LINCOLN — It started with a 46-yard touchdown run by Taylor Martinez on Nebraska’s third play of the game.
What followed was intermittent proof that it would keep going — and now surely be a huge part of the Huskers’ offense.
NU put its quarterback run game on display Saturday night as it started the football season with a 49-10 win over Western Kentucky at Memorial Stadium.
And Martinez gave it a dynamic flair, his fast-moving legs being one of the major reasons that the redshirt freshman emerged from a three-quarterback battle through preseason camp to be the starter in his first career game.
“I thought Taylor did a nice job running the ball,” coach Bo Pelini said. “He made some explosive plays and did some really good things. I thought for his first start he did a nice job.”
After the 46-yarder there were runs of 43, 19, 15. Some darting, some dancing. Some flat-out speed that obviously differentiates him from Cody Green and Zac Lee, although both other Husker quarterbacks ran it effectively before a crowd of 85,555.
Martinez finished with 127 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries — the first 100-yard rushing game by an NU quarterback since Jammal Lord in 2003. In all, the quarterbacks accounted for 165 of the Huskers’ 289 rushing yards.
Nebraska wants it to be part of its offense. As a defensive guru, Pelini knows what it’s like to defend when it’s done well.
“It’s why we’re doing it,” he said. “We try to make it hard on the defense and make them have to account for everybody, and obviously to do that in the run game the quarterback’s a big part of it.”
Before getting too carried away, it must be noted that Western Kentucky ranked No. 118 in total defense and No. 119 in scoring defense last season. The Hilltoppers only recently jumped to the Football Bowl Subdivision level and are mired in a 21-game losing skid.
But T-Mart or T-Magic — or whatever nickname takes hold as Martinez slips from under the radar — has the kind of speed and running ability that is going to require attention no matter the opponent.
“He’s been making plays throughout all fall camp,” I-back Rex Burkhead said. “It’s great to see he can do it in games.”
Martinez actually threw before he ran Saturday night, completing a quick 5-yard pass to Brandon Kinnie. Lined up in the shotgun the following snap, he sprinted up the field on a zone-read keeper for his 46-yard run that included WKU free safety Kareem Peterson obviously taking a bad angle.
Martinez then settled in with his passing before running again. He was 5 for 5 for 69 yards before being replaced by Green with a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
With Nebraska ahead 21-0, Martinez started the second half with a 43-yard run, stumbling and bumping into the referee along the way. That series finished with his 19-yard scoring jaunt and a 28-0 lead.
His last play before leaving was a 15-yard touchdown run that put the Huskers ahead 35-3 with 2:01 left in the third quarter.
“I was all right with it,” Martinez said of his first game as a Husker. “I can play a lot better.”
His postgame words hardly matched his impact on the Huskers’ 25th consecutive season- opening win. The mystery of whether he would start or not was even concealed until about a half-hour before kickoff when the starters were announced on the HuskerVision screens.
Other than flashing some of his explosiveness in the spring game, Martinez went into Saturday night as still somewhat of an unknown.
“Nobody else has seen it,” Green said. “People in the stands, they haven’t seen it. We know his speed. And so when that happens, we’re just sitting on the sidelines having a ball with it, because the team’s not ready for it, the fans aren't ready for it .... And we’re just laughing and going, ‘We see this every day. Our defense sees it every day.’ It was fun watching him go out there and play.”
Green got into the act by carrying three times for 17 yards. Lee had three rushing attempts for 21.
Get used to it after no Husker quarterback in the last six seasons finished with more than 300 yards rushing — Joe Ganz netted 258 in 2008 — and nobody during the Bill Callahan era did anything over a season that resembled what Martinez did in three quarters.
“The importance of it is that a defense hates a quarterback that can run,” Green said. “If a quarterback doesn't run, it’s 10 on 11. Defense wins, 24/7, it doesn't matter. The offenses that are set for a quarterback to run, defenses hate facing it. That’s what we came to now.”
|Yards per carry||4.5||8.8|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Western Kentucky.
|Western Kentucky||Sept. 4|
|South Dakota State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 20|
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