His stats don’t jump off the page, his mechanics are still cringe worthy and yet, somehow, Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez managed to be an integral part of his team’s 34-27 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday night.
Coming off an absolutely awful showing against the Wisconsin Badgers in his last outing, Martinez couldn’t quite shake the memory of his three-interception performance. In the early going, particularly in the first quarter and for about half of the second, he was reluctant to air the ball out. Even though Jamal Turner and his other receivers were getting some space on the Buckeye corners, the second-year starter was still very evidently shaken by the criticism he got for going gun-crazy and getting out of his element the week before.
Halfway through the second quarter, Martinez’s efficiency was 100% -- but all of his throws had been soft lobs to nearby receivers. Finally, after the Buckeyes stacked the box and dared the Husker quarterback to actually pass, he threw his first pass for over 15 yards with about six minutes remaining in the first half.
Unfortunately, as Martinez emerged from his shell, disaster struck and he threw an ill-advised interception with only seconds remaining in the second quarter – a mistake that the Buckeyes were able to convert on for a field goal that made the score 20-6 going into halftime.
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Martinez had every reason in the world to give up. After the prior week’s devastating loss, he got harassed in school for his poor play. He lashed out at reporters, who were anything but sympathetic to his plight. And, of course, the steady murmur of calls to replace him at starting quarterback was getting louder and louder.
You’re only down until you’re up again, though.
Midway through the third quarter, Nebraska got its first real break of the game on defense when Lavonte David stripped Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller of the ball and handed it back to the offense. Martinez subsequently capitalized on the mistake, and turned it into six points via a quick rush to the end zone.
Just like that, the Husker offense was alive again. When it was all said and done, behind the magnificent play of Martinez -- who, in turn, opened things up for running back Rex Burkhead -- the squad was able to erase a 21-point second half deficit with four straight unanswered scores.
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The comeback was the largest in Nebraska’s history.
"Everyone wants to doubt him. Whatever," coach Bo Pelini said of his much-maligned quarterback after the game. "You guys can choose to write whatever you want and attack him like the fans will, and now they'll praise him.
"He kept fighting," Pelini said. "He led the team, and I was proud of how we played. That's why he's the starting quarterback right now."
It wasn’t just Pelini, though. Other Nebraska players sensed the change.
"He was having fun, that's for sure," center Mike Caputo said. "Taylor was smiling and confident. He kept coming up to the offensive line and saying we're going to win this game when we were down a couple touchdowns. His confidence was really high."
And just like that, everything was different. After serving a week as everyone’s personal punching bag, Martinez earned his redemption in one masterful second half effort.
His passing stats were still unimpressive – two touchdowns, one interception and 191 yards through the air.
His mechanics are still horrendous – feet pointed in the wrong direction, shoulders crooked.
But, somehow, it all feels different after a victory. Winning is like the ultimate cologne in college football, it masks the scent of weakness and concerns, so long as you apply it regularly.
It’s probably safe to say that nobody will be harassing Martinez in class this week. Heck, the Husker loyalists in Lincoln should probably carry him to and from campus.