October 2, 2010

Nebraska's non-conference season awards

As Nebraska heads into its first bye week of the season, HuskersIllustrated.com has decided to recap the some of the highlights of the first four games, as well as hand out our awards for the Huskers' top performers and performances thus far.

Offensive MVP: Taylor Martinez, QB

After one of the most heavily debated quarterback competitions in recent memory this offseason, it was redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez who finally emerged as Nebraska's starter at the end of fall camp. Since then, he's done nothing but continue to justify his title. With a team-leading 496 yards and eight touchdowns already on 53 attempts, Martinez has emerged as the Huskers' most dangerous threat in the running game during non-conference play.

Defensive MVP: DeJon Gomes, S

After bursting onto the scene last year as a juco transfer, senior DeJon Gomes has picked up right where he left off after moving from cornerback to safety over the offseason. What makes him such a valuable asset to Nebraska's defense is his nose for the football and his ball hawking instincts in pass coverage. Through the first four games, Gomes ranks second on the team with 30 tackles, and he took back an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against Idaho and forced a fumble at the goal line against Western Kentucky to wipe a touchdown off the board.

Biggest offensive surprise: Brandon Kinnie, WR

Martinez could probably win this award as well, but considering the fact that junior Brandon Kinnie has all but surpassed senior Niles Paul as Nebraska's No. 1 wide receiver, he gets the nod here. It's not as if Kinnie wasn't expected to play a big role in the Huskers' passing game, it's just many didn't expect he'd become such a big factor right away. He currently leads the team with 17 catches for 215 yards, and had it not been for a questionable spot on his 55-yard catch and run against Washington, he would have a touchdown as well.

Biggest defensive surprise: Rickey Thenarse, S

With all that senior safety Rickey Thenarse has gone through in both his life and at Nebraska, it's hard not to rank him among one of my favorite all-time Huskers. What's even better is he's actually been able to stay healthy this season for the first time in years, and he's finally been able to showcase his talents as one of NU's starters. His 25 tackles rank third on the team so far, and his 47-yard pick-six against Idaho has been one of the highlights of the season for the Blackshirts.

Best offensive play: Martinez's 80-yard touchdown scamper

All the talk prior to Nebraska's trip to take on Washington was focused on Husky quarterback Jake Locker. As it turned out, Martinez was the QB who stole the show. Of his many highlight plays on the season, none were more impressive than when he kept the ball on a zone read option, took it around the left end, broke a tackle and blazed his way 80 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter against UW. That play set the tone for a dominating second half for the Huskers, and it showed the nation that NU may have found its next elite playmaker quarterback.

Best defensive plays: Gomes and Thenarse's pick-sixes

Though Nebraska's win over Idaho in Week 2 was never in doubt, the offense took a little longer than usual to finally put some points up on the scoreboard. Luckily, the defense was there to help get things going. With the Huskers leading 17-0 late in the second quarter, Gomes and Thenarse recorded consecutive interceptions returned for touchdowns to officially put the game out of reach.

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