November 18, 2010

Thursday notebook: Martinez back in the groove

Some Nebraska fans may have been scratching their heads a bit when Taylor Martinez was still out there with the first-team offense in the final seconds last week against Kansas, throwing passes in a game that had already been decided.

Though it may have looked like the Huskers might have been trying to run up the score on the Jayhawks, the reasoning behind the strategy - at least according to NU's coaches - had little to do with Saturday's game at all.

After the game, head coach Bo Pelini said he kept the redshirt freshman quarterback on the field so long because he wanted to give him as many live reps as possible since Martinez had missed the past game and a half with an ankle injury.

With a few days to reflect on the decision, Pelini said getting Martinez back into the swing of things was extremely important as the Huskers prepare for one of their toughest tests of the season against Texas A&M with a chance to seal the Big 12 North Division title on the line.

"I thought it was big," Pelini said. "You didn't want him to be sitting for two weeks. We were a little guarded with Taylor early in the game, and I think Taylor was a little bit guarded. He wasn't sure where he was going to be, and I thought as the game went on he grew more confident, which was a big key. We didn't want to sit him for two weeks. I thought it was important for him to get reps.

"That's one of the reasons he was in at the end of the football game was to continue to get him some more reps. He hasn't played a ton of football. This is only his first year, so you miss a week you're going to be a little rusty. I think that was part of the deal."

Martinez was on the field for essentially all of Nebraska's 75 plays against Kansas, though some were as a receiver in the Wildcat formation, and his 24 pass attempts were his most since NU's win over Oklahoma State and his second-highest total of the season.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said getting so many attempts against live blitzes and coverages helped Martinez get right back into the swing of things in the passing game.

"Any time we have a chance to pass (Martinez) just gets better at it," Watson said. "He had a really nice week last week with his decision making and made some key throws obviously on third down. His pressure throwing percentage is really well and throughout the season he's been really good in those pressure throwing situations like third down, etc.

He's really grasping, he's not a done project but he's really coming along."

- Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
Suh to be honored again: The footprint left by former star defensive tackle and now Detroit Lions rookie standout Ndamukong Suh will get even bigger on next week, as Nebraska announced it would retire Suh's jersey at halftime of the Huskers' season finale against Colorado on Nov. 26. "We are proud to add Ndamukong Suh to our group of retired football jerseys," Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said in a statement. "It is certainly an elite group of football players that have the honor of having their jersey retired, and Ndamukong undoubtedly deserves that type of honor. He was one of the all-time great defensive players we've had here, and an outstanding individual as well."

Making the grade: Nebraska also announced Thursday that 23 members of its football team had earned Academic All-Big 12 honors, which is the most of any school in the conference. Of those 23, 13 were named first-team selections. Senior linebacker Thomas Grove, senior place-kicker Adi Kunalic and junior tight end Ryan Hill all earned the honors for the third time in their careers.

Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini confirmed that the Huskers would be as close to 100 percent healthy as a team as could be expected on Saturday. "We're in good shape," Pelini said. "No issues on the injury front."

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team wrapped up its final full practice of the week in helmets only inside the Hawks Indoor Championship Center and on the fields northwest of Memorial Stadium on Thursday. The Huskers will hold a brief walk-thru session in Lincoln on Friday before flying down to College Station for Saturday's nationally televised showdown with Texas A&M.

NU only focused on A&M

It's no secret that Nebraska can accomplish the first of its many postseason goals with a win over Texas A&M on Saturday.

With a two-game lead over Missouri in the Big 12 North standings, the Huskers could officially clinch a division title by holding off the Aggies and earn a spot in their second straight conference championship game.

Though so much is there for the taking on Saturday, Pelini said he and his team are only focused on one thing and one thing alone - beating Texas A&M.

"We don't even talk about that," Pelini said. "That all takes care of itself in time. All I'm concerned with is playing the best football we can on Saturday. That's just part of it. I haven't talked about it with the team, and I won't. I'm sure they understand it's out there, but we've got plenty to be motivated by beyond that."

It would seem hard to find a much better motivator for a team than the chance to clinch the North title and have a chance to win the Big 12 in their final season as members of the conference.

However, Pelini insists that the only thing he and his staff are stressing to their players is to simply take care of what they can control, and everything would eventually fall into place as a result.

"The No. 1 motivation we try to put on our football team is to get better each week and get better as a football team each and every day, and living in the moment," Pelini said. "I believe all those other things, everything else that comes with it, it comes in time. It comes if you put your work in and you play the way you've been coached, you keep improving as a football team, you win football games, and the other aspect of it comes with it. You can't jump ahead."

Cotton looking for more leadership from o-line

There have been times this season when Nebraska's offensive line has looked virtually unstoppable. There have also been times where it seemed like it couldn't block anybody.

As the Huskers make their way down the final stretch of the season, the performance of the o-line is going to play a huge role in how many of those postseason goals NU actually achieves.

That's why offensive line coach Barney Cotton said he's still pushing his unit to take over and control a game for all four quarters rather than the off-and-on showings it's put on thus far.

"Our goal is to dominate for four quarters, and I don't think that we've done that yet," Cotton said. "I think we've made some strides and we've finished some games out and we've been physical and had some games where we've provided some leadership. We're still looking for that game, though, where we can be a leader for four quarters."

The Huskers could definitely use a breakout game from the offensive line on Saturday, as they'll be going against a Texas A&M defense that leads the Big 12 against the run (112.2 rushing yards allowed per game) and is averaging 2.3 quarterback sacks a game.

If there were ever a time for achieve those four quarters of dominance, this would definitely be it.

"That's what we've been talking about all year," Cotton said. "It's time for us to step up. We've still got a long ways to go, but I think we're headed in the right direction, and this week here will be a really good test to see what kind of leadership we can put out."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Pelini said Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns the past three games, was more than just a threat inside the pocket.

"He shows the ability to run," Pelini said. "I don't think he's a run-first guy. He's more of a pocket guy, but yeah, he can run. He's a good football player."

***With the way the Aggies like to run a hurry-up offense, Pelini was asked how much his defense would benefit from having played against similar fast-paced attacks already this season.

"We'll find out Saturday," he said. "Every tempo is a little bit different and every style of offense is a little bit different. You've just got to be ready to respond no matter how fast they're going or whatever the tempo is."

***Should Nebraska pull off a win over Texas A&M on Saturday, it would give them back-to-back undefeated conference records for the first time in 13 years. The Huskers won 21 straight conference road games from 1993-97.

***Texas A&M return man Coryell Judie has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of the past two games, including a 95-yarder last week against Baylor. After the Huskers' poor performance in kick coverage against Kansas, Pelini said his team was able to get its problems corrected this week in practice.

***Pelini, who played one game in Kyle Field as player at Ohio State, was asked about the environment down there and what he expects from the Aggie fan base on Saturday. Whatever happens, Pelini is sure it won't catch him off guard.

"I've been in about every environment you can be in in football, so nothing's new to me," he said.

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