OSU Prepares For Martinez, Cornhuskers

STILLWATER – Mike Gundy jokingly said Nebraska made a good decision this summer to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten Conference. That's because the Oklahoma State head coach has no desire to face Cornhusker redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez other than in Saturday's showdown between the nationally ranked teams.

"They made a good choice to go to the Big Ten," Gundy said with a smile on his face during his weekly news conference on Monday. "If he was a senior, I'd have been OK with him."

Martinez has rushed for 758 yards on 81 carries, an average of 9.4 yards per attempt, for the 14th-ranked Cornhuskers (5-1), who make the trip to Stillwater to face the 17th-ranked Cowboys (6-0) in the nationally televised Saturday afternoon game at Boone Pickens Stadium. Game time is 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally by ABC-TV.

However, the nation's 10th-ranked rusher (and No. 2 rushing quarterback behind only Michigan's Denard Robinson), had just 21 yards on 13 carries in a 20-13 loss to Texas this past Saturday, and was replaced by Zac Lee in the second half by Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini.

Pelini, however, said Monday that Martinez remains the Cornhuskers starting quarterback.

"You look back, I don't know that it was the right thing to do," Pelini said of pulling the redshirt freshman. "When you look back, Taylor wasn't the only problem. We were just looking for a spark.

"I have confidence in Taylor Martinez. I'll just leave it at that. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the guy," Pelini added.

Martinez, who has 12 runs of 20 yards or more this season, including touchdown runs of 67, 46, 20, 80, 35, 80 and 41 yards, will present a challenge for the Cowboy defense that they haven't seen through the first six games. The 6-1, 205-pound redshirt freshman from Corona, Calif., is more likely to beat a team with his feet than his throwing arm.

"The quarterback is a good player. He's explosive and has great breakaway speed," Gundy said. "Again I'm speaking somewhat out of turn here because I'm not in their program, but he's playing above his years in my opinion. He's playing with a lot of confidence."

The Cowboy defense used its most basic game plan of the season to shut down Texas Tech's high-powered offense in last Saturday's 34-17 victory in Lubbock, where OSU hadn't won in 66 years.

Defensive coordinator Bill Young says the Cowboys won't make many changes against Martinez and the Cornhuskers, even though Nebraska runs the ball 72.2 percent of the time while Texas Tech throws the ball on more than 61 percent of its offensive plays.

"We're going to run out base defense. That's who are and hopefully it will be good enough to hold up. We'll have to add a couple of new wrinkles in there without question, but the big thing is getting off blocks, not getting pushed back into the lap of the linebackers up front, (and) getting great support out of the secondary," said Young.

But the Cowboys will have to concentrate on stopping, or at least slowing down, Martinez, who has emerged as one of the frontrunners for National Freshman of the Year. He set the Nebraska quarterback record with 241 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 15 carries in a 48-13 victory over Kansas State earlier this month.

"He certainly has had some big plays," said Young. "I know against Western Kentucky he had tremendous runs, against Washington he had some ... he's had some in nearly every game he's played in."

While Martinez's signature play is keeping the ball on the zone read, Young says the Cornhusker quarterback does a lot of things well.

"He's really, really good at the zone read. It's not just the zone read, though," said the OSU defensive coordinator. "They run a bunch of plays that we haven't seen.

"It's a mid-line where they're reading the defensive tackle, and he jumps up the field or hands it off to the back. If (the defense) squeezes the back, the quarterback keeps it inside. A lot of time their quarterback's running is designed to be run off-tackle but he's bouncing it way outside and out-running the corner who has bolted inside for the tackle (off the running back) where the play should have been run.

"It's a very difficult offense to defend," Young added.

But Texas sure did it. The Longhorns only allowed Nebraska 202 total yards on 65 plays, including a season-low 125 rushing yards.

"But Texas is really fast in their second-level defenders, their backers and their safeties in support, and their corners when they're in there. They're really fast and it helped them in my opinion to really run (to the football). It'll be important that our defense play fast," Gundy said.

Young added, "Texas frustrated them really. They played a lot of man coverage which is what they do. It may have caught them off guard a little bit. Texas was able to keep them from having big plays and if you do that, that hurts any offense.

Will seeing what Texas did against Martinez and the Cornhuskers help the Cowboys? "It does but we just can't do what Texas did. That's just not our scheme. We'd have to reinvent our whole defense to do that and that would be a prescription for disaster for us, but at the same time it shows you that if you play assignment football and everyone does their job, you have a chance," said Young.

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