LINCOLN — It might not happen Saturday. Or the next week.
Somewhere down the road, though, Nebraska will probably find itself in some tough spots.
Down at halftime. Behind late with the prospects looking a little bleak. No chance without some kind of rally.
And quarterback Taylor Martinez and his Husker teammates will know exactly what to do.
“We're a very resilient team,” I-back Ameer Abdullah said. “We never feel like we're out of the game. We know football's a game about momentum, and once you have the 'big mo' on your side, anything can happen.”
Nebraska players speak from experience after winning six games last season that easily could have gone the other way. Two seemed utterly lost: NU trailed Michigan State 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter and Northwestern 28-16 with six minutes left — both on the road.
Martinez said this week that he couldn't describe the hows or whys of what happened. But he said the Huskers “think we can do it again if it comes down to it.”
“My dad always taught me that it doesn't matter how far behind you are: You just keep trying, and if it's meant to be it's meant to be,” Martinez said. “If there's a minute left in the game and you're down by 20, you still have to try to come back and win the game. That's always what my mindset has been, and if you give me a chance I will try to score on every play.”
It didn't happen every time. The holes only grew bigger at Ohio State and against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. NU came up short after being tied at halftime 24-24 at UCLA and leading Georgia 24-23.
But the Huskers found out something about themselves in a half-dozen Big Ten games that ultimately led to their first Legends Division championship.
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“It's just the desire of this team, I would say,” NU offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “We've been through so much together through the past years. There were times where we lost it and it showed, but there were other times we kept our composure and nothing seemed to be able to rattle us.
“We just trusted in our offensive system and our defensive system and we trusted in our coaches, and we got it done.”
It might start with the up-tempo offense that is designed to keep defenses from getting comfortable, and as a result can take a toll the longer teams play. NU fullback C.J. Zimmerer said there's a conditioning element that goes with it, too.
“We practice high-tempo all the way through practice, from the first five minutes to the last five minutes,” he said. “That really paid off for us, I think.”
While the offense put up the necessary points, some of the comebacks wouldn't have happened without the Huskers' much-maligned defense providing some stops.
Wisconsin went scoreless for the final 25 minutes after taking a 27-10 third-quarter lead in a September game. Penn State had 136 second-half yards after putting up 255 before halftime for a 20-6 lead.
The defense forced some key three-and-outs down the stretch against both Northwestern and Michigan State.
“We just realized that we were beating ourselves, and that us arguing against each other wasn't going to work,” NU cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste said. “So we just had to all focus up, buckle down and understand that the coaches were going to put us in the right situations. But we had to go out and execute.”
Jean-Baptiste echoed Martinez's statement that you can never count yourself out if you continue to play hard. The fact that it paid off in one game only helped the next time.
The Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State comebacks came in a four-week stretch. In the other game, NU inched away from a 7-6 halftime lead to beat Michigan 23-9. The last notch in a six-game winning streak was a 13-7 win at Iowa after the Huskers trailed 7-3 in the cold at halftime.
“All those just gave us motivation — and maybe, I guess, let us know we had a little bit of luck on our side,” Jean-Baptiste said. “And we'll take that any day.”
The next step as NU starts the season Saturday night against Wyoming will be eliminating the need for so many thrillers. Weeding out the slow starts. Several happened on the road, where Zimmerer said it sometimes takes a little longer to get your legs and get comfortable.
“I also think that's just how college football is, that everybody is great at preparing for what you're going to do,” Zimmerer said. “So you have to see a team for a drive or two and say, 'What are they giving you?' And then make the adjustments accordingly.”
Out of 11 BCS conference opponents last season, seven scored first against NU. Senior cornerback Ciante Evans said it would be best if the Huskers spent a little less time trailing this season.
“In order to be a great team, you can't start off flat,” Evans said. “You've got to start off fast and start off strong, and it's something that we tried to work on this offseason and this camp.”
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