LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska's offense is in overdrive and showing no signs of slowing down heading into Saturday night's game against South Dakota State.
The sixth-ranked Cornhuskers (3-0) have scored 20 touchdowns in three games, and 12 of them have come on drives lasting five plays or less. Seven TDs have come on three plays or less.
Old-school Nebraska fans like it that the offense is relying on the run to get it done. The Huskers are fourth nationally in rushing at 344 yards a game, and their average of 8 yards per carry is best in the nation by more than a yard.
Redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez has left no doubt he was the right choice after a quarterback competition before the season. He's the first Nebraska quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards in three straight games since Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch in 2001.
"We put him in there because that's what we thought he could be," coach Bo Pelini said. "He's putting up some good numbers, really great numbers, as are a lot of the other guys on offense. I think the exciting thing about it is he has a long way to go."
Martinez is averaging 143.3 yards rushing a game and a nation-leading 10.5 yards a carry. He has seven runs of at least 20 yards and touchdowns of 67, 46, 43, 20 and 80 yards.
Martinez continues to gash defenses with the zone-read option, the play where the quarterback puts the ball in his running back's belly and then, based on what the defense is doing, decides whether to let the running back keep the ball or pull it back and run with it himself.
The emergence of Martinez has allowed Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead to thrive on inside running plays. Helu and Burkhead joined Martinez as 100-yard rushers in last week's 56-21 win at Washington. Helu is averaging 10.2 yards a carry, second nationally to Martinez, and 82 a game. Burkhead is running for 79 a game.
South Dakota State (0-2) is a Football Championship Subdivision team and defending the run is not the Jackrabbits' forte. They have given up an average of 222 yards on the ground in losses to Delaware and Illinois State.
SDSU linebacker Derek Domino knows everyone expects the Huskers to pad their stats in what looks like one of the biggest mismatches in a long time at Memorial Stadium.
"We play the game for a reason," Domino said. "We're in need of a win. I don't know how far-fetched that is to say that. We have to stop the run. It's that simple."
The Huskers don't plan on letting up in their last tuneup before Big 12 play begins Oct. 7 at Kansas State.
"There are yards out there and there are opportunities out there. Why? Because getting ready to go down the road here in the Big 12 season we need to be on the p's and q's," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.
Pelini said he's not concerned about trying to protect players from injury.
"If you start worrying about that, I think that's when injuries happen," he said. "You have to go play football, and we need to take a step and get better as a football team this week."
But if all goes as planned, the Huskers should be able to get everyone who suits up onto the field. That means backup quarterback Cody Green, who has been playing one series each half, should get significant time.
The Jackrabbits are the alma mater of place-kicker Adam Vinatieri, the 2002 and 2004 Super Bowl hero for the New England Patriots, and Jim Langer, the Miami Dolphins' Hall of Fame center. The game was scheduled three years ago, with the Jackrabbits agreeing to come to Lincoln for $375,000.
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said he can't predict how his team will respond to playing a top 10 team in front of 85,000 fans.
The Jacks have played two other Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, losing 44-17 at Iowa State in 2008 and 16-13 at Minnesota last year.
"Obviously, we're playing one of the best programs ever historically in college football, and obviously they've got the program back in a big way," Stiegelmeier said. "We're excited about it. We're going to go down with the goal to try to play our best football against the best football team we'll face and see how it turns out."