Pelini anticipates an improved Martinez

CHICAGO -- The turning point in Nebraska's final season in the Big 12 in 2010 came in the second half of the Cornhuskers' 9-6 loss at Texas A&M on Nov. 20.

After then-freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez re-injured his right ankle in the first half, he was berated on the sideline by coach Bo Pelini for, of all things, answering his father's phone call in the locker room. Nebraska's players are prohibited from making phone calls during games.

After a 9-1 start, the Cornhuskers dropped three of their last four games, including a 19-7 loss to Washington in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

Because of foot and ankle injuries, Martinez was never the same after a brilliant start to his college career. He ran for 75 yards or more in six of his first seven games, including a 241-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 48-13 rout at Kansas State. He also threw for 323 yards with five touchdowns in a 51-41 victory at Oklahoma State.

But Martinez missed two of Nebraska's last seven games and ran for only 95 yards combined in the five contests in which he played.

As the Cornhuskers embark on their first season in the Big Ten, Pelini said Thursday that Martinez is healthy and their misunderstanding at Texas A&M is in the rearview mirror.

"We feel really good about where Taylor is," Pelini said. "He's had a great offseason. He had a tremendous spring. He's had a phenomenal summer. I think he's more engaged as a leader."

Pelini shook up his offensive staff during the offseason, replacing offensive coordinator Shawn Watson with running backs coach Tim Beck, who promises to speed up the Cornhuskers' attack and build it around a powerful running game.

Martinez, a sophomore from Corona, Calif., still figures to have the ball in his hands most of the time.

"I think Taylor has all the tools you look for," Pelini said. "He's very fast. He's quick. He gets to top speed in a hurry. He can make all the throws. He can do really everything you ask a quarterback to do. He has good arm talent. He can throw the ball outside. He has a long way to go in his decision-making, just his knowledge of the game overall. With more experience, he's going to continue to get better."

In hindsight, Pelini even wonders whether Martinez enjoyed too much success too soon.

"It was interesting because last year he had such tremendous success early on that everybody wanted to jump ahead," Pelini said. "The pressure went up in a hurry. People were talking Heisman candidate, all those things. He was two, three games into his career, which was crazy. Then he got hurt later on in the year. But the young man is committed."