LINCOLN — Want to torment the coaches of Nebraska's upcoming opponents this fall? Remind them of what Taylor Martinez did three and a half minutes into last year's Big Ten title game.
Husker fans have seen the highlight dozens and dozens of times — Martinez retreating 15 yards into the backfield, covering two-thirds of the field's width before kicking it into high gear and sprinting past Wisconsin's defenders for a 76-yard touchdown.
Coaches like Wyoming's Dave Christensen, on the other hand, would rather not watch. Because there's not much they can do when a speedy quarterback is improvising on the fly.
“Scares me to death every time I see it,” Christensen said.
The quote says it all. There's no element of Nebraska's offense that's more threatening than Martinez's ability to instantly recreate play designs after the snap.
It certainly won't be easy for defenses to prepare for the advanced design of the Huskers' scheme, and the quick pace at which Nebraska operates. All those versatile and talented skill players on NU's roster will create matchup issues. The offensive line's deep and experienced. Ameer Abdullah's toughness and determination is rubbing off on the I-backs, too.
But Martinez voluntarily escaping the pocket and looking for running lanes while half the defense is focused on covering receivers? That's huge, according to offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
“I think he knows how valuable that is, what he has,” Beck said. “It's starting to be a trend in college football and the NFL — those guys that can scramble become very valuable.”
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The key for Martinez, though: Identifying the right time to try to recreate those unscripted moments of brilliance.
Remember, the coaches don't want their quarterback pushing the limits of the offense every single play. They tell him that a forced throw or extra juke move can often be too risky — because he could always put the football in the hands of another explosive player a snap later.
Martinez mentioned it Monday, indicating that an improved offensive line could give him the confidence to stay within the tackle box as he waits for receivers to find openings. Perhaps, he hinted, scrambling isn't as necessary as it has been.
“It depends on maybe if there's a blitz coming, you may have to get out of there early,” Martinez said. “If they're just dropping everybody and rushing three or four, you may know you can sit in the pocket a little longer.”
But he'll never be able to completely abandon that impromptu play-making ability from his game. And the coaching staff is OK with that.
In fact, Nebraska might even try to find ways to feature it.
That's what happened against Penn State last season, when Martinez scrambled nine times for 81 yards. The Nittany Lions' defensive ends were trying to rush on the outside of Nebraska's offensive tackles, so Martinez simply stepped up in the pocket and took off.
“Some of those plays were designed. Pass draws,” Beck said.
Martinez could have chosen to deliver a quick pass, if open. Or run it instead.
That's sort of similar to the concept of the run-pass option rollouts Nebraska unveiled last year, too.
Martinez's 35-yarder that helped spark a comeback against Michigan State was one of those plays. He left four would-be tacklers on the turf after that run.
Coaches can only shake their heads. Or lose their minds. Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph is just grateful he doesn't have to game plan against it. The skills Martinez has aren't replicated too often.
Said Joseph: “There's some plays that come up during practice that you just say (to our defense), 'Hey, don't worry about that.'”
Nebraska's opponents don't have that luxury.