It's no secret that the Nebraska offense goes as far as sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez takes them.
Martinez, known for being a duel-threat quarterback, leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency (162.8) and is second in the conference with 230.7 passing yards per game (1,615 yards passing on the season). He also leads the Big Ten with 15 touchdown passes.
Saturday evening the Nebraska passing attack, led by Martinez, will take on a Wolverine defense that gives up a second-best-in-the-league 285.3 yards per game and that leads the conference in pass defense, only giving up 142.3 yards per contest.
Something has to give, right? Last year it was the Michigan defense that dominated Martinez and the rest of the Husker offense in a 45-17 route in Ann Arbor, limiting the talented quarterback to a 122 yards passing and the Nebraska offense to just 260 total yards.
Now, Martinez looks and plays like a different quarterback, and he has 11 touchdowns with no interceptions at Lincoln's Memorial Stadium this season. He has completed 67.0 percent of his passes with an even more impressive 72.2 percentage at home. And his improved play has been noticed by Michigan senior safety Jordan Kovacs.
"He is definitely a improved quarterback," said the Wolverine captain. "I think he has really improved his throwing motion. He's tough at home. He is very tough at home. I don't think he has thrown an interception at home. We are going to have our hands full with him. He is an older guy now. He's seen a lot. He's seen this defense, ‘cause we have seen that offense. I think he's a guy that's going to be comfortable at home at night."
The Cornhuskers boast the top scoring offense (41.6 ppg) and total offense (512.4 ypg) in the Big Ten, and Martinez is third in individual total offense per game, averaging 288.3 yards per contest.
"I know his percentages and all that are up from throwing the ball," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "He's taking care of the ball pretty well. I think it's 15-(4) in touchdowns, interceptions, has no interceptions at home. I think that's part of it. I think he was kind of banged up a year ago, in and out with an ankle. (This year) I think he's been pretty healthy. I just think it's maturity and maturing in the offense. And I think he's surrounded by a physical group up front that we've got to contend with."
One concern for the Wolverine defense is Martinez's ability to throw the ball on the run. While the Husker QB has that ability, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said that where the Michigan corners line up will dictate where he throws the ball.
"I think their passing game is like a lot of other people's, it's very sound," Mattsion said. As to whether Martinez throws mainly sideline routes, Mattison said, "Because of his mobility and the times he is out of the pocket it may look that way. I don't see anything that this is a huge tendency, that he is going to throw a lot more outside the hashes then he does in. I think he is going to throw what you give him. If you play soft corners, then they are going to throw the outs. If you play a little heavier corners, then they're going to try to get inside on you."
Michigan senior cornerback J.T. Floyd said Martinez's improved play is evident based on his "decisions" thus far this season.
"He is making good decisions," Floyd said. "Especially at home—he hasn't thrown an interception at home. So that lets you know he really protects his house. He is going to be great challenge. His offensive line is doing a great job of protecting him. He is using his feet. This is going to be tough task."
Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) plays host to No. 20 Michigan (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) this Saturday 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
Martinez's improved play has U-M D on alert
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