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  • Time for Martinez to build his own legacy

    Has anyone piled up more statistics and gotten less respect as a Nebraska football player than Taylor Martinez?

    Martinez is a classic case study in how you define success and productivity for a major college quarterback. Does it mean yards and touchdowns? Does it mean championships?

    He has not yet begun his junior season, but he’s already piled up 5,559 total yards – the third highest total in Cornhusker football history. Martinez already has more 2,000-yard seasons than Jerry Tagge, Vince Ferragamo, Turner Gill or Tommie Frazier (in fact, Frazier never had a 2,000-yard season).

    Taylor Martinez vs. Michigan State, 2011; Photo by Dennis Hubbard
    Dennis Hubbard photo

    People make fun of Martinez’s passing form, but he’s completed 278 passes and thrown for 23 touchdowns. He’s No. 6 all-time on the Husker charts in both categories.

    Martinez has accounted for 44 touchdowns rushing and passing, which puts him comfortably in the Top 10 at Nebraska. If he gets 19 touchdowns passing and running this year, he’ll move past Steve Taylor into the No. 3 spot.

    Nebraskans love titles even more than touchdowns. If the Cornhuskers are to finally break their 12-year conference title drought, Martinez will need to do more than pile up numbers this fall. He must avoid turnovers. He needs to become consistent as a leader and decision maker.

    What has Martinez accomplished so far? If you make a steady diet of internet message boards, you’d think he’s been a complete bust. That’s far from the truth.

    He became an overnight sensation when he piled up video game-type numbers in five of his first seven games and was mentioned by TV commentators – very prematurely – as a Heisman Trophy candidate. He became the first Husker freshman to surpass 400 passing yards in a game.

    He has been erratic and turnover-prone. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that someone who starts as a freshman would make a lot of mistakes, but at Nebraska, when the coach says you’re the man, there are standards to live up to.

    Martinez played in a Big 12 Championship game, although he was so beat-up it was questionable whether he should have been on the field at all. His performance was forgettable at best. He threw an end zone interception midway through the second quarter when he could have given Nebraska a commanding 24-7 edge. He also lost a fumble, took numerous sacks and was generally indecisive running the offense as the Sooners rallied to win, 23-20. It was the only time Martinez was at the helm when the Huskers lost a second-half lead.

    Conversely, he has led Nebraska from behind in the second half just once – last October, when the Huskers put together a school-record effort by overcoming a 21-point deficit to beat Ohio State, 34-27.

    Martinez has not produced any conference championships. Then again, those who have – names like Tagge, Gill, Frazier, Frost and Crouch – all had the benefit of great offensive lines. Martinez has not. His record in his 25 starts is 17-8. Regardless of offensive line performance, a quarterback who loses eight games in two years at Nebraska tends to become a target for criticism. Not surprisingly, Martinez gets his share and then some.

    Some of his detractors say he should be a defensive back. Sound familiar, Scott Frost and Jammal Lord?

    Frost was unpopular with Husker fans in 1996 and even early in 1997, much as Martinez is now. He was called a traitor to his state – and worse – for signing a letter of intent with Stanford and playing on the West Coast before transferring to Nebraska.

    Martinez had a brilliant start as a freshman when he ran the football with abandon, although it was mostly straight ahead on read option plays.

    Then came his devastating high-ankle sprain just before halftime on Oct. 30, 2010, against Missouri, an injury he aggravated three weeks later at Texas A&M and, judging by the results on the field, has not yet made a full recovery.

    Bo Pelini started Martinez his first game as a redshirt freshman because he could make big plays, but the big plays were few and far between last season. Although coaches a year ago that he was full speed, Martinez seemed to have lost his burst. He had only one run of 20 yards or more in the last 10 games of the season, and he had only two pass completions of 30 yards or more over the last six games.

    The lack of explosiveness may not completely due to his injured ankle. Pelini and Tim Beck seemed to have Martinez on a short leash, possibly fearing injury because they didn’t trust Brion Carnes as a backup. The best scenario for Nebraska in fall camp is that Carnes earns more trust, so the coaching staff will allow Martinez to run with abandon once again, keeping the hook slides to a minimum. Martinez seemed hesitant running the ball last year, and sometimes put himself at risk by half-running, half-sliding.

    In the Ohio State game, Martinez was on display with all his good and bad qualities magnified. I still can’t understand how he avoided a broken sternum when Buckeye safety Christian Bryant nailed him in one of those awkward should-I-run-or-should-I-slide moments.

    He threw a devastating interception just before halftime that allowed OSU to stretch its lead to 20-6.

    In the second half, he was at his best, breaking a read option for a touchdown, hitting Quincy Enunwa in stride for a 36-yard touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter, he had what might have been the best moment of his career thus far, when under a rush at the Ohio State 30, he extended the play, kept his composure, looked around and found Rex Burkhead open in the flat. Burkhead turned it into the game-tying touchdown.

    That play represents a victory over the dragon Martinez has most struggled with during his short career. The better he gets at keeping plays alive with his feet and killing opponents with his arm, the better off the Huskers will be. And of course, a return of his flying feet would be welcome, including a few strategic long-distance lightning-bolt touchdowns like those which marked the first half of his freshman year.

    Martinez is not a classic dropback quarterback and never will be one, although everyone in Husker Nation hopes his much-ballyhooed training sessions will improve his footwork and passing form. That in itself is not a problem at Nebraska, where many have excelled despite lacking an NFL-caliber passing arm.

    At this point, it’s up to Martinez – the latest in a long line of Husker option-style quarterbacks – to forge his own legacy. Will he be remembered like Lord, a great athlete who battled hard at quarterback but couldn’t overcome his limitations and inconsistency? Or will he be remembered like Frost, who developed excellent leadership skills and overcame the acrimony of Husker fans – and his unorthodox passing style – to lead Nebraska to a conference title and a national championship?

    Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com


    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Good article ! Tmart deserves better than what the masses give him.
    1. Omaha's Avatar
      Omaha -
      The painful truth about being a quarterback is that your team mates can make or break you. How many dropped catches have we seen? How many blown assignments from the offensive line? Taylor is a fine quarterback, and I think we might see his best season yet, provided the rest of the offense can back him up.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Wow! Fantastic article Tad! Thanks for the stats!
      I have always believed in Taylor Martinez. I understand that he has limitations, but good God man, the guys only half through with his college career and he's already all over the record books. I hope, as you, that his passing impresses everybody this year, but most of all, I hope the coaches release him from their ultra tight rope and let the beast loose on a few "strategic long-distance lightning-bolt touchdowns like those which marked the first half of his freshman year".
      I remember when he was starting that freshman year in 2010...and thinking "man, we haven't had anything around here like this since Eric Crouch". It was an exciting time! Highlights every week! We were watching another episode of "A Star is Born" every week and it was something to see. It really was. He was growing up right before our eyes...and furthermore, we were going to be in for this treat for the next 4 years! No one was bitching back then...and it must be said that he did this under the tutteledge of the dreaded, the hated, Sean Watson. Hmmm...makes you wonder what would have happened if Taylor had never got hurt? Unfortunately, he injured his ankle midway through that season, was never anywhere near the same and many never forgave him for it. Although improving on some aspects of his game in 2011, he clearly hasn't been the same since that injury, at least there were no more explosive runs like we saw in 2010 and his accuracy went down a tad.
      But I think this year will be different. I think this will be his coming out year frankly, a year where he'll actually be back to his former running self AND be a much improved passer, leading to a much improved team. I think the whole team comes out with a 'something to prove' attitude and smash mouths a lot of people. And Taylor will impress. He always does...one way or the other.
    1. BRB's Avatar
      BRB -
      I'm waiting for all of the Martinez bashing. Well?
    1. ksuhusker's Avatar
      ksuhusker -
      We all hope that T-MAGIC will once again show up! This article hit the nail on the head about last year when he ran. All we really need for him to do is to mature and make good decisions, and the rest will take care of itself. Oh and BALL SECURITY is key.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Fumbles as a running quarterback are unforgivable. If he can eliminate them the Huskers should have a great season!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      He won't do it....
    1. JerseyHusker's Avatar
      JerseyHusker -
      I watched this kid in a high school championship game, liked his cockiness then and still do. I feel he will be remebered like Frost. He's been growing day by day, week by week, year by year. In future we fans may be saying "Man, we would have won that game if TMagic was behind center."
      This years husker offense should be well improved. Again, the only thing that will hold this team back is itself. Go Big Red!!
    1. HuskerWeatherman's Avatar
      HuskerWeatherman -
      As I discussed (with numbers) late in the 2011 season, it became apparent after the first couple of games, the offense was revolving much more around Rex than Martinez. Hard time arguing that move -- but I do feel a solid #2 RB is needed to help prevent Rex from getting run down and/or injured.

      Has any other past Husker put up solid stats and received so little love from Husker fans? Marlon Lucky. His stats would suggest he was a top 5-10 running back in NU history. That's far from the case. Nowhere near the top ten. And I don't even know if he's top 20 worthy. I feel the same about Martinez -- to this point. We'll see what happens this season -- and of course, I wish him the best, as it would only be beneficial to the team.

      Certainly winning is more important than individual stats. But leadership, playing well late in games, playing well in big games, avoiding costly mistakes -- there's plenty of intangibles that show quite well how a player ranks among his peers.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Being erratic and turnover-prone can destroy a player. I see a lot of fluff in this article as well. Lets compare TMart to Frazier..

      Just in passing attempts alone he has surpassed Frazier in 2 years.

      Frazier attempts in 4 years = 433 TMart passing attempts in 2 years = 484 This sure helps to raise your total yardage numbers.

      Tmarts pass efficiency is pretty well matched, so far, with Frazier. Frazier was known to be a good passer either.
      Frazier 136.1, 127.1, 116.2, 156.14
      TMart 138.78, 126.52,....

      TMart changed after getting hit, he runs differently, more timid or unsure. He can end up being THE husker great but he needs to hang on to the ball!
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