LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Going into his second year as Nebraska’s starting quarterback, Taylor Martinez is back to square one.
A career that started with promise last season ended with losses in three of four games, partly because of Martinez’s toe and ankle injuries and partly because of his poor decision-making at key moments.
Now Martinez has a new offense tailored to his skill set and, maybe more importantly, a new attitude.
"I think you’ll see a different kind of me out there just because I think the offense is going to be different," Martinez said.
The 10th-ranked Cornhuskers open their first season in the Big Ten on Saturday against Chattanooga. First-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck hasn’t said how much of his up-tempo system he’ll use against the Mocs, members of the Football Championship Subdivision.
The particulars of the offense have been kept under wraps to people outside the program. Players have said the offense runs with or without a huddle and includes the power running game, some triple-option and lots of quick passes.
Whatever the system looks like, Martinez needs to play well against an overmatched opponent if he’s going to win back fans and perhaps some teammates who began doubting his leadership the second half of last season.
Martinez ran for a 46-yard touchdown on the first carry of his career and by late September was being mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. But he netted just 79 yards on 50 carries in his four games after getting hurt, and hesitancy in the pocket led to many of the combined 11 sacks he took in the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma and Holiday Bowl against Washington.
Coach Bo Pelini’s tongue-lashing of Martinez on the sideline at Texas A&M — prompted by Martinez’s locker-room phone call to his father — was one of the enduring scenes from the season.
Martinez’s aversion to the media made him seem aloof.
But teammates say Martinez’s demeanor changed in the offseason.
"He’s being more vocal, being more confident," receiver Brandon Kinnie said. "He’s walking around with a chip on his shoulder like he’s got something to prove. When we break the huddles down, he’s breaking it down. He never did that last year. He’s controlling things at the line. I believe if your quarterback is confident, it makes your whole offense confident."
Martinez said the new offense gives him more freedom to make decisions based on how the defense lines up.
"I think he likes to think he has all the decisions," Beck said, laughing.
"Taylor and I have to — scary thought — almost have to have the same brain. He’s a sharp, young guy when it comes to the game of football, and he can get it."
The new system is supposed to be simpler than the one employed by former coordinator Shawn Watson, and Beck said it will be important for Martinez to not take too much upon himself.
"If he just runs the offense, everybody will get what they need to get," Beck said. "He doesn’t need to force throws or runs or decisions."
Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said he can only guess about what Nebraska’s offense will look like, but he’s certain that Martinez will be difficult to stop.
Huesman said he remembers watching Martinez’s highlights from the Huskers’ win over Idaho while the Mocs were riding the bus back to Chattanooga from a game in Alabama.
"Knowing we had Nebraska on the schedule and seeing him, I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? We’re playing another Heisman candidate,’" said Huesman, whose team has had the misfortune of facing the last three Heisman Trophy winners.
"He’s just an electric-type of player. He’s going to be hard to defend for us."