LINCOLN, Neb. – Judging by the way it struggled in a 17-3 win over South Dakota State, No. 6 Nebraska might have celebrated that win at Washington a bit too much.
Rex Burkhead and Kyler Reed scored on consecutive series in the first half, but the Cornhuskers otherwise turned in an uninspired performance Saturday night against an FCS opponent getting a rare chance to play on the big stage of Memorial Stadium.
"This is the same football team that went out to Washington last week and played pretty good," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "But you have to have consistency. For us to show up like that at home today, I'm embarrassed.
"I thought they outplayed us, they outhit us, they flew around with more passion than we did."
The Huskers (4-0) are off to their best start since 2005, but backups who figured to get lots of playing time against the Jackrabbits (0-3) watched while most of Nebraska's starters went the distance.
Taylor Martinez, a star-in-the-making after three straight 100-yard rushing games, played like the young quarterback he is. He fumbled his first snap, threw two interceptions, was wildly off the mark with other passes and was flagged for taunting. He finished with 75 yards on 13 carries but was just 6-of-14 passing for 140 yards.
"Sometimes I tried too hard to try to make the offense make a play," Martinez said. "I tried my best. Obviously, it didn't work out very well."
Kyle Minett was involved in more than half the Jackrabbits' plays, gashing the Huskers for 113 yards on 28 carries and catching five passes.
"I've never in my career — high school, middle school, football, basketball, anything — not went into a game thinking we had the opportunity to win," Minett said. "I approached this game the same way. I was pleased we were moving the ball and playing up to our potential. We just didn't catch any breaks."
The Jackrabbits never appeared scared in front of the crowd of 85,000 that was the largest their program had ever played before.
They were within striking distance deep into the fourth quarter. Derek Domino ran back Martinez's second interception 66 yards to the end zone, but Andy Mink was called for an illegal block and the return that could have pulled them within a touchdown was nullified.
"Hats off to them because they came in wanting to win, thinking they were going to win," Nebraska offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. "Nebraska has a great standard. That's not what we showed. We think we're a pretty good team. I guess it's gut check time now."
Martinez, who was replaced by Cody Green after Domino's pick, wasn't the only one to struggle.
Punt returner Niles Paul fumbled for the fourth time in four games, lucking out when teammate Austin Cassidy recovered. And the Huskers drew flags for an illegal shift and a hold on Sirles on consecutive plays during their last possession of the first half, killing any chance of scoring.
Martinez's struggles were the biggest surprise. He did run his season rushing total to 496 yards, the most by a Nebraska freshman quarterback.
"He made bad decisions, and he didn't execute the offense the way he has been. Why? I don't know," Pelini said. "He's a young guy, and he didn't respond very well. But it goes well beyond the quarterback position."
Nebraska broke a scoreless tie early in the second quarter with Burkhead running in from 3 yards after Mike McNeill turned a short pass from Martinez into a 64-yard gain. McNeill injured his lower left leg later in the half and was on the sideline in street clothes after halftime. Pelini said the injury wasn't serious.
Martinez put the Huskers up 14-0 when the Jackrabbits' secondary lost track of Reed, who was standing alone at the 5-yard line when his pass arrived.
Nebraska got a huge performance from linebacker Lavonte David, who was credited with 19 tackles and two pass breakups.
"Nobody took them lightly," David said. "We had a great week of practice, but sometimes they came out in some formations we never saw before and caught us off-guard."
SDSU's only points came on Kyle Harris' 35-yard field goal in the third quarter.
"I'm tremendously proud of their attitude and that they don't settle for playing close ball games, moral victories" Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier said. "Wherever we go, we go there trying to win the football game."