Published September 04, 2010
LINCOLN, Neb. – Taylor Martinez's teammates call him "T-Magic," and now Nebraska fans know why.
Martinez ran for 127 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 136 yards in a sensational debut that led No. 8 Nebraska to a 49-10 win over Western Kentucky on Saturday night.
The redshirt freshman's performance featured elusive and tough running along with sudden bursts of speed, the likes of which Nebraska hasn't seen for a while from its quarterbacks. He also showed he could pass a little.
All in all, Martinez validated coach Bo Pelini's decision to elevate him over 2009 starter Zac Lee and last year's top backup, Cody Green.
"I think I'm ready for it," Martinez said.
The only redshirt or true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Nebraska, Martinez became the first Husker signal-caller since 2003 to run for more than 100 yards in a game.
Martinez led Nebraska to touchdowns on his first two series and on four of his eight. Green led the Huskers to touchdowns on his two series. Lee, who entered in the middle of the fourth quarter, handed off twice on a short touchdown drive and then ran out the last four minutes.
Pelini said Martinez's body of work in preseason practices gave him the edge over Lee and Green.
"It was a really close race," Pelini said. "In the end he was the guy who won the job. It wasn't like one particular day or scrimmage."
Martinez ran only seven times and averaged 18.1 yards a carry. His TDs were from 46, 19 and 15 yards.
"He gets to top speed in a hurry," said receiver Niles Paul, who gave Martinez the "T-Magic" nickname. "He's surprisingly tough, and he can break tackles. He's a playmaker, and you saw it today."
Martinez overshadowed a Nebraska defense that Pelini called an "embarrassment" against a Western Kentucky team that was winless in 2009 and has lost 21 straight.
WKU's Bobby Rainey rushed 30 times for a career-high 155 yards and a TD against a unit that was ninth nationally against the run last season.
The Hilltoppers, who crossed midfield once in the first half — and then only because of a Nebraska penalty — dented the Huskers' defense in the second half, when they generated 219 of their 299 yards.
"I don't like anything we did defensively," Pelini said. "There were a couple of things we did OK, but we did not play up to our standard."
Casey Tinius kicked a 25-yard field goal and Rainey had a 5-yard touchdown run for WKU. Rainey almost had another touchdown, but DeJones Gomes stripped the ball just as he was about to cross the goal line to finish a 47-yard run. Eric Hagg recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
"That hurt from a momentum standpoint," said first-year WKU coach Willie Taggart. "You make a play like that and you get your guys fired up, then you fumble and just that quick 'Uncle Mo' jumps back on Nebraska's side."
Pelini kept the identity of his starting quarterback under wraps until about a half-hour before the game. That's when the Huskers' starters introduced themselves in a video on the big-screen scoreboard. The crowd roared when Martinez's face appeared.
"I got chills throughout my body," Martinez said. "I was glad the fans wanted me to start."
Since last spring Pelini and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson have raved about the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder's athleticism. Husker fans found out why on his first touchdown.
Martinez kept the ball on a zone read, squirted through the line, juked a linebacker and darted left, shifting into a higher gear while outrunning cornerback Kareem Peterson to the end zone for his 46-yard TD.
Martinez, who was 9 for 15 passing, hit Rex Burkhead in stride across the middle for a 28-yard gain to start the next series, which Burkhead finished with a 20-yard TD run.
The Huskers went three-and-out on Martinez's last two series of the half, but he started the third quarter with a 43-yard run that featured a spin move after he broke through the line. That drive ended when he faked an inside handoff and scored from 19 yards.
Martinez showed some strength on his 15-yard TD, shaking his foot loose from Peterson's grasp just before going into the end zone.
"You got to see his speed and how he can get downfield in a hurry," Burkhead said. "He did a good job making quick decisions. He makes it exciting and fun."
Martinez gets a chance to polish his game next week at home against Idaho before the Huskers play a big road game at Washington.
"I've never been around a football team that played its best football in game one," Pelini said. "You play that first one and move on. We have to make a big jump between game one and game two."