With a full season still to play, Taylor Martinez already is Nebraska’s most prolific quarterback, statistically.
He owns records for career total offense and passing, and he needs fewer than 600 yards to overtake 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch as the school’s top rushing quarterback.
All Martinez lacks going into his fourth season as the starter is a championship.
He says he isn’t worried about that. He plans to keep doing what he’s been doing with his breakaway speed and improved passing and see where it takes him and the 18th-ranked Cornhuskers.
“Just keep on going out there and just having fun,” he said. “Just take it one game at a time, just keep on winning. That’s the most important thing. Everything else will fall in place.”
Martinez has won 29 of his 39 starts and joined Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Vince Young (Texas) and Chaney High graduate Brad Smith (Missouri) as the only FBS quarterbacks to pass for 6,000 yards and rush for 2,500 in their careers by the end of their junior seasons.
Martinez established himself as one of the nation’s most dangerous run-pass threats early in his freshman year. He’s broken nine runs of 50 yards or longer, and he’s thrown a school-record 46 touchdowns passes.
For all the big numbers he’s put up, Martinez knows he can be better.
He threw 12 interceptions and lost eight of his 16 fumbles last season. Only North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon and Mississippi’s Bo Wallace committed more than Martinez’s 20 turnovers.
Eight of Martinez’s interceptions came when the Huskers were trailing, including four when they were down by more than a touchdown. He said he was trying too hard to make plays.
“That’s the only way you can come back,” he said.
Even with the turnovers and sacks, the Huskers averaged 461 yards and 35 points a game.
“The only time we got stopped was turning over the football,” Martinez said. “That was a huge emphasis this past spring and fall. If we keep working on that, we should be pretty good.”
Martinez also is polishing his pocket presence. The Huskers were 105th in sacks allowed and gave up an average of 4.25 in their four losses.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he has seen improvement in Martinez through the first two weeks of practice.
“I’ve been really pleased with his progress,” Beck said. “Some of the areas that we identified in the offseason, here is what we have to get better at, he’s been really working at it and it shows.”
What are those areas?
“Just not taking sacks, hanging onto the ball a long time and knowing when to take off with it, when to dump the ball,” Beck said. “He’s really been good on his reads and his route progressions and not forcing throws.”
Martinez has plenty of help around him, starting with the most experienced offensive line since Cardinal Mooney graduate Bo Pelini took over as head coach in 2008. Kenny Bell heads one of the best receiving corps in the Big Ten, if not the nation, and running back Ameer Abdullah is a returning 1,000-yard rusher and a receiving threat.
“We’ve got a lot of electrifying guys,” Beck said. “Sometimes dumping the ball to Ameer could be a home run play.”
Martinez, who’s usually reserved with the media, gets glowing reviews from teammates for his leadership. Pelini named him one of the team’s four captains.
The pieces are in place for a big finish to Martinez’s career.
“I’ve played with Taylor since we started together as redshirt freshmen,” offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said, “and I’ve watched him grow into being a fantastic quarterback and a great leader and a great teammate.”
NCAA: Ex-Marine can play
The NCAA has ruled that a Middle Tennessee football player who spent five years in the Marines will be allowed to compete this fall and that he will have four years of eligibility remaining.
It’s a reversal from the NCAA’s earlier decision to rule Steven Rhodes was ineligible because he played in a recreational league during his military service. School officials had said earlier Monday that they were working with NCAA officials to come up with a solution.
“This is exciting news for Steven and Middle Tennessee State University,” school President Sidney McPhee said in a statement. “We express our gratitude to the NCAA for reviewing this situation and granting Steven the ability to play this fall.”
Late Monday afternoon, the NCAA issued a news release saying Rhodes could play immediately and member schools would continue to re-examine the competition rules, especially as it impacts those returning from military service. Rhodes has been practicing at both tight end and defensive end.