Yep, Justin Blatchford looks a little bit like Taylor Martinez, enough so that Nebraska football fans have even mistaken him, on occasion, for his Husker teammate.
“I’ve gotten that a couple of times from fans, asking me for my autograph, and they’re kind of surprised when they get it,” said Blatchford.
As the starting quarterback, Martinez is the better known player, of course. Blatchford, a senior from Ponca, Neb., is listed as a safety, though he’s been playing the hybrid “dime” defensive back position as well as contributing on special teams – as he has done throughout his career.
Probably his most notable play came on special teams as a redshirted freshman in 2009, in fact, when he returned a blocked punt 25 yards for a touchdown against Baylor.
But Blatchford has been a consistent contributor throughout his Husker career, which is why he was awarded a scholarship prior to this season.
He’s seen more regular-down action of late, and especially during Nebraska’s dramatic, come-from-behind, 28-24 victory at Michigan State. Though he wasn’t credited with a tackle in the official statistics, he was involved in tackles as well as pass coverage.
Late in the fourth quarter, when the Huskers needed a stop, he broke up a pass intended for Michigan State’s 6-foot-5, 285-pound tight end Dion Sims.
Blatchford is listed at 6-1 and 200 pounds (the same as Martinez).
Dealing with players size of Sims, not just in defending passes but also in avoiding blocks, is “definitely a challenge because you might have good position on them, but they’re so big, you can’t really get around them,” Blatchford said. “So they kind of box you out, like in basketball.
“It’s definitely a great challenge, and I look forward to it each week.”
Nebraska’s next opponent, Penn State, also will offer such a challenge. The Nittany Lions use four tight ends, often with two on the field at the same time, and they’ve caught a combined 71 passes for 878 yards and three touchdowns, the best in the nation.
Kyle Carter, the only freshman on the mid-season watch list for the John Mackey Award as the best collegiate tight end, leads with 35 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns.
“I told our guys in the meeting today, ‘You watch the New England Patriots (offense), that’s what we’re going to be playing against, some great tight ends who move around,’ ” Husker defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said following Monday’s practice.
That should come as no surprise. Penn State’s coach is Bill O’Brien, a Bill Belichick assistant with the Patriots the past five years, including the offensive coordinator in 2011.
Blatchford would seem a good fit in such a situation. “He’s dependable and doing it the way we want him to do it,” said Joseph. “We like where he’s at right now.
“Hopefully, these last few weeks he can continue for us.”
Why he’s getting more playing time Blatchford can’t say. He saw more action against Michigan State than at any time this season. “I’ve just been trying to prepare the best I can for each game, and if the opportunity presented itself, then that would be a huge bonus,” he said.
The Huskers’ fourth-quarter comeback at Michigan State was their second on the road in three weeks, with a victory against Michigan at Memorial Stadium in between.
Though the offense has drawn much of the attention, the defense has stepped up, too. “It’s been great the past three weeks, really. We’ve had some huge comebacks, and I think the team just rallied around that,” Blatchford said. “Really, it’s just been a great experience for everyone.
“Hopefully, we can keep that going, continue into this week.”
Keep it going, with a slight adjustment.
“I really thought we got off to a slow start,” Joseph said. “Taylor (Martinez) played a hell of a second half to get us back in the game, and we were able to win it late. But we can’t have that this late in the season. We need to be sharp. We’ve got to do better.”
Martinez was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week for his play against Michigan State. It was the fourth time he’s won that award this season.
Most fans appreciate any Husker autograph, though if they’re expecting to read “Taylor Martinez” and see “Justin Blatchford,” they’re going to be taken aback.
“It’s kind of funny,” said Blatchford.