance despite giving up over 300 yards passing to Plummer.

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