Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez took a beating last year. In between his inconsistency, injuries, and unconventional playing style – the poor guy served as a personal piñata for just about everyone who wasn’t satisfied with the end result of the 2010 season.
A lesser player wouldn’t be able to bounce back from all of that.
Through three games this season, the Huskers’ unheralded leader -- with his goofy passing form and run-first mentality -- has led a less-than-perfect offense to three straight victories. Somehow, despite the clear-cut defensive shortcomings the team has had in 2011, Martinez has guided the Huskers to 40+ point outings in all three games – a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since 1995.
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The problem with Martinez is that his statistics don’t jump off the page. Of course, he’s not a traditional quarterback, so it would be foolish to think that they would. To date, he’s racked up pedestrian totals through the air with 490 passing yards and three scores on 48 percent efficiency. Ho-hum, right? Plus, his propensity for either getting massive yardage or less than one yard on plays -- the “go big or go home” model -- hasn’t won him many fans from the traditionalist camp.
But you don’t score 40, 42 and 51 points in three games on accident, folks. And given the struggles that both Nebraska’s offensive line and rushing attack have had through this young season, it’s safe to say that it’s Martinez who deserves the majority of the credit for the Huskers’ offensive production.
Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead, who many suspected would be vital to the team’s success in 2011, has faltered in the early going. He finally broke out of his slump this past week against Washington but, prior to that, he hadn’t cracked 100 yards through two games despite being named starter. As a result of the running back’s inability to find holes in opposing defenses, Martinez took it upon himself to become the squad’s leading rusher.
Through three games, Martinez has racked up 344 yards and six carries on a 6.7 yard per carry average. That knack for knowing when to run and, knowing when to stay and pass, has made Nebraska’s dual threat quarterback a headache for teams like Wyoming to prepare for.
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"We have nobody that's Taylor Martinez," UW coach Dave Christensen said recently. "All we can do is emphasize to the kids that the speed difference on Saturday is going to be drastic compared to what we can actually show them in practice.”
Christensen wasn’t the lone Wyoming coach acknowledging Martinez’s game changing ability, though.
"He's got great speed," UW defensive coordinator Marty English said. "He's got good guys in front of him. He's surrounded with a ton of talent. And then, when you're as talented as he is, it all shines.
"We're preparing and have to get ourselves in position to have a chance."
At this point, shockingly, Nebraska simply doesn’t know what it will get from its defense. Similarly, although he finally seemed to make some strides this past week, Burkhead continues to be a wildcard until he proves himself on a most constant basis. And the offensive line, well, we’ll all keep our fingers crossed that “the rotation” works as well in Week 4 as it did Week 3.
But the one constant that the squad has had throughout will need to carry the team again. Martinez is in the odd position of not getting credit when the team wins and shouldering the blame when they lose, but that’s just a natural pitfall of standing at the helm of a program. Somehow, he’s dealt with it to this point and, unfortunately, he’ll have to keep on doing more of the same.