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Nebraska's quarterback has UCLA defense watching the ground

UCLA FOOTBALL

Taylor Martinez had a huge passing game in Cornhuskers' first-week victory, but Bruins say his running ability also needs to be kept in check.

September 04, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez poses a defensive challenge for UCLA.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez poses a defensive challenge for… (Eric Francis / Getty Images )

UCLA is up against a quarterback who threw for 354 yards and tossed five touchdown passes last week.

And yet the Bruins' coach and players are worried about Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez's ability to run the ball.

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"He's slippery," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. "You've got to get a whole body on him. He's wiry and has really good feet. He can get himself out of harm's way quickly."

Martinez completed 26 of 34 passes in 16th-ranked Nebraska's 49-20 victory over Southern Mississippi on Saturday. He ran the ball six times for 10 yards.

But Martinez's running ability is something UCLA junior wide receiver Ricky Marvray remembers. The two were teammates at Corona Centennial High School.

"You give him an inch, he's going to take a mile," Marvray said.

Martinez had 965 yards rushing as a freshman and 874 last season.

"Guys like him are so frustrating, because you can have the perfect rush and you can have great coverage and, all of a sudden, he makes something happen," Mora said. "That's how Mike Vick was, not that I'm comparing him to Mike, but there are similarities. Taylor has a suddenness to him, like Mike has."

That will put extra pressure on a UCLA defense that had trouble containing Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue last week. McHargue rushed for 95 yards and threw for 172 despite being knocked woozy late in the first half.

Martinez brings better skills with him to the Rose Bowl.

"You've got to stop his arm and his legs," UCLA safety Tevin McDonald said. "You can't leave any escape routes when blitzing. You have to blanket him best you can and make him put the ball on the money."

Which is what Martinez did against Southern Mississippi. He competed passes to 10 receivers.

"You've got to be on top of your coverage because he'll fit it into a small window," UCLA safety Andrew Abbott said. "There's not a lot of recovery time."

One upside for the Bruins from Martinez's big day in the season opener? "We got a lot good film on him," Marvray said. "We got to see a lot of their pass routes and concepts, how he likes to set up the pocket. Taylor having a good first game was really good for our defense."

Taylor's having a good second game wouldn't be so good for the Bruins' defense.

Outside looking in

Containing Martinez and the rest of the Cornhuskers' offense probably will require solid performances from outside linebackers Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, who have the speed to cover as well as blitz.

Barr played his first game as a linebacker against Rice, and had six solo tackles, though he said he felt a little "tightness" in his leg during the game. Zumwalt played little in the second half as he was "rotated out," according to Mora.

Riley runs

Safety Dietrich Riley, who underwent neck surgery in the spring, has been cleared to do light workouts but is not allowed contact.

Riley was injured against California last season making a headfirst hit on Golden Bears running back Isi Sofele. He was taken to a hospital and missed the remainder of the season.

He decided to have surgery after Mora arranged a conversation with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who had a similar procedure.

Riley expects to return in time for spring practice. He has two years of eligibility remaining.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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