Martinez is improving, so is Huskers' offense

Taylor Martinez is content to run the show rather than be the show for ninth-ranked Nebraska.

Taylor Martinez is content to run the show rather than be the show for ninth-ranked Nebraska.

As the sophomore quarterback has evolved as a player, the Cornhuskers' offense has become more consistent and less reliant on the big play.

"He's gotten a little bit smarter," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.

Martinez changed some habits the week after his horrible outing at Wisconsin. He led the biggest comeback in program history against Ohio State and showed a steady hand in leading his team to convincing wins over Minnesota and Michigan State.

"Now I'm kind of understanding what my role on the team is -- just to be able to manage the game and get us a win," said Martinez, who will lead Nebraska (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) against Northwestern (3-5, 1-4) at home on Saturday.

As a freshman, and early this season, Martinez was apt to take off running at the first sign of trouble and show no hesitation to go into contact. He also tended to force passes, including his three game-changing interceptions in the 48-17 loss to the Badgers.

Martinez has lately been more willing to slide or run out of bounds when a big collision looks imminent -- much to Beck's relief -- and he's more likely to throw the ball away if he's in trouble or no receiver is open.

Maybe most important, he's become comfortable being in charge of the no-huddle offense installed last spring.

"We put a lot on the quarterback in this offense with the audible system and recognizing the defense and getting us in and out of plays, the change in tempos," coach Bo Pelini said.

Pelini said it has taken time for Martinez to understand he doesn't have to carry the offense by himself.

"He wants the ball in his hands," Pelini said. "He has a lot of confidence in his abilities and that is part of the maturity of somebody, especially at his position, knowing when to and when not to."

Martinez remains a breakaway threat. He's gone over 100 yards rushing in three games, and his 82.4-yard average is sixth in the Big Ten. He has had six runs of at least 20 yards.

Last year, he averaged 110 yards through eight games and had 14 runs of 20 yards or farther.

Overall, the offense has had 36 plays of 20 yards or longer this season compared with 49 at this point a year ago.

"I said last year that even when we were putting up big numbers, we weren't being very efficient," Pelini said. "We were living on the big play and the big chunks of yards. When people made us earn it down the field, we struggled."

With Martinez at the controls and workhorse Rex Burkhead behind him, the Huskers have churned out six scoring drives of 10 plays or more the last two games, including a 17-play, 91-yard march against Minnesota.

"That is where we have been dramatically different this year," Pelini said. "There is a lot that contributes to that. Not only the rushing attack, but we have had good balance. The audibles help and Tim has called some good football games. We put a lot of stress on defenses in a lot of different ways."

For all the improvements Martinez has made, he can't escape the criticism of his unconventional throwing motion. He often throws sidearm and off his back foot. Martinez doesn't acknowledge the knocks and contends he probably has one of the quickest releases of any college quarterback.

"No matter how the ball gets there," he said, "your release is the main thing about your throwing motion."

Martinez has had difficulty hitting receivers on intermediate routes, and he's boom-or-bust on his deep throws. He's completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,256 yards and eight touchdowns. He's also been intercepted seven times.

Martinez said he, like other quarterbacks, adjusts his motion depending on the situation.

"It all depends how you're throwing the ball -- if a defensive lineman is in front of your face, which way you're throwing," he said. "You can't just set and drop back with perfect mechanics. Peyton Manning never really does it, neither really does Tom Brady."

Pelini said he doesn't care if Martinez throws underhanded if the pass reaches its intended target. But the coach said his offensive staff continues to work with Martinez on footwork, shoulder placement and mechanics.

"You listen to some of these guys on TV... we are not in the NFL right now," Pelini said. "It's a different style of offense. Everybody is not the same. We won't change him into a robot."

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