If, before the Southern Miss game, someone would have told you that Rex Burkhead would miss the last three quarters and that Taylor Martinez threw the ball 34 times, what would you have guessed the outcome of the game to have been?
Be honest now.
Just about everyone not named Bo Pelini was surprised to see Martinez’s virtuoso performance throwing the ball against the Golden Eagles, going 26-for-34 for 354 yards and five (!) touchdowns. Was it a magical powder (T-Magical, even?) that quarterback guru Steve Calhoun used to create such an aerial threat? Or can we break down some of the technical things that Martinez is doing better to explain his performance?
Yes, Martinez still has some hinky-looking movements (yes, that’s a technical term) in his upper body delivering the ball.
But his footwork is dramatically better. You can see him, when making his throws, squaring his body and pointing his feet at his target. That makes a huge difference in terms of his accuracy and his velocity, which we saw evidence of against Southern Miss.
Also, Martinez has introduced a “foot-patter” in his stance in the pocket, where he dances on the tips of his feet while looking for a receiver. This “foot-patter” is much like the signature move of one Peyton Manning, whose passing academy Martinez attended in the offseason.
The way the football comes out of his hand. Stop giggling; you’re better than that.
In the last two years, Martinez has had good days and bad days passing the ball. But no one would ever say that his passes looked crisp and sharp, like you would expect from a top-flight quarterback.
No longer. Most of Martinez’s throws against Southern Miss were picture-perfect spirals, delivered with velocity. He was able to fit passes into tight windows and get completions, in part because of the improvements he has made with the ball he throws.
Nebraska ran quite a bit of no-huddle offense against Southern Miss, and did so pretty seamlessly. Martinez was able to keep Nebraska’s offense moving in rhythm and with tempo.
He also, according to Bo Pelini, as quoted by the Omaha World-Herald, “got us out of some bad plays and into some right plays.”
Much more than he has before, Martinez looked like he was in total control of the offense, directing the offense with confidence and precision.
One play early in the first half may summarize the changes in Martinez from previous years to this year. Martinez took a snap, and a Southern Miss lineman knifed through and grabbed him by the waist.
As he was falling backward, you could see Martinez pull the ball back. Anyone who has watched Martinez in the past had a pretty good idea of what was coming next: a desperation heave as likely to be intercepted as it was to be a reception.
But then, something different happened. Nothing. Martinez pulled the ball down and took the sack. And while that drive didn’t end in points due to a missed field goal, the important thing is that it didn’t end on a head-scratching T-Magic mistake.
That growth and maturity, as much as anything technically or mechanically that has changed, should make Nebraska fans excited about what is to come for Martinez.
Hear me out on this one. After the game, Bo Pelini was being interviewed by ABC’s Jeanine Edwards about his thoughts. At the end of the interview, Martinez walked up behind Pelini, drawing his attention. The ABC crew cut to the studio, but then back to an Edwards interview with Martinez, which was clearly unplanned but welcomed by ABC.
Martinez was great in the interview, saying his performance was “OK” and praising his receivers and offensive line. You know, the kind of cliché stuff we expect athletes to say.
Remember, this was the guy who wouldn’t talk to the media as a freshman and whose interactions with the media last year could be awkward and uncomfortable. This year, it looked like he sought it out and was very comfortable.
Now, who knows? Maybe Pelini told him he had to do a post-game interview. Maybe someone has given Martinez the speech Crash Davis gave Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham:
Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Nuke LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.
But the important thing is that in 2010 or 2011, you never would have seen Martinez do something like that. The fact is that Martinez is much better than he used to be about handling himself like a quarterback, including how a quarterback is expected to behave. That is good news for the Children of the Corn hoping Martinez can lead them back to the promised land.
If you would like to contact Patrick directly to schedule an interview, ask a question or to get his recipe for a killer peach cobbler, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (DISCLAIMER: Peach cobbler recipe might not be all that killer.)