Taylor Martinez is a very talented dual threat quarterback. Through exactly two games, he’s put up 636 cumulative yards and six touchdowns – including a couple of big ones when his Nebraska Cornhuskers looked to be on the verge of getting upset by the Fresno State Bulldogs this past Saturday.
Unfortunately, as Rich Kaipust of The Omaha World-Herald has pointed out, he’s also accumulated 21 fumbles in 14 career games.
One of the cardinal rules that all quarterbacks at any level of football have to live by is protecting the football. There are no ands, ifs or ors about this – it’s an absolute necessity. Martinez, somehow, has completely shirked that responsibility and remained at the helm of the Huskers’ offense. More importantly, however, he’s done it without even the faintest chance that he may lost his job.
Well, for one, because the total number of fumbles doesn’t tell the whole story. While it’s true that Martinez had three more fumbles against Fresno State in addition to the two he put up against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs during Week 1, none of those ended up translating in a score for the other team. Along the same lines, of his 21 fumbles, only a grand total of five have resulted in the other squad getting the ball.
Still, another team not being able to capitalize on Nebraska’s mistakes doesn’t make those mistakes any less dire. Whereas weaker competition -- which is precisely what the Huskers have faced thus far -- may be slow to the punch, more credible groups like the Wisconsin Badgers, Ohio State Buckeyes, etc. – will certainly make it a point to force turnovers out of those mishandles.
Fortunately, Bo Pelini has spotted the weakness, and he’s not letting it fall by the wayside.
"I don't like the fact that he's put the ball on the ground a few times," Pelini said on Tuesday.
"When you're careless with how you carry the football, the ball's going to end up on the ground," he said. "It's got to be a sense of urgency to put that ball away and do it the right way."
Further complicating matters this year is the latest offensive scheme being implemented by new offensive coordinator, Tim Beck. The idea behind the gameplan appears to be speeding up the attack which, while it comes with its fair share of positives, also calls for particularly steady nerves and a clear cut devotion to protecting the rock.
That latter point is one that Beck understands well, and one that he made a point to emphasize on Tuesday as well.
"We've definitely visited with it, and it's something I know he's going to concentrate on and work this week as we've addressed that issue," Beck said Tuesday. "He's aware of it, and he's working on it."
Still, Beck is quick to point out that his quarterback has undergone a certain evolution. The fumbles of yesteryear, he notes, aren’t the same ones that we’ve seen over the last two outings.
"It's more open field," Beck said. "You look at where he's kind of put the ball on the ground. . I don't even know if guys are really, really tackling him. They kind of were reaching for him or grabbing at him — he's switching the ball one time — but in terms of just getting hit and the ball popping out, that hasn't happened."
As Nebraska continues to adapt and improve based on what they see throughout the year, ball protection will have to become more and more of a priority. Although teams like Chattanooga and Fresno State can be out-hustled to loose balls, it’s a very dangerous game. The Huskers simply cannot count on luck always being on their side when the ball pops free.
When you play with fire, sooner or later, you will get burned – and the onus is on Pelini and Co. to figure out a way to keep that from happening.