Listening to sports radio today, clearly the majority of sports radio callers are squarely placing the blame for Nebraska's blowout loss to Wisconsin on Taylor Martinez. I do not share that opinion. While Martinez's three interceptions in the second twenty-minutes of the game contributed greatly, the single biggest factor in Nebraska's loss was the poor play by the defense. Wisconsin's last punt of the game came when the Badgers trailed 14-13. Yes, three turnovers by Martinez led to a 34-14 deficit, but keep in mind that the defense had a hand in those points...and bore sole responsibility for the last fourteen points the Badgers scored.
Caller after caller today made the case that Martinez shouldn't be starting anymore. They point to lineup changes on the offensive line, wide receiver, and in the secondary. If you play poorly, someone else comes in. There's one problem with that analogy. In all of those other situations, another player proved themselves enough to convince the coaches to put them into the game. Brandon Kinnie's drops in the early games led to more playing time for Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. Offensive line struggles led to Seung Hoon Choi getting a chance. And the tragically bad secondary has created numerous opportunities for players to get playing time.
Who's pushing Taylor Martinez for playing time? Frankly, nobody. And that's the problem. Cody Green transferred to Tulsa. Jamal Turner switched to wide receiver. Bubba Starling chose baseball. Brion Carnes looked really rough in mop-up duty against Chattanooga. And today, Bo Pelini said the gap between Martinez and Carnes is "pretty wide".
Bottom line is that no matter what you think about Taylor Martinez, he's the best quarterback on the roster.
Oh, how Husker fans have been to both extremes with Martinez. Last year, some people tried to position Martinez as a Heisman candidate. Now, they want him gone. Some of their observations are correct, but the manic-depressive response is wrong on both ends.
Martinez is a better quarterback now than he was when he started. He's improved as a passer, but not enough to make him an elite quarterback. He's a better decision maker than he was last season, but not enough to be an elite quarterback. Some people will even disagree with those assertions, but I have seen progress on his weaknesses. He needs to improve...a lot more...
Some people are ready to throw in the towel at this point, forgetting he's a sophomore. Note I didn't say he was a freshman, and I didn't say that his mistakes should be excused. But he's only been playing quarterback since his junior season in high school. He arrived in Lincoln a raw talent, and we're seeing just how raw he was.
Some say if he hasn't improved more by now, well, he's never going to improve enough. Perhaps. But let me throw out another quarterback. A certain NFL quarterback was ridiculed in 2005 for showing almost no progress in his passing skills in his first four years in the league. Five years later, he's now regarded as one of the league's most improved quarterbacks. One could argue that sitting in the slammer for a couple of years helped his mental approach, but there's no doubt that Michael Vick, once regarded as hopeless as a passer, improved to become an asset. And that seems to be rubbing off on Vince Young, who's also been deried.
Bottom line to me is that in this "what have you done for me today" society, it's easy to throw Martinez under the bus. But like I preached caution about hyping Martinez last year, caution is also in order if you are ready to give up on him.