Redshirt freshman stars in spring game
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- A third man has emerged in the competition for starting quarterback at Nebraska.
Taylor Martinez was all the buzz during spring practice, and Saturday he showed why to the 77,936 fans who turned out at Memorial Stadium for the Red-White game.
The redshirt freshman threw for touchdowns on two of his first three series and rushed for a game-high 60 yards as his Red squad won 21-16.
Sophomore Cody Green led the White team to one touchdown and a field goal, passed for 155 yards and ran for 12.
Senior Zac Lee, the starter last season, was sidelined all spring after having surgery on his right (throwing) elbow.
Martinez appears well-suited for the direction the Cornhuskers want to take their offense. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson plans to incorporate more quarterback runs, something the Huskers showed in the 33-0 Holiday Bowl win over Arizona.
Watson said Martinez is clearly the fastest quarterback and that it's only a matter of time before he hits the game field.
"We're not stupid," Watson said. "We're going to use talent. He's got talent. So we're going to use that talent."
Martinez completed 5 of 9 passes for 79 yards and had a tipped ball intercepted. He worked four full series in the first half before giving way to others.
His first two plays were designed runs, and he ran with confidence. Twice on his opening series he looked to pass, saw no one open and took off, the first time for 7 yards and the second for 10.
"I think you guys saw his speed," running back Rex Burkhead said. "He took control of the huddle and really ran with it."
The first time Martinez threw, he delivered the ball on a line to Tyler Legate for a 6-yard touchdown. He later hit Brandon Kinnie on a post pattern for 36 yards, with Kinnie dragging four defenders the last 5 yards to the end zone.
Martinez wasn't made available to reporters because coach Bo Pelini doesn't allow players who haven't been in a game to speak with the media.
"He's got a skill set that, honestly, you can't coach," Watson said. "He can put his foot in the dirt and just go. He's an instinctive runner. If something breaks down, he can make something big from it for us. And he's just getting better and better as a passer."
A couple long passes highlighted Green's day. He hit Niles Paul for 48 yards to set up a field goal. Two plays after he badly overthrew Mike Hays on a short sideline pass, he passed 72 yards for a touchdown to Will Henry.
Green said he was satisfied with his performance, but he believes the starting job is Lee's to lose.
"We all know that, just because he hasn't been here," Green said. "You've got to give him a chance to get in there and compete with us. This spring has really helped out everybody. You can see, we're all playing at a high level."
Watson said Lee will have to make up for lost time in preseason practices and that he can't assume he'll have an advantage over Green and Martinez because he started in 2009.
"He sees the young talent we have and what they bring to the table," Watson said. "Zac will bow up to it and compete. That's his nature."
Pelini said the play-calling would be basic, and that was the case except for two trick plays.
The Reds lined up in the wildcat formation, with Burkhead taking the direct snap. He threw quickly to cornerback-turned-receiver Prince Amukamara, who was engulfed by Pierre Allen and Terrence Moore for a 4-yard loss.
The White team's razzle-dazzle had a better outcome. Green threw a bounce-pass lateral toward the sideline to Mike McNeill, who fielded the ball and passed 31 yards to Paul.
"We gave each team a chance to make up a play of their own," Pelini said. "One worked, one didn't. We wanted to put Prince in there [on offense] and have a little fun with it.