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Huskers' Martinez faces toughest test against Texas

Friday, October 15, 2010 | 7:46 p.m. CDT
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez carries the ball against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. on Oct. 7. Martinez just might be oblivious to all the fuss about this Texas-Nebraska game on Saturday. No one knows for sure because the Cornhuskers' redshirt freshman quarterback doesn't talk much.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Taylor Martinez just might be oblivious to all the fuss about this Texas-Nebraska game.

No one knows for sure because the Cornhuskers' redshirt freshman quarterback doesn't talk much, least of all to the media.

"That dude has major blinders on," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told reporters. "He doesn't want to talk to you because he doesn't want any distractions. I've said it and I know it sounds kind of boring, but he just wants the ball and wants to play."

The fleet-footed Martinez figures to get his toughest test to date in one of the most hyped games at Memorial Stadium in a decade.

With dominating road wins over Washington and Kansas State on its resume, fifth-ranked Nebraska (5-0, 1-0 Big 12) believes it has what it takes to win the national title in its last year in the Big 12.

The Longhorns (3-2, 1-1) need a win to avoid becoming the first of Mack Brown's 13 Texas teams to lose three straight regular-season games.

The Huskers have lost eight of nine meetings with Texas since the Big 12 started in 1996. They're still aching over their 13-12 loss in last year's Big 12 title game. Texas won on a controversial field goal when 1 second was put back on the clock after it appeared time had run out.

Barring a rematch in the Big 12 title game, this game will be the last in the series for a while. Nebraska is headed for the Big Ten in 2011, leaving behind old rivals and a conference where Texas has a lot of sway when it comes to shaping policy.

"I personally hate to see Nebraska leave the Big 12 simply because it's been such a great game between Texas and Nebraska and matchups of two of the winningest programs in college football history," Brown said. "It's fun to see the Longhorn on one helmet and the 'N' on the other."

The 'N' on Martinez's helmet has been a blur to Nebraska's opponents.

Martinez ran for a school quarterback-record 241 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 48-13 win at Kansas State, and he threw for another TD. His 369 total yards were an NU freshman record and the most by a Husker since 1991.

Martinez is averaging 147.4 yards rushing to rank fourth nationally and an incredible 10.8 yards per carry.

Whether he can keep up his pace against Texas' athletic defense is another question.

Western Kentucky, Washington and Kansas State — teams Martinez riddled for 127, 137 and 241 yards — rank 111th, 106th and 116th at defending the run. They haven't been able to stop anyone, but Brown knows Martinez will present a challenge.

"He's faster than anybody who's chasing him," Brown said. "He's a guy who scares you to death. Every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score."

Texas proved vulnerable to the run against UCLA, allowing 264 yards in a 34-12 loss.

Watson said he's studied film of that game to get some ideas. He pointed out that UCLA has a different running philosophy, employing the pistol formation and not using as much zone-read option as the Huskers.

Holding down Martinez is a matter of pride, Texas defensive end Sam Acho said.

"Texas has a standard year in and year out that we try to keep," he said. "As a defense, we want to live up to that standard no matter what else is going on."

Cornerback Curtis Brown said the strategy against Martinez is obvious.

"We have to take the ball off his feet and put it on his arm," Brown said.

Martinez has been adequate as a passer, completing 39 of 64 passes for 660 yards. He's thrown three touchdowns and been intercepted three times.

"Taylor is as efficient of a passer as I've ever been around," said Watson, an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach for 15 years at four schools. "His experience in the passing game every week grows, and he gets better and better and better. We've just had to not throw it a lot and that has been good."

Watson said Martinez's calm demeanor will serve him well in a game where the stakes are high.

"He loves to show up in big games," Watson said. "For me, it has a calming effect on our whole offense. It does for all the coaches also. The bigger the lights, the more he is ready."


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