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Originally published Monday, September 13, 2010 at 7:21 PM

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Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez presents special problems for UW

Martinez, a redshirt freshman, is averaging 13.5 yards per carry in Nebraska's first two games.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Nebraska @ UW,

12:30 p.m., Ch. 4

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Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, several Washington defenders said Monday, may be the fastest quarterback they've ever faced.

Except, of course, for the guy they see every day, Jake Locker. Or maybe backup Keith Price, also a good runner.

So on the surface, it seems like it ought to be easy for the Huskies to prepare for Martinez, a redshirt freshman who is averaging an astonishing 13.5 yards per carry in Nebraska's first two games (284 yards on 21 carries). Nebraska visits UW Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

But as UW linebacker Mason Foster notes, "in practice you don't (get) to tackle Jake nor Keith," due to the fact that quarterbacks are off-limits to contact. "So it's a whole different look on game day."

Besides, UW players say half the battle will already be lost if it gets to the point that they have to tackle Martinez in the open field.

As the Huskies began their preparation for No. 8 Nebraska on Monday, the defensive players said recognizing quickly what the Cornhuskers are doing will be the key to stopping them on Saturday. Especially when Nebraska goes with the zone-read option, an offense Oregon has used to great success in recent years.

"It's about identifying who has the football," said safety Nate Fellner. "Every person has an assignment. If they are going to give the ball to the running back, there are people who have the running back. If (the QB) pulls it and keeps, there are certain people who are supposed to have the quarterback. You've got to read your keys right against a team like that."

But UW players say Nebraska looks much more diversified than the Ducks.

"They do everything," said linebacker Cort Dennison. "They run a lot of what Oregon does. But they will get under the center and pound the rock. That's what makes them so good is you are always on your toes."

Still, the key to it all this year is Martinez, a 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Centennial High in Corona, Calif. After sitting out last year, he beat out incumbent starter Zac Lee for the job during fall camp.

That was little surprise to UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who recruited Martinez when he was an assistant at USC and later after becoming coach at Washington, watching when Martinez led Corona to a state title.

"He's a talented kid, a great athlete," Sarkisian said. "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. It's a credit to coach (Nebraska coach Bo) Pelini and his staff to really view him as a quarterback."

Martinez committed to Nebraska in summer 2008, before his senior year of high school, and even at that time was still considered as potentially a safety.

When he won the starting job, he became the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Nebraska. And his rushing prowess reminds NU fans of some of the storied QBs in the school's history — he became the first Nebraska quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since 2003 when he had 127 in the opener against Western Kentucky. He had another 157 in a win over Idaho on Saturday.

"Anything we can do to keep him in the pocket (is what UW needs to do)," Dennison said. "The last thing we need to do is make him a runner and get him out in space where he has a bunch of green grass. That's what we don't want."

Kearse Offensive

Player of the Week

UW receiver Jermaine Kearse was named the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Week after setting career highs with nine catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's 41-20 victory over Syracuse. It's UW's first player of the week honor this season and the first of Kearse's career.

Notes

• In the only significant change to the depth chart, true freshmen Sean Parker and Kevin Smith are now listed as the starting kickoff returners. Chris Polk had been handling those duties but Sarkisian says he wants to decrease Polk's workload and chance of injury.

• Sarkisian said he hopes RB Johri Fogerson, who sat out Saturday with a hip flexor, will return, but that it's too early to tell.

• UW has no other significant injury issues. Locker bruised his left hand Saturday but said Monday he's fine.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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