The Nebraska Cornhuskers have had a tumultuous year thus far, but nobody has experienced the bumps and curves more than quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Somehow regardless of whether his team was picking up seven victories and only one loss, adjusting to their new Big Ten conference digs on the run in undeniably impressive fashion, or staking their flag at the top of the Legends Division – Martinez never got due credit.
A lot of that is the result of perception.
Over the course of his last two seasons with the Huskers, Martinez has built a certain reputation for himself as a less-than-stellar quarterback. He’s unconventional, he doesn’t pass often or with particularly great accuracy, and his run-first mentality turns the purists off. When he’s bad, like he was against the Wisconsin Badgers two months ago, he’s really bad. And then when he’s good, as he has been for large portions of 2011, it’s not spectacular enough for folks to take notice.
So what’s left for Martinez to do? Well, precisely what he has been doing. Ignore the criticism, disregard what the press says, and focus on leading his team to victory.
“Now I’m kind of understanding what my role on the team is -- just to be able to manage the game and get us a win,” Martinez told reporters recently.
The coaches have done their part to ensure that Martinez feels a little more comfortable in his role.
“We put a lot on the quarterback in this offense with the audible system and recognizing the defense and getting us in and out of plays, the change in tempos,” coach Bo Pelini has said.
“He wants the ball in his hands,” Pelini said. “He has a lot of confidence in his abilities and that is part of the maturity of somebody, especially at his position, knowing when to and when not to.”
Equal commitment from both the coaching staff and Martinez to do whatever it takes to win has culminated in success.
Martinez has rushed for over 100 yards on three separate occasions this year, and his yards per game average is good for sixth best in the conference. The numbers don’t jump off the page like last season’s did, but they’re coming in far more efficient, valuable fashion.
“I said last year that even when we were putting up big numbers, we weren’t being very efficient,” Pelini said. “We were living on the big play and the big chunks of yards. When people made us earn it down the field, we struggled.”
And for what it’s worth, even though Pelini hears everybody critiquing Martinez’s throwing motion, that’s the furthest thing from his mind.
“No matter how the ball gets there,” he said, “your release is the main thing about your throwing motion.”
The Nebraska quarterback doesn’t go as easy on himself, though. For the year he’s completed 55 percent of his passes and been intercepted seven times – two stat figures he’s not pleased with. He doesn’t know if his throwing motion is the cause, but he does admit that changes from time to time.
“It all depends how you’re throwing the ball -- if a defensive lineman is in front of your face, which way you’re throwing,” he said. “You can’t just set and drop back with perfect mechanics. Peyton Manning never really does it, neither really does Tom Brady.”
Fortunately, the Huskers don’t need him to be Manning or Brady out there. All the team needs from Martinez is what he’s been doing thus far – to lead them to victory.
Neither pass completion percentage nor interceptions ultimately decide anyone’s BCS rankings, only wins do.
Martinez’s next challenge will be leading his No. 9 ranked Huskers to a victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.
The game kicks off this Saturday at 12:30 p.m.