LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez says he’s prepared for the hostile environment Saturday at Washington’s Husky Stadium that will be his first college road game.
The redshirt freshman’s reason might surprise you.
“Just because I played in high school in big games,” he said. “The crowd doesn’t bother me very much.”
Given that Husky Stadium can be one of the loudest venues in college football, one might conclude Martinez is really naive or that he is quite the jokester.
His teammates on the eighth-ranked Huskers say the answer is neither.
They say he’s genuinely unfazed at the prospect of going to a place where the noise level once was measured at 130 decibels – about as loud as a jackhammer and well past the point where hearing damage is a risk.
“I believe he can get it done,” receiver Brandon Kinnie said Tuesday. “He’s a winner. That’s all he knows how to do is to win.”
Receiver Niles Paul said Martinez is so laid back that it’s hard to tell if he ever feels pressure.
“If you tell him (about the noise), he probably won’t listen to you anyway,” Paul said. “He’ll handle it his own way. He has no emotion.”
Martinez has been sensational in his first two games. He’s the top freshman rusher in the nation, and seventh overall, with 142 yards a game. He’s averaging 13.5 yards a carry and has six runs of at least 20 yards, including TDs of 67, 46, 43 and 20. He’s the first Nebraska QB since Jammal Lord in 2003 to have back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts.
He also has proved to be a competent passer, completing 66 percent of his 32 throws for 242 yards with one interception.
But his numbers have been amassed at home against Western Kentucky and Idaho. Washington (1-1), coming off a 41-20 win over Syracuse in Seattle, will be the first true test for Martinez and the Cornhuskers (2-0). All 72,500 seats are sold.
“We’ll see how good we actually are,” Martinez said.
Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said the last thing the Huskies want is for Martinez to get room to move outside the pocket.
“He’s a great athlete, probably the fastest quarterback, one of them, that I’ve ever seen,” Dennison said. “He’s the heart of their offense.”
Coach Bo Pelini said Martinez’s personality is such that he should be able to handle the atmosphere. The Huskers will pipe in crowd noise at practices this week and will be prepared to use silent snap counts to counter the noise.
“He’s a pretty calm, cool and collected guy,” Pelini said. “I don’t anticipate it being an issue. But you have to prepare him for it the best you can. I think he understands what’s in front of him.”
Husky Stadium has been less intimidating in recent years because there hasn’t been much to cheer. UW hasn’t had a winning record since 2002.
But it was a rollicking place in the early 1990s and other times the Huskies have had success. That 130-decibel reading came in 1992 during the first night game in UW history. The opponent was Nebraska, and the Huskies won 29-14.
Saturday’s much- anticipated matchup between Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Locker and the touted Nebraska defense should juice up the crowd, and it won’t be comparable with one of Martinez’s big high school games in Corona, Calif.
Pelini said he’s certain Martinez knows that.
“He’s a pretty intelligent guy,” Pelini said. “Knowing what you’re in for, and when you walk in there and actually it’s loud, it’s going to be an adjustment for anybody. Not just for the quarterback but everybody.”
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has seen Martinez play in one of those big high school games. He tried to recruit Martinez, and he remembers attending the state championship game that Corona Centennial won to finish a 15-0 season.
“I think it was somewhat of a steal for Nebraska because I think so many people viewed him as just an athlete, and possibly people were recruiting him as a safety or different position, and not just a quarterback,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a credit to Coach Pelini and his staff to really view him as a quarterback. And he’s turned out to be a nice player for him.”