During the first nine games of his college football career, Nebraska University quarterback Taylor Martinez has shown a little bit of everything.
There was the game in Manhattan, on national television, in which the red-shirt freshman QB torched Kansas State for 241 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries in a 49-13 thrashing of the Wildcats.
It was after that one that his nickname, “T-Magic,” started to sizzle on the national stage.
Then there was the time at home against Texas, when Martinez was so ineffective that NU coach Bo Pelini benched him during the third quarter of the Huskers’ only loss of the season.
And then there’s last week, when an ankle injury kept Martinez out of the lineup, and the Huskers were taken to overtime by Iowa State before escaping with a one-point victory.
Though he’s just a freshman and though he’s been up, down and in between, one thing seems certain: As Martinez goes, so go the Cornhuskers.
“He takes about two or three steps, and you see him have a great burst,” KU coach Turner Gill said. “In some cases a guy will have a crease or a hole, and you can tackle him for a five- or an eight-yard gain. He hits that same crease and he’s gone for 40 or 50.”
If NU’s success is, in fact, tied directly to T-Magic’s effectiveness, the QB’s status for this week’s game against Kansas — 6 p.m. today in Lincoln, Neb. — has to have Cornhusker fans smiling, as the 6-foot-1, 205-pound signal caller is expected to be back in the starting lineup.
“If he’s healthy, yeah,” Pelini said at the beginning of the week. “And we expect him to be healthy. We feel real good about where he is right now.”
And why not? Through nine games, Martinez has rushed for 886 yards and 12 TDs and thrown for 1,161 yards and nine touchdowns. His second-level stats are equally as impressive. His yards-per-carry average is a whopping 7.9, and he has completed 60 percent of his passes (72 of 120) while tossing just three interceptions.
“We can’t sit there and say he won’t throw the ball,” KU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said. “But we’ve gotta stop the run first, because if we don’t stop the run, they’re not gonna have to throw it.”
Of course, to say Nebraska is ranked ninth in the nation — eighth in the BCS standings — simply because of the play of their young quarterback is a bit ridiculous.
Martinez has been aided by the play of senior tailback Roy Helu Jr. (906 yards and nine TDs) and the Nebraska defense, which ranks 23rd in the nation overall, including sixth in pass defense (154 yards per game and 15 interceptions) and 21st in scoring defense, surrendering just 19 points per game.
Nebraska’s famed Blackshirts defense features four players with two or more interceptions (Eric Hagg leads with four) and seven players with 35 tackles or more. LaVonte David is the team leader with 96, including three sacks. Preseason Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jared Crick (43 tackles) leads the team with 4.5 sacks.
KU may enter today’s game with a nothing-to-lose attitude and a little bit of momentum from last week’s incredible comeback victory against Colorado. But Pelini’s not too worried with where KU stands heading into the Jayhawks’ last trip to Lincoln.
“It doesn’t change us at all,” Pelini said. “We expect them to play their best, and we gotta be prepared to play our best. We can’t worry about what they’re motivated by or what their mind-set is. We focus on ourselves and what we have to do to keep progressing as a football team.”