October 04, 2011
News flash: Nebraska fans were perfectly aware of run-oriented quarterback Taylor Martinez's limitations as a passer before his three-interception flop Saturday in a 48-17 loss at Wisconsin. So was offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who took the blame Monday for his "boneheaded" decision to call plays in the second and third quarters as if he was running a run-and-shoot: "We're not a drop-back-and-throw-the-ball-every-down team. That's not who we are. We did that for a little bit, and that's on me."
One guy who wasn't up for taking any heat? Taylor Martinez:
Asked Monday to assess his ability to read defenses, Martinez said without hesitation that he does a "good job." And he said he doesn't care if he gets criticized for the comment by people who watched the interceptions turn a close game with the Badgers into a 48-17 loss Saturday night.
"You guys rip me anyway, so it really doesn't matter," Martinez told reporters near the end of a news conference in which he tersely answered 20 questions in less than four minutes.
That chip [on his shoulder] was evident during Martinez's brief session with reporters. He offered no more than four- or five-word responses to most questions and refused to answer when asked whether he sometimes tries to force plays.
When asked if it's hard to take criticism from fans and media, Martinez said, "I don't read nothing you guys say anyway."
Well, we won't take it personally if you won't, Taylor. But it still leaves us with the pressing question, via Beck: If Nebraska's still not able to transition to a "drop-back-and-throw-the-ball-every-down team" when the running game's not there, how does it expect to stand a chance when other competent defenses take the run away?
That's not a new question: The offense in Madison looked disconcertingly like the one that wheezed to the finish line en route to three losses in the final four games last year, including a six-point, zero-touchdown effort in a loss at Texas A&M and a seven-point flop against Washington in the Holiday Bowl. In between, the 'Huskers went three-and-out eight times and failed to score at all in the second half of a 23-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. In all, Saturday was the fifth time in two years that the 'Huskers have been held below 200 yards on the ground with Martinez as starting quarterback — 159 yards on 3.7 per carry — and the fifth time they've lost with less than 21 points on the board.
When cracking 200 yards rushing in the same span, they're 17-0. But with another one-dimensional flop Saturday against the first above-average defense it's seen, the writing is on the wall, and it takes on more urgency opposite a suddenly porous defense that's yielded at least 29 points in three of its last four games. Wisconsin went through the Blackshirts like butter for seven touchdowns in nine offensive possessions — all but one of them covering more than 50 yards — leaving head coach Bo Pelini to pick up the slack: "I'm embarrassed by how we played defensively. I apologize to the fans of Nebraska, because that was a joke."
If it doesn't turn around, the projections that proclaimed the 'Huskers the near-unanimous favorites to win the Big Ten's "Legends" Division — largely based on a more mature Martinez and a defense that finished in the top 10 nationally in both yards and points allowed in 2009 and 2010 — are going to start looking kind of funny, too. The defense currently ranks 64th and 73rd in total and scoring D, respectively, and Martinez has been significantly less efficient as a passer than he was as a redshirt freshman. One of those facts, they may be able to overcome. If they both remain true the rest of the season, though, the convergence point is somewhere around the Insight Bowl.