LINCOLN, Neb. – Taylor Martinez has made this college football thing look easy for three straight weeks as Nebraska's new starting quarterback.
His reputation as an unflappable freshman will be put to the test as he attempts to bounce back from his poor outing in Saturday's 17-3 win over South Dakota State.
The FCS Jackrabbits stifled him in the zone-read option game, holding him to a season-low 75 yards rushing, with 33 coming on a scramble that ended with him getting penalized for taunting.
Martinez badly missed his receivers, throwing way short several times, and he was intercepted twice while going 6 of 14 for 140 yards.
Oh, and he fumbled his first snap.
"He'll live to see another day," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "He has to learn from this experience and then get back in the saddle. He's a tough kid, a tough competitor. He told me he's fine and he'll be ready to go back to work."
The surprisingly close game didn't cost the Cornhuskers (4-0) in the ratings. They remained No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25.
They have an open date this week before starting Big 12 play at Kansas State the following Thursday night.
"He got his first taste of adversity," Watson said. "How he reacts to it and how he responds will be critical for him. Once he sees the film, he'll learn from it and grow."
Martinez and his teammates insisted that they didn't overlook the Jackrabbits, even if that's what the effort looked like.
"The mindset was just come in like every other game," Martinez said. "Come out and play like we're going to play Kansas State two weeks from now and just keep playing hard like Nebraska plays. But we didn't play like we normally play."
Martinez won a hotly contested quarterback competition over Cody Green and 2009 starter Zac Lee in the preseason and made a name for himself nationally after impressive performances against Western Kentucky, Idaho and Washington.
He went into the South Dakota State game averaging an eye-popping 10 yards a carry, and he was second to Michigan's Denard Robinson on the national quarterback rushing chart.
The Jackrabbits, on paper, should have been easy pickings. They gave up 257 yards rushing to Delaware in a season-opening loss and 192 more in a loss to Illinois State. They held Nebraska — which had rushed for 289, 471 and 383 yards — to a season-low 205.
"They're a good defense, really well-coached," Martinez said. "They just had our number that game. We just couldn't get a rhythm going at all throughout the whole entire game."
Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier said the plan was to minimize the damage Martinez can cause.
"The first time they ran the ball our free safety came up and smacked him and he fumbled the ball. Many times we had two guys on him," Stiegelmeier said. "We wanted to take him out of the game."
Touted by his coaches for poise and maturity beyond his years, Martinez appeared to make a huge rookie mistake after the fumble, Watson said.
"I think sometimes what happens is you try to make things happen that just aren't there," Watson said. "You have to let the game come to you at this position. He'll grow through this. He'll be OK. We'll coach him through it."
Green, who took over after Martinez was pulled in the fourth quarter, offered this advice to the young quarterback: "Don't try to be Superman. Just go in there and run the offense."
Running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. tried to pick up Martinez's slack and picked up 66 and 59 yards, respectively.
"There were a lot of yards out there we didn't capitalize on because we misread some things," Watson said. "It just amounted to a long night for everybody. When you run this kind of offense, you have to be on the screws with your read game, and we weren't tonight."