Never has a Nebraska quarterback been more polarizing than Taylor Martinez. Entering his third year, the signal-caller has been nothing short of an enigma. In his freshman campaign, Husker fans fell in love with his speed, but despised his character.
His sophomore season began with high expectations. An errant throwing motion and a noticeable decrease in explosiveness, however, marred his second year.
While he seemed to lack the dynamic playmaking ability of his first year as Nebraska's quarterback, Martinez seemed to mature almost over night, winning over Husker Nation with a miraculous come-from-behind victory against Ohio St. in 2011. He began to lead his team.
Martinez will be under the microscope more than ever come September. Many believe he has yet to reach his full potential. This will be the year Martinez emerges as one of the better quarterbacks in 2012.
Despite Martinez rushing for 91 yards less in 2011 than he did in 2010, he is still regarded as a dual-threat quarterback. He is able to instill a certain anxiety within opposing defenses that few quarterbacks can do. Even though Martinez wasn't nearly as explosive in his sophomore year, he is still able to tuck and run with great speed.
Couple Martinez's speed with offensive coordinator Tim Beck's desire to run the ball, and you have a lot of potential. Barring injury, Martinez can be as effective as ever on the run. It almost seems as though Martinez was still somewhat hampered by a sore ankle in 2011. That shouldn't be the case in 2012 after an offseason full of confidence.
2012 should see Martinez utilize his speed more than ever. He has no excuses now and should be confident in his ability to run the ball. Experience plays a major factor in knowing how to run effectively. Martinez should be more weary of how to evade defenders and find the right holes. There were times in 2011 when Martinez would make the wrong decision and run himself into a tackle. He should be able to learn from 2010 and 2011 and capitalize in 2012.
Many do not realize that Martinez can be an effective passer. Just look at the Oklahoma St. game in 2010 when Martinez absolutely demolished the Cowboy defense for 323 yards and five touchdown passes. While Martinez does his best on the ground, he has the potential to be a deadly passer. Many have questioned his accuracy. However, Martinez threw for 2,089 yards and had an average completion percentage of 56.2.
Remember, 2011 marked Tim Beck's first season as Nebraska's offensive coordinator. Beck's second season will give Martinez and the rest of the offense more time to acclimate. More consistency in the offensive schemes should lead to better production.
During spring practice, Beck talked about the Husker's offense. Beck said that Martinez has been working on his mechanics.
"They're excellent. He's really working on the things he needs to work on that we've identified in the offseason," Beck told Huskers.com. "He's put the extra time in and you can see the conscious effort in doing it. It's helping him."
In 2012, Martinez will take the next step in his passing game. You can expect to see a better throwing motion, improved footwork and tighter accuracy.
In order for any offense to run smoothly, players need to learn not to turn the ball over. This was a big problem for the Huskers in 2011 when they fumbled the ball 23 times. Granted, they managed to recover their own fumble 16 times.
But when you put the ball on the ground, you have roughly a 50/50 chance of getting it back, and coach Bo Pelini doesn't want the fate of any given game to rest on chance.
Protecting the football all starts with the quarterback. When Martinez is on the run, he needs to be able to keep the football. In 2012, he should be able to. This can be attributed to more reps and practice in Beck's offense so things like this bizarre fumble pass thing don't happen. While it miraculously worked out in the Huskers' favor, it could have easily turned ugly.
Going back to high school, Martinez has never had the same offensive coordinator for more than one year. More consistency should result in taking better care of the football.
Fumbles aren't the only thing that can drive a coach nuts. Interceptions also must be avoided. While Martinez threw only eight picks in 2011, he threw only 288 times. That is an interception every 36 throws.
If Martinez threw as many times as Case Keenum, who led the NCAA in pass attempts with 603 last year (implausible I know, but for the sake of the argument, bear with me), he would have throw nearly 17 picks. Again, if Martinez improves his passing game, the number of interceptions will decrease.
If Nebraska fans were on the fence about Martinez before the Ohio St. game in 2011, they were won over after. Multiple Husker players cited Martinez as being vocal and encouraging on the sideline when Ohio St. had established a 27-6 lead in the third quarter.
"He did a tremendous job, especially coming out in the second half. He had some big pass plays, over the middle, down the field," Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead said after the game (via Huskers.com). "It shows his maturity and leadership and experience from last year and how much he’s grown in that role in the quarterback of our team. We believe in him. He’s a big-time playmaker. He’s going to get the job done."
Martinez stepped up his maturity big time in 2011, and that will translate into a bigger role as a leader in 2012. Gone are the days of coach Bo Pelini freaking out on the quarterback on national television. Gone are the days of rumors circulating of a transfer. Martinez is here to stay.
Multiple times, Martinez has said that Nebraska is capable of big things.
"If we don’t go to the national championship game,” quarterback Taylor Martinez said via Sporting News, “I’ll be disappointed. I think we’re all dreaming that big. We definitely can be that good.”
Some could argue that kind of talk is too cocky. But a player doesn't make statements like this unless he believes in his team, and that is the mark of a leader.
It is not a secret that the Huskers greatly underachieved in their first first year in the Big Ten. After being the early favorites to emerge as champions, the Huskers laid a big dud and, quite frankly, became the laughing stock of the conference.
They were pounded by Wisconsin, humbled by Northwestern and embarrassed by Michigan. A once stout defense became average and the offense was inconsistent at best.
This will be the year Nebraska takes the reins and establishes themselves as a Big Ten powerhouse, and Martinez will be one of the players responsible. He has a host of talent around him, including star running back Rex Burkhead and a plethora of speedy backs and receivers. There is no excuse for Martinez not to execute and help launch his team into the highest tier of college football. It is now or never for Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and I'm betting on now.