Love him and hate him? Taylor Martinez is a three year starter that can make you believe in the Huskers and simultaneously kick your foot through a wall. His penchant for big rewards and big risks makes your heart race. In the end, he is the record holder for most yards ever by a Nebraska Cornhusker and as he proved again on Saturday, he is a giant walking contradiction. At least he's fast.
I still remember the first time Taylor Martinez was introduced into the Nebraska starting lineup. It was the 2010 season and after the cataclysmic end to the 2009 season, with defeat to Texas in the Big XII Championship game due mainly to Nebraska having zero offense, most fans were ready for a breath of fresh air. I still remember asking my buddy David (the one who writes for Corn Nation now) if he had gotten any heads up on the rumors that a Freshman was going to start for Nebraska in the season opener. It was something that even Tommie Frazier didn't accomplish, so it was obviously a big deal.
Now, for those not familiar with Nebraska, as most Big Ten fans weren't at the time, Martinez was a redshirt freshman with a lot of potential speed and athleticism, but with very little QB background. We had a high rated Cody Green who was supposed to be our version of Vince Young and a senior in Zac Lee, who was resilient, but not necessarily talented enough to get the job done. All of the pieces were there for another stellar defense, and hopefully a final run through the Big XII. It was exciting, but scary, and if only we had a Quarterback! Like they say, there is no one as popular as the backup and when Taylor Martinez trotted out on that field against Western Kentucky, most all of us in red held our breath.
Three plays later, Number 3 started to hand the ball of to Roy Helu, but instead of handing it off, he read the DE, put the ball under his arm and dashed towards the left corner of the far endzone. I don't know exactly how many yards that run was, but it felt like a few steps. Immediately, the collective imaginations of Husker Nation were running wild. Visions of National Championships and a return to the glory years was possible. Martinez would hit the endzone twice more with his legs and despite a raw throwing motion, at least what we thought was just 'raw', the reality of doing something big was actually real.
As the Texas game proved, however, when you stopped Martinez' legs, things could get dicey quickly. By the end of the year, we were all hopeful for something great going into the Big Ten. Despite nursing an extremely sore ankle, Martinez was something special and we all felt like the first run through the Big Ten could mean something. We were ready to cheer on T-Magic (a name that I don't personally like, but it is what it is). Unfortunately, we all know how that went.
Last year Martinez was introduced to Big Ten football quickly. A night game in Madison versus a tough defense and an even tougher crowd showed that Taylor was not ready for the primetime yet. Three interceptions and running for his life most of the night proved to be costly and as I think back on that night, his narrative was being written for him. Despite almost 3,000 yards combined rushing and passing, Husker fans were sick of him. It's amazing, the Western Kentucky game a year earlier had given Nebraska fans a chance to cheer, but now the Heisman and the Titles were a distant pipe dream. There was just no way the Huskers could win with Taylor at the helm. Heck, there was no way Pelini could afford to keep Taylor at the helm. There was word that Martinez would be working with a QB Guru, but what did that really mean? Heck, fans were angry at that even. There was just no winning for the kid. Nonetheless, he put in the work in the offseason and was getting warmer to the press. A turnaround was coming?
Fast-forward to this last weekend. In what was a microcosm of Martinez, we saw just exactly what he can bring to the table. In the previous week, the Spartan defense had allowed 19 yards rushing on 37 attempts. If that was against someone like Illinois, we might write it off as an aberration but it was against Wisconsin. They, in theory, had a decent run game. There would be no way that Nebraska would be able to run on this team, right? Taylor Martinez proved that wrong by going 205 by himself, which was actually more yards than the entire Ohio State team put up on Michigan State. His dynamic ability to hit a hole and run to the end zone was thrilling and because of that ability, his final TD throw was setup perfectly because the defense had to worry about his legs first.
Of course, Nebraska was in a position to lose the game four times because of his penchant for trying to do too much. Three interceptions, an abysmal game throwing the ball, and a fumble that almost proved costly was enough to make even the most fervent Martinez supporter throw a drink at the TV. If Taylor Martinez won that game on Saturday, he certainly also set Nebraska up to lose that game. In an interview after the game, Senior Rush End Eric Martin said that Martinez could be a headache, but also he could be a hero. It was this contradiction that keeps this season going and also makes you wonder what happens next.
In three weeks, Nebraska will either have answered the call and book their trip to Indy to put a stamp on the books once and for all, or they will falter down the stretch like so many Husker teams in the recent past have. The Big Ten comes at you fast and furious and there is not one team, save Illinois perhaps, that you should overlook. All of that to say, Nebraska's opportunity will rise and fall with the all-time leading offensive weapon -- Taylor Martinez. If he pulls this off, he will go down as one of the greats and will have a strong case for Second team All Big-Ten QB. It's not always pretty, and it's not always going to go as planned, but in the end, it works. In Martinez we trust, I suppose. I have a feeling it's going to be a crazy three weeks.