Taylor Martinez has been an enigma since arriving in Lincoln. On his third play from scrimmage, he scored on an electrifying touchdown run against Western Kentucky, and Nebraska fans thought they might be seeing the start of something special. But Martinez has struggled in his Nebraska career and been the goat in a number of losses both gut-wrenching and ugly.
This offseason, Martinez has worked with quarterback guru Steve Calhoun to improve his mechanics and get better as a passer. It is encouraging to all Nebraska fans that Martinez recognizes a weakness in his game and is willing to publicly discuss how he is trying to get better. But without a spring game, it’s impossible to know if that offseason work will pay dividends. Here are a few things to look for.
For his career, Martinez has completed 57.4 percent of his passes. That number simply isn’t good enough for Nebraska’s offense to be successful. If the offseason work he has done is successful, that number should get past 60 percent for the season. And if Martinez’s completion percentage improves, everything else should begin to fall in place for Nebraska’s offense.
In 2011, Nebraska converted just over 42 percent of its third-down opportunities, which was 46th nationally. That put Nebraska between Syracuse and Illinois for third-down efficiency. For Nebraska, that’s simply not good enough to compete for conference and national titles, particularly when the Blackshirts took a step back in 2011.
Many times, third down is when a quarterback needs to make a play to keep the chains moving and the offense on the field. If the offseason work Martinez has done is successful, look for Nebraska to be in the top 25 nationally in third down conversions.
Martinez struggled last year throwing the ball, but his receivers didn’t exactly help him by catching everything in sight. But that becomes a little bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. If Martinez isn’t accurate with his throws—and frequently, he wasn’t in the last two years—then the receivers have a hard time knowing where the ball will be and therefore are less prepared to adjust.
If Martinez becomes more accurate, not only will he throw a more catchable ball for his wideouts, but they will be better able to adjust when a pass is off the mark.
At the end of 2011, Nebraska’s offense turned into the Rex Burkhead show. While no one can doubt Burkhead’s effectiveness (well, almost no one), ultimately, Nebraska’s offense became predictable. Also, because Martinez struggled with effectiveness as a passer, teams did not have to respect Nebraska’s throwing game and could focus more on taking Burkhead away.
A more effective passing game from Martinez should not only improve NU’s passing yardage, but should also open things up for Burkhead and company to run the ball more effectively.
Hey, remember Jamal Turner? You know, Nebraska’s leading receiver after five games in 2011? Turner disappeared, in part because of poor practice performance, but in part because of Martinez’s lack of effectiveness as a thrower. The same happened for Kyler Reed, who in 2011 was placed on the Mike McNeil program for tight ends who had breakout years followed up by near-anonymity.
Nebraska has a good supply of offensive weaponry at its disposal. If Martinez’s offseason work has been successful, those weapons will touch the ball more and make Nebraska’s offense much more dangerous.
When Martinez struggled last year, he was given grief on campus, even going so far as to complain about the flack he received in Spanish class for the interceptions he threw against Wisconsin. With improvement in the offseason, Martinez should be able to settle in academically much better.
(And yes, in case you were wondering, this slide was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.)
When Martinez stormed the world as a redshirt freshman in 2010, it wasn’t his arm that made him a darkhorse Heisman candidate. It was his legs and the blazing speed he showed tearing apart teams like Washington. The injury against Missouri in 2010 and a retooled offensive strategy lowered his rushing average from 5.9 in 2010 to 4.6 in 2011, and it seemed like the explosive runner we saw in Seattle was a thing of the past.
But if Martinez’s offseason work has been successful, defenses will not be able to discount the threat of a Martinez throw. That means not only will Rex Burkhead have more running lanes, but so will Martinez. So perhaps that offseason throwing work will have the biggest impact by making Martinez a more effective runner.
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