Through three games, only four teams have topped 1,000 yards rushing. Nebraska is one of them. The Huskers also average a full yard more (8.06) per carry than Oregon, the second-place team and have the nation's most rushing touchdowns, with 15.
"You’ve got to be blocking well up front, you’ve got to play pretty well in all phases of the game to be able to run the ball like that," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. "I think that was the case the other day."
"We’re making them have to defend everybody, the quarterback, the backs, we’re blocking pretty well up front," Pelini said. "I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage pretty well the other day, and it sure does help you."
Speedy, big-play quarterback Martinez looks like the variable that ha rescued an offense that ran in the middle of the pack a year ago. The offensive line is better, but Nebraska has already equaled half its production from 2009 in the running game and needs only five more touchdowns to equal its number from last year.
"The offensive line has done a tremendous job so far. But as a whole, the unit’s just enjoying playing," Burkhead said. "They’re really finishing off blocks downfield, that’s the big difference you see on film, from tight ends to receivers. that’s opened up some big runs that Roy and Taylor have, especially."
Burkhead had a 24-yard run and a 19-yard score among his 13 carries for 104 yards. Helu added a 65-yard score in the third quarter for his 110 yards on 10 carries. But Martinez has been the big play guy with touchdown runs of 46, 67 and 80 yards in each game so far this season.
"It opens up more lanes for us. They have to key on him on the zone read, and at times, two defenders run at him, and that opens up holes for us. It just changes up a lot," Burkhead said. "It gives us more opportunities as an offense."
The 80-yarder came on the first play of the second half against Washington to put the Huskers on top of the Huskies, 35-14.
"You see his speed, he explodes downfield in a hurry. I’d say the biggest thing is really that’s impressed me is how cool he is under fire, especially when we played at Washington last week. The noise didn’t bother him, the crowd didn’t bother him," Burkhead said. "He played like he’s played every day."
The zone read with Martinez has been a rebirth of the Nebraska rushing numbers that pushed the Huskers to three national titles and 13 conference titles under Tom Osborne's famed option schemes.
"We’re still not as consistent as I’d like us to be, and there’s still a lot of technique things we’ve got to clean up," Pelini said. "We’re not the finished product by any means. I think that we still have a long way to go in a lot of areas, but I am seeing some progress."