IOWA CITY — A resilient attitude personified in the play of a junior quarterback has positioned Nebraska to play for a spot in the Big Ten championship game when it visits Iowa on Friday.
“Nothing less than four full quarters of effort and energy is what it’s going to take,” Hawkeye cornerback Micah Hyde said. “We know that, because we know that is how they play the game.”
Quarterback Taylor Martinez has engineered fourth-quarter comebacks in each of the Huskers’ past two Big Ten road games.
Nebraska overcame a 28-16 deficit with just over 8 minutes left in the game to win at Northwestern 29-28, and two weeks later the Cornhuskers erased Michigan State’s 24-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter to win 28-24.
In four of the team’s six Big Ten victories this season, Nebraska has rallied from double-digit deficits to win.
“They’re resilient,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “So whatever the circumstance, they’ve handled it pretty well outside of a couple of early-season things.”
This year’s Nebraska team is one of four in the Football Bowl Subdivision level since 1996 to overcome four double-digit deficits to win, and two of this season’s comeback victories rank among the top-five rallies in Nebraska’s history.
Iowa played Northwestern the week after Nebraska rallied for its win over the Wildcats, providing Ferentz with a glimpse of the Cornhuskers’ comeback abilities.
“They overcame the mistakes that they made in that game, but that’s what good teams do,” Ferentz said. “You could see they had belief in their system, the way they overcame things. That says a lot about the resiliency of their players.”
Ferentz believes Martinez is the critical component.
Always a threat to run with the ball, he has gained accuracy with his arm and is putting together a record-setting season for the third straight year.
Martinez established single-season records for a freshman and a sophomore the past two years and has 3,212 yards of total offense this season, the second-best effort by a Cornhuskers player.
He averages 292 yards of total offense per game to lead the Big Ten and ranks 26th nationally, complementing 2,420 passing yards with the 792 he has gained on the ground.
“Their quarterback is playing at a much higher level now than he was a year ago, and he was playing well last year,” Ferentz said.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald watched Martinez elevate his game during Nebraska’s fourth-quarter comeback in Evanston.
“He was a dynamic player in the fourth quarter of that game, and we saw him do the same thing to Michigan State as we prepared for them,” Fitzgerald said. “He definitely showed a sense of urgency when everything was on the line. It wasn’t much fun being on the other sideline, but it was impressive.”
Coach Bo Pelini wishes things would come a little easier for the Cornhuskers.
“It was nice to not be sweating things out in the fourth quarter,” Pelini said, referring to his team’s 38-14 win over Minnesota last Saturday. “We don’t get that chance often in this conference.”
Pelini said Nebraska has put itself in a position to rally.
“Our mistakes have been one of the common threads to every game we’ve had to come from behind,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves in some tough situations, but the guys believe in each other, believe they can handle those situations. That helps, although I’m not sure if I can handle much more of it.”
The Cornhuskers’ first rally came in its first Big Ten game of the season.
Nebraska overcame a 27-10 deficit to Wisconsin less than 5 minutes into the third quarter to win, 30-27.
“Once you’ve done it once, the players begin to believe they can do it again,” Pelini said. “It develops confidence, and when we have found ourselves in those situations again, there is no sense of panic. They just keep working and so far, it has worked out.”