Nebraska Football Fan Day, 8.3.12

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez poses with a young fan during the annual Nebraska Football Fan Day on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

FRANCIS GARDLER / Lincoln Journal Star

Let the outside world snicker.

Taylor Martinez couldn't care less. At least that's the vibe he emits. I like that quality in anyone, especially a quarterback at Nebraska. His skin better be alligator thick. 

The junior from California raised eyebrows Friday when asked what completion percentage he hopes to achieve this season.

"Seventy percent or above," he said matter-of-factly.

Hahahaha, folks wrote to me on Twitter.

Martinez completed only 56.2 percent of his passes last season, and 59.2 percent in 2010. His throwing motion looked a little too much like Uncle Rico's in "Napoleon Dynamite."

Whatever. Let people poke fun. 

Martinez projected comfort and confidence while addressing the media Friday. After all, he should encounter a smoother ride in his second go-round in Tim Beck's offense, he said. He also has talented targets all over the field. What's more, much has been made of his work during the spring and summer with a private quarterbacks coach — a first for him, he said.

Martinez revealed that he became frustrated at times last season when Nebraska leaned hard on its ground game. But, hey, many of the receivers were young and unsure exactly what routes to run against certain coverages, he said. Sometimes Martinez himself was confused.

That said, he had his moments throwing the ball. He found a groove against Northwestern (28-for-37 for 289 yards and two touchdowns), albeit in a dispiriting loss.

"I'm capable of doing that every game if they give me the chance," he said, mentioning the Oklahoma State game in 2010.

I can hear the chuckles now. Let's face it, Martinez is like Nebraska coach Bo Pelini in at least one regard: Both enter the 2012 season with doubters nipping at their heels. Martinez should be used to it by now.

He proceeds undaunted, or so it seemed, Friday:

* On his expectations for the team: "To win a national championship." (He doesn't back down from similar comments he made during the spring).

* On how he feels he has performed as a leader: "Really good."

Meanwhile, it's increasingly evident that Pelini and Martinez have a tight bond.  

"Coach Pelini is like a father figure to me and I've loved him ever since I got on campus," Martinez said.

Pelini was somewhat defiant last week while assessing Martinez's offseason. The coach told reporters during Big Ten Media Days that he knows they're skeptical of Martinez making significant improvement. We'll all find out when the season arrives, the coach said flatly.

"Is that fair enough?" he said.

Martinez's teammates say they see progress.

"His decisions are quicker," senior receiver Tim Marlowe said. "It's a split-second sport. You have to make split-second decisions.

"He knows when to take risks and when to cut his losses and hit Rex (Burkhead) or Ameer (Abdullah) out of the backfield. Being able to hit your checkdowns is very important, and Taylor has really grown in that way."

It should help that Nebraska has a better idea of what to expect from Big Ten defenses. Discussing last season, Martinez painted a picture of confusion. Wisconsin, for instance, caught Nebraska by surprise with coverages, he said, and turned three interceptions into touchdowns in a 48-17 whitewashing. 

Nebraska also should benefit from Martinez being healthy to begin the season. Last season, he said, he began preseason camp still bothered by ankle and toe injuries suffered in 2010. 

"This is the best I've felt since my redshirt freshman year," he said.

He is ready to run.

"I think this year I should be running the ball a lot more," he said.

Or maybe he was bluffing, considering Pelini has said he wants Nebraska to pass more often. Husker players have talked of going from a run/pass ratio of nearly 70/30 to 50/50.

"That would make our offense more dangerous than what it already is," Martinez said.

Nebraska possesses the best group of receivers/tight ends in the Big Ten. Can Martinez get the ball to them consistently? It's one of the most important questions entering preseason camp.

"Taylor's had a tremendous offseason," Pelini said. "But it's got to carry over."

This time of year almost anything seems possible. Everything you hear from players has a Kumbaya feel.

The Huskers seem to have a tight bond. It was tight last year, Martinez said, but it's growing tighter.

Same goes for his bond with Pelini.

"My family and him, and myself and him, we've been really close," Martinez said. "My dad loves him, and Coach Bo loves my family.

"Since I've been here, he's really been like a father figure to me."

Does a starting quarterback at Nebraska, where scrutiny is white-hot, need that type of support from a head coach?

"Not really," said Martinez, as matter-of-fact as ever.

Yeah, let 'em snicker.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or


Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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