Why Was Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez So Awful vs. Wisconsin?

| by Alex Groberman

There is no way to sugarcoat reality – Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez was awful in his team’s 48-17 blowout loss against the Wisconsin Badgers. Furthermore, he was probably the primary reason that the Huskers lost.

Coming into the game, it’s safe to say everyone had mixed emotions about Martinez. He’s always been an unconventional quarterback in every possible sense of the description and, as such, sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what standards to hold him to. He usually runs for more yards than he passes for. He frequently fumbles the ball away. He doesn’t adequately survey the situation before his internal clock counts down to zero and he takes off running down the field.

But, somehow, he’s managed to establish himself as the guy at the helm of the Nebraska football program over the last two years. So much so, in fact, that the Huskers brought Tim Beck along and installed him as offensive coordinator so that he could properly design an offensive system that fit in well with Martinez’s strengths and at least kind of masked his weaknesses.

The system broke down on Saturday night.

After a successful first 17 minutes of play, Martinez essentially crumbled under his own weight and began to make one mistake after another against a Badger secondary that isn’t even especially strong. He threw two interceptions in the second quarter alone and, then, inexplicably threw another one to start the third quarter when there was at least some semblance of hope that Nebraska might actually make a game out of it in the second half.

By the end of the day, he racked up zero passing touchdowns and three interceptions on an 11-of-22, 176-yard showing. He added 61 yards on the ground, but most of those came via scrambles after he let plays break down because he refused to scan the field for open receivers.

This time around, his go big-or-bust strategy of either breaking off plays with huge yardage gains or hurting the team didn’t go according to plan. Each time Martinez attempted to air out the ball to Jamal Turner -- who somehow put together 84 yards on five receptions -- the defense seemed to read the play before the ball was even snapped.

It’s hard to identify who deserves the majority of the blame for Martinez’s horrible showing on Saturday, though.

Yes, he is the one who made the mistakes and he is the one who will ultimately have to live with the responsibility – but the onus also falls on Beck to put his quarterback in a position to be successful.

If everyone in the nation understands that Martinez isn’t an especially great passer – how does Beck allow him to repeatedly air the ball out after he had already proven that more likely than not the end result would be an interception? Sure, the Badgers have a weak secondary, but once it’s been established that they were not weak enough to allow Martinez to pass all over them, don’t you try something new? At some point in between the second and third interceptions, don’t you return to the run?

Mind you, Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead was coming off back-to-back 100-yard games against the Washington Huskies and Wyoming Cowboys. He, coupled with the rest of the Huskers’ top-10 rushing attack were primed and ready to get gritty with the Badgers’ No. 22 ranked rush defense.

So why didn’t Beck commit to that? Nobody knows at this point.

Martinez was awful on Saturday and proved yet again that he will never lead a team to a college football championship. Putting him side-by-side with one of the best passers in the nation in Wilson is cruel, really. But he’s still shown that he can win some games, and a lot of the reason he wasn’t at least able to keep things competitive this weekend was the direct byproduct of sloppy strategizing by the minds behind the offense – namely Beck.

The key now is whether Martinez will be able to bounce back next weekend against the Ohio State Buckeyes. No, these aren’t Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes, but don’t let their record fool you – they’re still dangerous.

If Beck doesn’t get Martinez’s mind right before next Saturday, this could prove to be a particularly nightmare-ish two-week stretch for the Huskers.