Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez is Still Impossible to Figure Out

| by Alex Groberman

Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez is like an abstract painting you stare at for hours but still can't comprehend. After almost every game, it feels like each fan or viewer will always conclude something different about his ability, promise and future success.

Ask three different people about their opinion on whether Martinez is capable of leading the Huskers to a championship and you’ll no doubt get three different responses.

And, of course, that was before Nebraska’s latest 42-29 outing, during which Martinez essentially went from zero to hero. Somehow, he shifted from being a major reason for why his team was about to become an upset casualty, to being an equally massive reason as to why they bounced back to capture the win in one short breath.

When it was all said and done, Martinez racked up 385 yards in total offense -- 165 of which came via rushing -- en route to victory. From the beginning of the game to the bitter end, he made countless awe-inspiring plays with both his arm and his feet that you simply wouldn’t expect out of him. When Nebraska was seeking out its first score of the game, Martinez threw a deep pass -- a 57-yard beauty -- that ultimately set his team up for a score. Similarly, he showcased his strong arm in a 42-yarder to Kenny Bell that led to another touchdown.

In the third quarter, as the Huskers were scrambling to regain control of a game that had somehow passed them by, Martinez nailed a textbook pass to Jamal Turner for 43-yards and then followed that up with a rocket to Quincy Enunwa for an 18-yard touchdown, which gave Nebraska its first lead.

And, after proving that his arm can work when he puts the time in and doesn’t resort to the run at the first sign of pressure, Martinez put the exclamation mark on the game with a 46-yard rush with a little over two minutes remaining in the game.

That was the good Taylor. The version worthy of the praise that had been heaped upon him in the early preseason, when fans and critics alike figured that the dual-threat nature, athletic youngster could potentially take over the Big Ten if only he could turn all of the promise seen in 2010 into production in 2011.

But then, the bad Taylor came out on Saturday.

Interestingly, Martinez’s inconsistency is often showcased with Brandie Kinnie. No play better exemplified the disconnect between these two guys than an elementary, short pass that was supposed to land in Kinnie’s hands being thrown ridiculously high and out of the receiver’s reach with absolutely zero pressure in sight.  

Then, of course, you had Martinez fumbling three balls away (although the Huskers recovered two), botching fourth-and-1s, and seemingly disregarding everything he learned over the summer -- and last season -- regarding post-snap protocol and adequate throwing position.

And therein lays the conundrum. Martinez is so undeniably talented, shows so much genuine promise, that it’s bewildering that a star of his magnitude can continually be so Jekyll & Hyde in his play. Keep in mind, most young, relatively inexperienced quarterbacks play well early and screw things up late. Martinez is the opposite. He played inconsistently in the early going, but led his team back to victory with a 6-of-8 showing -- including some deep balls -- in the second half.

The ability to bounce back after a rough beginning is an invaluable character trait that cannot be taught.

Head coach Bo Pelini sees the potential in Martinez, and that’s why he’s being so uncharacteristically patient with his passer despite the gaffes.

''No one's perfect,'' Pelini said after the game. ''He's only about 15 games in as a starter. He's not going to play perfect. A lot of people would take what he did. He put a lot of yards up between his running and throwing. I'm glad he was on our team.''

When you look at Martinez’s play in the second half, it’s easy to forget that this is legitimately the guy’s second real season as a starting quarterback for a marquee college football program. His blips of greatness make you want to compare all of his showings against his finest moments, which is fair, but unrealistic.

Although it may not seem like it sometimes, the Huskers have a guy with all of the talent in the world at the helm of their offense. If Tim Beck and the like can figure out a way to harness that talent, Nebraska could be absolutely lethal going forward.

College football history is littered with athletic quarterbacks who never amounted to anything because they weren’t taught to play the right way. Nebraska, realizing this, seems keen on making sure that doesn’t happen with their guy. If they can mold into Martinez into something special – watch out college football. But, if they can’t, expect more games like the one against Fresno State – half and half efforts that are thrilling, heartbreaking and frustrating from start to finish.