Martinez's arm steals show

2012-09-01T23:45:00Z 2013-08-22T14:16:11Z Martinez's arm steals showBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

He's said the goal is to complete 70 percent of his passes this season.

The question after Saturday: Why’d Taylor Martinez set the percentage so low?

We say that in jest, of course, but the Nebraska junior quarterback showed anyone who may have scoffed at that idea that he means business, dazzling with his passing Saturday afternoon in a 49-20 win against Southern Miss.

Martinez completed 26 of 34 passes — 76.4 percent — for a career-high 354 yards. He tossed five touchdowns, none more precise than a 26-yard beauty to Kenny Bell in the game’s opening quarter.

Someone asked him after the game if he made a statement.

"I'm sure you guys are going to write something about me, so I guess if you guys want to say that ...," he said. "I just go out there and play. I just go out there and try my best."

Martinez looked in his comfort zone from the start, completing his first five passes. By the end of the first quarter, he'd thrown for 102 yards, and by halftime he had 249 yards and had given the Huskers a 28-17 lead.

“People say he’s not one of the elite quarterbacks in the Big Ten,” said right tackle Jeremiah Sirles. “He proved he is.”

Bo Pelini described the performance as “very efficient.” If some fans at Memorial Stadium were surprised by the accuracy, Nebraska’s head coach did not seem to be.

“It’s what I expected from Taylor,” Pelini said.

A similar sentiment came from offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

“I’m not surprised. I’m pleased,” Beck said. “I think he deserves it. He earned it. He’s worked really hard to put himself in this position.”

Sure, there was one throw Martinez got away with, a bad ball that was nearly picked off and might have been returned for a touchdown had it been. But it wasn’t.

And, really, it was the only bad decision he seemed to make in the passing game all day.

By halftime, he had already completed passes to 10 receivers: Enunwa, Reed, Abdullah, Long, Turner, Osborne, Bell, Evans, Wullenwaber, Cotton.

Nebraska’s offense worked at a fast tempo, wearing down Southern Miss. The Huskers piled up 632 yards, gaining an average of 8 yards each play.

Naturally, the Huskers were enthused about their showing. But there was also a bit of a shrug of the shoulders from some in the postgame interview room.

A strong outing was sort of expected, given how the offense had performed in practice, some players said.

“We’re in Year 2 (of Beck’s) offense,” said junior Quincy Enunwa, who led NU with six catches for 70 yards. “The first year we were kind of timid, not really knowing what we could do. Now we’re just going out there and playing fast.”

Enunwa used the word “dominant” to sum up the offense.

“It’s just a word that we’ve brought in, and that’s what we want to do, is dominate every team,” he said.

Nebraska’s offense clicked along despite the fact that key seniors Rex Burkhead, Tim Marlowe and Ben Cotton all left the game because of injuries.

And it needed to click after Southern Miss rallied from a 14-0 deficit to tie the game, aided by a 100-yard kickoff return and some all-around shoddy special-teams play by Nebraska.

But NU’s offense was always in control. The Huskers punted only once and that did not come until the third quarter.

And this came on a day when Martinez and Burkhead — who is listed by Pelini as “day-to-day” after an MCL sprain — combined for just nine carries. Who would have guessed that going in?

As always, Martinez drew the most attention, especially after an offseason filled with talk about his effort to improve his footwork and throwing mechanics.

“Taylor’s mechanics have gotten better, there’s no question they’ve gotten better,” said running backs coach Ron Brown. “His maturity level has grown, his leadership. He knew there were a lot of eyes on him.”

And he responded with a loud answer that even his foes had to acknowledge.

“That’s a dynamic option,” Southern Miss linebacker Allen Howze said of Martinez’s passing. “I’m not going to say it was unexpected. It wasn’t shocking, but it was definitely something new.”

Martinez and crew will need to keep a foot on the pedal. Next week brings a fair challenge. A trip to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA, which also put up 49 points in its opener.

It’s also a homecoming for the California native Martinez.

“We’ve just got to be able to keep our momentum going,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can stop us if we keep going like that.”

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