EVANSTON, Ill. — With three defensive linemen sitting at home banged up and a starting cornerback wearing sweats on the sideline, depth wasn't exactly the Husker defense's best friend on Saturday.
But Nebraska found another friend in the 29-28 win over Northwestern: the three-and-out.
The Husker defense registered 10 three-and-outs on 17 Northwestern offensive possessions, including seven of the first eight.
"Our defense kept us in the game," said Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck. "I'm thankful the way those guys played."
So was defensive coordinator John Papuchis, who called the performance "a big jump" for a defense that had taken great heat after giving up 63 points in its last game against Ohio State.
"I know you can't take one play out of the equation. But minus that one big (80-yard) play, we held them to (220) yards on like (75) plays. Against that offense? That's pretty good," Papuchis said.
The big play was a reference to an 80-yard touchdown run Northwestern running back Venric Mark had in the third quarter. The Wildcats changed up their blocking scheme on the play and caught Nebraska off-guard.
Aside from that breakdown, Bo Pelini felt his defense played "really well."
Did Nebraska simplify the defense at all leading into the game?
Not really, Pelini said.
"Sometimes the misconception out there is that we do all this complicated stuff," he said. "What it requires out there to execute our defense is discipline and focus. And I thought our guys did that really well."
Papuchis said "the resiliency" is what he appreciated most out of his players. Even when the score was 28-16, the coordinator said players were fully engaged in sideline discussions about corrections as if the score was tied.
"And that's what you want out of a mature defense," he said. "I think we grew up a little bit today."
* Delivering in the crunch: "Gutsy" was the word Beck used to describe the play of his junior quarterback Taylor Martinez.
"I thought he kept plays alive. He kept his eyes down the field. He ran hard," Beck said. "I told him after the game, I hugged him and said, 'I'm really proud of you.' I think there's a lot of pressure on him. Last week (people say) he sucked. This week he's the greatest quarterback ever. That's kind of how things go, and I told him that. He's just got to keep working to get better, and keep learning and developing his skills."
Finishing the game with 342 yards passing, Martinez completed 10 of his final 11 passes for 140 yards.
It was a strong response after throwing two consecutive passes that were nearly intercepted by Northwestern.
"When you have a chance for a turnover and then you miss it, the football gods usually strike you with some lightning," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters after the game."
The next play, facing 3rd-and-10, Martinez hit Kyler Reed for 16 yards on one of the most important plays of the game. The quarterback's comeback charge was on.
"He delivered when we needed to," Beck said.
* Sarcastic cheers: Always a tough critic of himself, Ameer Abdullah took it in stride when Husker fans let out mock cheers Saturday when he made some clean fair catches after Nebraska had fumbled two punts previously — one from him, another from Kenny Bell.
"It was funny," Abdullah said of the crowd's reaction. "They have the right to. We came back there and … we weren't focused. They have the right to do that. But you know, it won't happen again."
Quotes on the run
"He was poised the whole time. He kept his poise better than his head coach did." — Bo Pelini on Taylor Martinez.
"It's easier to make tough corrections and be harder on your guys coming off a win. Because there's a positive vibe around the program. So that's part of it. But what we need to learn from this obviously is somehow, some way, stop hurting ourselves. And I know it gets redundant to say that over and over because it sounds like something we say every week. But we got to find a way to stop doing that." — John Papuchis
"I was on the sideline and I was just praying, 'Please, please miss.' And it went wide-right and I was happy." — Ciante Evans
"I told our guys, 'It's just one.' Second half of the year we talked about starting a new season. And we got one here on the road. Now we have to keep going." — Bo Pelini