STILLWATER — It was an afternoon Oklahoma State's defense would like to forget.
After coming through with big plays in key situations this season, OSU's defense surrendered more big plays than it made in a 51-41 loss to Nebraska at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday.
Time and time again, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez used his exceptional acceleration and speed to create big plays and key conversions for the Huskers.
One play reveals the overall picture of the Cowboys' defenses struggles: With OSU trailing 44-34 midway through the fourth quarter, Pokes linebacker Orie Lemon — one of the team's surest tacklers — came untouched on a blitz on third down. The elusive Martinez slipped Lemon's tackle then found Kyler Reed for 17 yards and a first down. Six plays later, Martinez found Brandon Kinnie for an eight-yard touchdown which essentially put the game away giving Nebraska a 51-34 lead with just under five minutes remaining.
It was a common theme for the Pokes' defense: In position to make a play on Martinez, but unable to finish the deal.
"You have to do a better job tackling," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "When you're playing a quarterback like that, instead of trying to take a shot at him, you have to just get him down."
Said defensive end Richetti Jones: "He's a master of the art of escape. We had him numerous times and he escaped us numerous times, I think he's one of the best in the country."
In situations where OSU's defense has excelled this season, they struggled against the Huskers. Whether it was Martinez's 26-yard run on third-and-six in the second quarter or Niles Paul's 20 yard reception on third-and-11 in the third quarter or Martinez's 21-yard run on first-and-20 late in the third quarter.
The Huskers' offense made clutch plays. OSU's defense did not.
"We missed a lot of tackles, missed a lot of sacks on third downs," defensive end Ugo Chinasa said. "It kept drives going and they got some scores."
Martinez finished 23 of 35 passing for 323 yards with five touchdowns and added 19 carries for 112 rushing yards.
"I was surprised," Young said of Martinez's ability to be a run and pass threat. "You're reluctant to say that but you just hadn't seen him be that accurate."
OSU's defense has been a bend but don't break unit during the Cowboys' 6-0 start but it broke at critical times on Saturday. The Cowboys entered the game ranked No. 16 nationally in red zone defense (73 percent) but Nebraska was 4 for 4 in the red zone including three touchdowns and 8 of 18 on third down conversion attempts (44.4 percent).
"The difference in the game was their quarterback," Gundy said. "He made big plays in crucial situations."