<
>

Huskers' Martinez earned his starting spot

9/9/2010

Shawn Watson didn't hand his offense to his best runner. He didn't hand his offense to his best -- or most explosive -- playmaker. He didn't hand it to the player with the brightest future for a Nebraska program with a past few rival.

He handed it to his best quarterback.

"He earned it," Watson said. Simple as that.

From spring through fall, Taylor Martinez outplayed his competition, Cody Green and Zac Lee. It was close, Watson says, but Martinez proved the Huskers' offense was best suited for his hands, however inexperienced they might be.

"The deciding factor, and what kind of tipped things Taylor’s way, was his consistency and his ability to deliver the big play because he did it on a consistent basis, not only a runner but as a passer," Watson said.

Martinez showed off one of those big plays on the first carry of his career, solidifying his place in Husker lore with a 46-yard score. He came to the sideline and received a simple message from his coordinator upstairs over the headset.

"Great job man, great way to get your career started as a starter," Watson told him.

So how did Martinez, a redshirt freshman, beat out last year's starter, Lee, and a former blue-chip recruit in Green to become the first freshman to start a season opener in the history of Nebraska football?

Watson chalks it up to Martinez's competitiveness. The best hate to lose and work to make sure they don't. Watson got to know him and quickly saw Martinez fit the description.

"My experience has been that guys who have had that competitive edge, they don’t surprise me because they find a way to get where they want to go and what they want to be," Watson said.

On Saturday, Martinez made it on the field. His headline-making introduction may have startled some -- but not Watson. He got his introduction to the playmaker long ago.

"He’s done it so many times, since the spring until now. The best way to explain it to you is he looks and expects those things to happen," Watson said. "He looks for that opportunity."

So for now, Martinez is firmly entrenched as the Huskers' starter. Talks swirled of Nebraska's "plan" entering the season opener, but it wasn't a complex plan, and it didn't involve Lee, who came off the bench as the No. 3 quarterback.

"We wanted to continue to evaluate the situation in a game situation with an opponent and see what that brought and kind of get a feel for how he would handle the lights of a game," Watson said. "And we were going to play Cody a series there in the first half."

The lights may have been on against Western Kentucky, losers of their last 21, but they obviously didn't change Martinez, who isn't available to the media this week, but answered questions for the first time after Saturday's win, when he completed 9 of 15 passes for 136 yards.

"Don’t get me wrong; he is the starter," Watson said. "How much Cody plays -- and if Cody plays -- comes down to how well he does in practice and where things are competitively at our position."

Martinez hopes to further distance himself with another step forward in the rapid development he showed during the offseason. Coaches placed all three quarterbacks in pressure situations during practice, like third-and-longs, red zone execution or clock management exercises. During every practice, each quarterback found himself in a variety of situations three or four times.

"He started making plays, and as his confidence grew, he became a handful for our defense," Watson said. "He needed to grow as a passer -- because he always had the skill set, and it’s unbelievable, the growth he’s shown. But he’s thrown himself into it. He made it a purpose and a goal and [to] show myself and our staff that he can go out and be equally as good a passer as a runner."

Pressure situations are tough to come by in a 49-10 blowout win, but Martinez didn't carry over that development when he tried to run a two-minute drill at the end of the first half with 72 yards between him and the end zone and 1:02 to get there. The result: Two incompletions and a sack.

Don't expect the Huskers to turn to a more experienced quarterback the next time Nebraska needs a big drive.

"For him, every game will bring a new experience. He just has to keep learning and growing and all those experiences," Watson said. "That’s where he needs experience to grow, and that only happens by getting in those situations in a game."

And Watson's not shy about his thoughts about Martinez's chances of turning those failures into successes with even more on the line.

"Knowing him and his purpose, he’ll drive himself there," Watson said. "I personally have a lot of faith in him in the passing game as much as the running game."