Gophers preparing as if Nebraska QB Martinez will play
MINNEAPOLIS -- According to the latest reports, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez could be a game-time decision for Saturday's contest against Minnesota.
The Gophers are preparing as if that decision has already been made.
Martinez hasn't played since Sept. 14 due to a turf toe injury but could return to action this weekend. With the 5-1 Huskers coming off a bye week -- meaning an extra week of rest for Martinez -- Minnesota believes he'll be the one under center at TCF Bank Stadium this weekend.
"That's how we'll prepare," said defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys. "They had the open week and had plenty of time. It's similar to us, whatever quarterback's in there, they'll still run the same offense. They're not doing a lot of changes. Obviously he has more experience and I think he's a little bit more explosive than what the other two are."
In Martinez's absence, Nebraska has used two different quarterbacks over the last three games as senior Ron Kellogg III and freshman Tommy Armstrong have split time under center. Kellogg threw for 141 yards and a touchdown in the Huskers' most recent win against Purdue, while Armstrong was just 6-for-18 for 43 yards and three interceptions in that game.
While Nebraska is 3-0 without Martinez (with wins against South Dakota State, Illinois and Purdue), it's clear that the Huskers are a better team with their star quarterback in the lineup. Minnesota knows that all too well, as Martinez torched the Gophers a season ago. He threw for 308 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Nebraska routed Minnesota 38-14 in Lincoln.
"He's as talented a quarterback as we'll play against in the Big Ten," Claeys said.
One additional attribute Martinez possesses that makes him dangerous to defend is his ability to tuck the ball and run. While the Gophers held him to just 22 rushing yards a season ago, he put up big rushing yards earlier this year. That included an 80-yard effort in the season opener against Wyoming. As a junior last year, Martinez rushed for 100 yards or more in five games, including a season-high 205 against Michigan State.
"Martinez, he's a great quarterback. It's a lot more difficult to contain a mobile quarterback," said Gophers defensive lineman Thieren Cockran. "But it's nothing but a challenge. That just makes the game a little bit more fun."
The Gophers won't be able to focus solely on Martinez, though, thanks to the compliment of skill players he has around him. Perhaps the most talented of his teammates is running back Ameer Abdullah, whose 136.0 rushing yards per game rank second in the Big Ten. The speedy junior leads the conference in all-purpose yards per game (158.8). Meanwhile, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa has seven receiving touchdowns and leads the Huskers with 354 receiving yards on 25 catches.
In all, 15 different players have caught a pass for Nebraska this season, giving Martinez plenty of options -- that is, if he is indeed playing.
"The thing with them is their speed all around makes him even better, because you can't cheat guys in the box," Claeys said. "It's a cat and mouse game to try to keep them off balance and not give up the big play, but with all their speed that's hard to do."
Minnesota's secondary has been banged up in recent weeks, but the Gophers had success stopping the pass in their win against Northwestern last weekend. That included interceptions by linebacker James Manuel and, yes, one by defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman. Still, Minnesota has been susceptible against the pass this year, allowing 252.4 passing yards per game.
The Gophers haven't faced a quarterback quite like Martinez yet, either. David Fales of San Jose State may be a more accurate passer with an NFL future, but he doesn't have the mobility of Martinez. That combination is what makes the Nebraska senior a weapon.
"Any time that a quarterback is successful throwing the ball and also has the ability to run, it just adds to the danger," said Gophers safety Brock Vereen. "But if we get in the right positions, we can compete."
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