Nebraska’s Martinez a Rarity in College Football

BY TODD NEELEY

At this point in the 2010 season Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez is the freshman of the year in college football.

But it may not end there.

Though Denard Robinson at Michigan is getting all the press, Martinez’ 241-yard rushing, four-touchdown performance on national television Thursday against Kansas State may have shaken the country wide awake. On Saturday Robinson struggled in Michigan’s loss to Michigan State in Ann Arbor — maybe taking Robinson out of the discussion in the Heisman Trophy race.

I think there were a few doubts after Martinez struggled against South Dakota State as to whether the early season success was just a flash in the pan.

Now we know he’s just a flash, a total freak of an athlete.

Nebraska’s average 35-point margin of victory on the road this season is no fluke. In both games Martinez ripped off several long touchdown runs against KSU and Washington, and in both wins he played like a Heisman candidate.

Yeah, I think he’s at least part of the conversation now. It will step up to a fever pitch if Nebraska and Martinez play well and beat Texas in Lincoln Saturday.

The Longhorns are down, but let’s face it, Martinez will leap to near the top in the Heisman race if he’s able to shred what is still a good and athletic Texas defense.

So far this season Martinez has rushed for 796 yards and passed for 660. At the current pace with seven regular-season games left, Martinez would finish with about 1,800 yards rushing and nearly 1,600 yards passing.

At 3,400 yards of total offense Martinez would turn in the second-best, single-season total offense mark, just behind Joe Ganz’ 3,826 yards in 2008. The most amazing part is that Ganz set that record in what was a pass-happy offense — Martinez would likely do it with his feet.

And at this pace, 1,800 yards rushing would put Martinez in the top three all time at Nebraska for most yards rushing in a season — in the same company with Mike Rozier and Ahman Green.

Exciting stuff, but let’s keep this in perspective.

Martinez has played only five games for Nebraska and the next four games will be telling — Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Missouri, with two of the four in Lincoln. Win those games, win the conference and maybe be in the running for the national title.

There’s little doubt that Martinez will only get better, but will he be as good against teams that have athletes?

Nebraska showed just a glimpse of what he can do in the passing game. After putting the Wildcat defense on edge by gouging holes with the zone read, Martinez dropped back to complete a 79-yard touchdown pass to tightend Kyler Reed in the second half.

When Martinez makes good decisions on the zone read and is able to be accurate enough in the passing game to put defenses on their heels, he’s lethal.

Sure, Martinez’ speed is something not everyday in this game. Even Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne made a comment that Martinez is the fastest player he’s ever seen — this coming from a guy not big on cliches and definitely not the master of overstatement.

There’s more to it though.

Martinez proved against KSU that opposing defenses have little margin for error. On one particular play Martinez saw the defensive end take one step outside, kept the ball and darted up the middle for one of his many long runs.

In other words, if Martinez is allowed past the line of scrimmage there’s a better-than-average chance he’ll score from anywhere on the field.

It’s a rare sight to see — a freak of nature really.

What’s more, teams cannot possibly simulate Martinez’ speed in practice, as not even many wide receivers in the college game run a sub-4.4, 40-yard dash.

Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini continues to say there’s a lot more out there yet for this team, and he’s not talking about just winning the north.

With Alabama’s loss Saturday to South Carolina, Oregon’s less-than-impressive win over Washington State, TCU and Boise State’s weak schedules ahead, and an Ohio State team that doesn’t exactly knock your socks off, Nebraska’s chances at running the table are real.

Pretty much as real as the guy behind center for the Huskers.

Then throw into the mix a Nebraska defense that is getting better each game, the best one-two running back punch in the country in Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead, and there’s plenty of reason for Nebraska to strike fear in opponents.

Posted on October 10, 2010, in Taylor Martinez. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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