PSU zones in on Martinez

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Governor of Nebraska or starting quarterback on the team that is a state institution?

Tim Marlowe laughed when asked who has the more demanding job. He then opted for Taylor Martinez over Dave Heineman, with all due respect for the highest elected official in Nebraska.

“I better not tell Governor Heineman that,” the Nebraska receiver said earlier this week, “but Taylor's under a lot of scrutiny.”

Martinez has stood up to it during a breakout junior season, and the dual-threat quarterback may be the biggest obstacle to Penn State winning at Nebraska on Saturday and going 4-0 on the road in Big Ten play for just the third time in school history.

Two of the Nittany Lions' three losses have been dealt to them by dual-threat quarterbacks, and Martinez might be the most complete player in a group that includes Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Ohio's Tyler Tettleton.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is 10th in the Big Ten in rushing (74.0 yards per game) and second only to Penn State's Matt McGloin in passing (215.7). The quarterback, who had been a scattershot passer, is first in efficiency in the Big Ten among those with at least 125 throws.

Whether his improved passing qualifies as a transformation or is simple maturation, it can't be denied that Martinez is the biggest reason Nebraska is in position to win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl in just its second year in the Big Ten.

“He's really grown in the passing game and made our offense so powerful because we run the ball so well here at Nebraska,” said Marlowe, a high school teammate and close friend of Penn State running back Michael Zordich. “It just really makes a defense hard to prepare for us, and Taylor's throwing the ball great.”

Such a statement couldn't have been made last season, when Taylor completed less than 57 percent of his passes and resembled a shot-putter more than a major-college quarterback with his throwing motion.

Taylor became a target for fans after some tough losses — ones the Cornhuskers faithful deemed unacceptable. He has risen above criticism this season and answered his naysayers by leading Nebraska back from second-half deficits in three of its four conference wins.

Last Saturday, Martinez shook off three interceptions to rally Nebraska from a 17-point deficit in a 28-24 win at Michigan State.

Martinez rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for 160 yards and a pair of scores, including the game-winner near the end of the fourth quarter.

“I don't think Taylor's ever been a guy that has lacked confidence,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, “but you have some success late in games like he has, and that can spur you on and hopefully make you stronger as the year goes on.”

Marlowe said mental fortitude has never been an issue for Martinez, even though he was the subject of transfer rumors early in his career.

“He's never up, he's never down,” Marlowe said. “He doesn't ride the waves, and that really helps him as a quarterback.”

It doesn't hurt that Martinez, Nebraska's career leader in total offense, is a gifted runner whose passing has caught up with what he can do with his legs. His development has given the Cornhuskers such balance that they lead the Big Ten by averaging 7.2 yards on first down.

“Their play-action offense is one of the best in the country, and he makes everything flow,” Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris said. “If he gets in the open field, it's going to be hard to tackle him. He's straight-line fast, and I've seen him run past a lot of defensive backs.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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