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Whenever there’s an 8-month gap between football games, fans tend to compare and contrast quarterbacks before the season opener, and Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini knew the questions were coming Monday at his first 30-minute presser of the 2013 season. Pelini was friendly, funny and accommodating from the start (“I know you guys missed me”) to the finish (“I never get excited. Come on. You ever seen me excited? That’s an ongoing problem in my life. I have to check my emotion at the door. I love this part of the job.”)
As facetious as he was, Pelini shared his thoughts about two veteran quarterbacks who will face each other for a second time before a record crowd of 91,000-plus fans at Memorial Stadium Saturday night. The Big Ten Network will televise the game nationally. Kickoff is at 7 p.m., and the starting quarterbacks will be the same ones who were on the field two years ago in Laramie when Nebraska scored 24 points in the second half to defeat the Cowboys, 38-14. Taylor Martinez, then a sophomore, threw an 8-yard touchdown pass and ran eight yards for another TD at Wyoming. Brett Smith, Wyoming’s starting quarterback then and now, threw touchdown passes covering 48 yards and 10 yards against the Huskers.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. They could come out and throw us a curve, and we’ll be ready to adjust,” said Pelini, remembering how he felt leaving the sideline after the 2011 win at Wyoming. “I came out of that game thinking he’s (Smith) really far along for a true freshman. I don’t know what he runs, but he’s very elusive in the pocket and buys time. I think he’s a really good player.”
Martinez Ready to Take Next Step to Great
After a good fall camp, Martinez is ready to take that next step to great. He continues to grow into his position even though he’s a fifth-year senior and Nebraska’s all-time leader in total offense. “I think he’s more efficient than he’s been,” Pelini said, adding that T-Magic has improved his understanding of what teams are going to do and will have to react well so he can make some adjustments and manage the game like the veteran he is.
“Taylor has come so far, and he continues to grow,” Pelini said. “That’s the nature of that position. If he’s able to move on to the next level, he’ll still have a long way to go. It’s a humbling position. It’s a difficult position to play, and he’s been doing it since his freshman year and obviously, like any quarterback, has had his ups and his downs. You are going to have to face adversity.
“One thing I have a lot of respect for with Taylor is the way he has grown as a person and not only as a quarterback, but as a person through this whole thing,” Pelini said. “Forget about just the things you deal with on the field. As the quarterback at Nebraska and as a four-year starter, you deal with a lot of things off the field; a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations, a lot of criticism. That’s not easy. I think he’s persevered through it and stayed focused on making himself a better football player and taking the approach, ‘I’m going to control what I can control and just keep working.’ He has a tremendous work ethic and a great focus to him, which has allowed him to grow. That’s what you want to see.”
T-Magic Seeks to Let the Offense Work for Him
Pelini describes offensive efficiency as “understanding that you have to let the offense work for you.” Early on in his growth process, Pelini said Martinez’s extraordinary ability and confidence made him feel that he should try and score or throw a scoring pass on every play. “As you grow into it, you have to understand to let the offense work for you. Let the guys around you make plays,” Pelini said. “It comes with decision-making and at times taking his check downs and reading the coverage and taking what’s there. Even if you stick a ball in there that shouldn’t be thrown, you might get away with it once but you probably won’t get away with it again.”
Martinez is blessed to be the trigger man for such explosive backs as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross and for such breakaway receiving threats as Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner, but he went out of his way Monday to praise fellow senior co-captain Quincy Enunwa. “A lot of people are going to be shocked at how good Quincy is going to be this season,” Martinez said. “He’s taken huge strides this offseason. He’s big and physical. I’ve never seen just one person take him down.”
Pelini covered a lot of ground in Monday’s presser, including the identities of several newcomers’ names who will see their first action Saturday. Insisting there are too many names to mention, Pelini nevertheless reeled off six names in a hurry – freshmen defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice, freshman linebacker Nathan Gerry, sophomore defensive end and junior college transfer Randy Gregory, freshman running back Terrell Newby and freshman tight end Cethan Carter. “You’re going to see some old faces, and you’re going to see some new faces. It’s a good mix, and they’re going to be fun to watch,” Pelini said.
Players Who Have Stepped Up, Made Progress
One reporter asked Pelini which players have stepped up in the last few days and week. “I saw Michael Rose, and I think Josh Banderas continues to get better every day,” Pelini said. Courtney Love just started to get out there because he had that hamstring issue. Obviously, he has a little bit longer to go because he missed so much time. I think Zaire Anderson has made a big jump. Jared Afalava continues to do some things but he has to just keep working on his consistency. And David Santos – he’s a guy who has played some football and is getting more comfortable in the role he’s in.”
The best news that came out of the presser was Pelini declaring Husker senior tight end Jake Long “good to go” for the season opener. Long has been sidelined most of fall camp with an injury.
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