Mystery Analyst Gives Martinez an A-Plus, Relishes NUís Return to Power Football
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Okay, maybe you don't want to hear from a guy who hadn't seen Nebraska play a down this season until Saturday.
This particular guy doesn't live on Mars. He's just been busy, spending the opening Saturday night of the football season in Las Vegas.
The second Saturday presented another roadblock. Hey, when your kids play volleyball and soccer, they come before Husker football on Pay-Per-View.
So on the third Saturday, after two more kid volleyball conflicts, this mystery celebrity analyst's plan finally came to fruition.
Late in the first quarter, he found what he was looking for - time alone and a TV. He seized the opportunity and camped out in his basement while his son played tackle football with a buddy.
It was the perfect opportunity for our analyst to check out this new Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback and finally see what he's all about.
Mystery Celebrity Analyst Has Insight and a Prediction
It's not that Western Kentucky and Idaho were Peoria and Dubuque, and this analyst was waiting to see the same show on Broadway. But let's be honest here. For Taylor Martinez, Washington was his first appearance on a big stage on national TV.
And what a magical, coming-out party it was for Martinez and everyone who caught any part of the Huskers' 56-21 win over Washington. Even though all of it happened in the shadows of Mount Rainier, an active volcano, this particular eruption forever will be known as the game where Martinez came out of the shadows and into the living rooms of 51 percent of the country. And the way he performed helped Martinez climb that mountain of national respect by:
- Rushing for 137 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
- Becoming the first Nebraska quarterback in nine years to rush for more than 100 yards in three straight games.
- Sprinting to an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the third quarter to break the game open and claim the second longest run ever by a Husker quarterback.
- Managing the assembly line of his team's 383-yard rushing performance that becomes the gold-plate standard for NU's official return to power football.
- Increasing his total to eight rushing touchdowns, the most ever by a Husker freshman quarterback, and the fourth best all-time touchdown mark by any Husker freshman.
- Completing 7 of 11 passes for 150 yards and his first collegiate touchdown pass - a 24-yard strike on a progressive read to Mike McNeill in the game's opening minutes - a redemptive connection with a senior who had been wide open but missed the week before.
Talk about setting the tone for a dual threat that's carving out a reputation for using his legs and his arm to make a defense squirm and eventually wilt from the constant pounding. Close your eyes and try to remember the sheer frustration of the last physically imposing Nebraska offensive team that made defenses search for a stop button.
Yes, it's been awhile since we saw a physical offense run downhill and straight at you like Nebraska did 19 straight times Saturday for 246 yards and four of their eight touchdowns.
Welcome back to the Nebraska football you know, love, respect and honor, and please accept my apology for getting too caught up in the historical nature of the Washington game, Martinez's breakout performance and the offensive transformation that continues to unfold before our very eyes.
Eric Crouch Gives Taylor Martinez an A-plus
It's time to introduce Eric Crouch, our mystery guest analyst, and ask Nebraska's only Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback how he would grade the performance of Taylor Martinez.
"I give the guy an A-plus," Crouch said. "He did a lot of great things. I mean, he had big plays when they needed them, and he stood in there and took some big hits. I saw him shaken up on one play, and he was kind of gimping around, but he stayed in there and continued to run the offense. That's what he's going to have to get used to carrying the ball 20-plus times a game. He's going to take shots, and his body is going to take a pounding."
Take it from someone who's been there. After rushing for 421 yards in three games, Martinez might as well wear a bulls-eye on his jersey when Big 12 play begins. With nine regular-season games remaining, he's just 38 yards behind Crouch's freshman quarterback record of 459 rushing yards
Perhaps more than anyone, Crouch knew what was at stake in the 2010 shuttle that launched Saturday near the Space Needle. He knew because his first-ever road game as a freshman starter 12 years ago also came in a nationally televised game on the West Coast
Nearly 25,000 Nebraska fans migrated to that game, too, as Crouch led the Huskers to a 24-3 win over California in Berkeley.
Crouch had two short scoring runs in his first road game just like Martinez had two short TDs against Washington. But Crouch, the author of Nebraska's all-time longest quarterback run (95 yards in 2001 at Missouri) had no electric gallop as a rookie like Martinez's 80-yard sprint against the Huskies.
"I remember how tough the atmosphere was in my first start on the road," Crouch said.
Peak performance is far from automatic and decidedly different from what you see going against your teammates every day, even if they are among the best in the country.
"You have to understand that you're in a different stadium," Crouch said. "All of your pre-game is different. The locker room's different. The crowd is making it tough for you to call plays and communicate with your offense. So having to go in there and battle those obstacles makes it a huge challenge."
Blocking Out the Noise and Getting a Fast Start
The challenge is more mental than physical. "I thought Taylor did a great job of blocking out the things that can hinder a quarterback in a road game - the crowd noise and the ability to get your team off to a fast start," Crouch sad. "He did both of those things, and I think those are just great qualities for a young freshman quarterback to show. There's no doubt he has a bright future because of his quick feet and the instincts he has to make big plays and kind of take over a game."
Make no mistake. Watching T-Magic Saturday was every bit as beautiful to Crouch as it was for everyone else. "We need an offense, and Nebraska needs an offensive quarterback who can make big plays and change the game in a matter of one possession," Crouch said. "The quarterback position is the center point of the offense. It's the focus, and if you have a player that has certain qualities, then you can really center your offense on that quarterback's abilities. I think that's what they've already started doing with Taylor and the zone read, knowing that he runs it so well. It's a play that if it's run the right way, it can be a very, very big play.
"I think they're going to see some defenses that will try to put some different schemes together to try to stop that," Crouch said, "and when they do that, it's going to open up the door to some other options like throwing the football or getting the quarterback in a different place ... a counter trap or those types of things. I think that will happen as the season progresses. But obviously, with the offense running on all cylinders like it did Saturday, it's exciting to watch."
Crouch provided TV commentary on Versus for the Wisconsin-UNLV game in Las Vegas on Labor Day weekend, and from his training in Connecticut before that gig, he knows how to speak directly without compromising his respect for all players and coaches.
Sometimes, It Was Just Difficult for Him to Watch
"I remember watching Nebraska games last year and just hoping that our defense could hold the other team to minimal points because I just didn't feel like we could put up the points we needed to win football games," Crouch said. "I think we're able to do that now. There are a lot of challenges ahead of us in the Big 12, but the first three weeks of the year look great and are very promising with an offense showing the ability to score points and keep our defense off the field.
"It's critical to help a defense stay fresh and not get tired or worn down," Crouch said. "Football has always been about field position and possession. You want to make teams have to go all the way down the field on you, and I think teams are going to have a tough time doing that against Nebraska's defense, especially if our offense can continue to gain yards, score points and control the field."
Crouch enjoys seeing Nebraska rise from the depths of last year's NCAA offensive charts to more traditional prominence. That, of course, requires a dramatic two-year leap like the defense made from the bottom to the top.
"I just see that Nebraska has a little bounce in their step again, and that's great," Crouch said. "I always want to see Nebraska do well, and there were a few years where our offense changed, and it was just difficult for me to watch because I was used to an explosive offense, a physical offense and an offense that had a habit of getting off to a fast start, so it could put pressure on the other team. It was hard to watch something different than what worked then and is starting to work again now.
"The offense has done a great job of finding the right way to call plays around the type of players we have," Crouch said. "Shawn Watson is an offensive coordinator who sees things and uses them. You can see the transformation on the field right now. I don't know what else they could do to prove that. They had more than 500 yards (533) at Washington. They scored when they needed to score, and they answered every challenge. Putting up those 56 points is a big deal, especially on the road, because it was a tough environment for a freshman quarterback, a sophomore running back and an offensive line that might have had their best game."
You might remember that we promised a bold prediction from our mystery celebrity analyst, and he does not disappoint.
Winning the Big 12 Could Set Up Something Bigger
"This team has a lot to be proud of by the way they played, and I think a game like this can really bring the team together and help them understand the character they have and the need to get even closer," Crouch said. "I think with their talent and their willingness to listen and learn from their coaches, they're positioning themselves to be right there in the national title hunt in December. The offensive transformation has been awesome to see, and I'm excited to continue to watch it progress and build week by week. I think we can only get better from here."
Crouch has no doubt that Nebraska took a giant step forward in Seattle, physically and emotionally.
"I have a great feeling about this team winning the Big 12 this year," he said, "and if they continue to do what they're capable of doing and stay healthy, they just might find themselves in the national championship game."
Voices from Husker Nation
Taylor Martinez. When I hear or think of that name, I think of the Nebraska football offense my mom told me and still tells me about. She said that Taylor Martinez will be for me what Johnny Rodgers was for her. When she was my age, she was glued to the radio listening to all the great plays Johnny Rodgers made. No disrespect to our 2009 offense. I loved the way that offense fought its way through injuries that weren't even disclosed until after the season. But for Taylor to be compared to Crouch so early in his career, and for Crouch to talk about him like he did, you can't help but be excited. Taylor has to be humbled and honored to the extreme, and I'm sure T-Magic is. I like what he brings to the table. I was shocked, surprised and excited beyond imagination at how he played his first road game. I was glued to the TV all afternoon, and I listened to the pre-game show on KLIN until the game started because I wanted to hear more about Taylor. I have my own Husker scrapbook, and I have a special section for Taylor. I can't wait to fill it with articles about his amazing talents!! And all of his talents are God-given ... period. We have a Heisman Trophy winner on our hands. The Washington game confirmed that for me. But Bo is right. Taylor can get better, and I can't wait to see him at his best!! It will be like watching Eric Crouch all over again. And maybe even better!! Susanna Hall, Lincoln, Nebraska
I see physicality returning to Nebraska football all the way around, and that includes the quarterback, who may be the most willing player on the field to take a hit and give one. Does anyone remember how Eric Crouch knocked an Iowa Hawkeye defender off his feet as he delivered a blow on his way to the end zone? They still show that play on highlight tapes, and I think Taylor Martinez is going to have plenty of plays just like that over the next four years. He has an Eric Crouch-like mindset of hit or be hit. It may be old school, but it will never grow old at Nebraska. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California
For T-Magic to get the respect of Eric Crouch so early on in his career is amazing. Crouch was one of the best quarterbacks in Nebraska history, if not the best, and his word means quite a bit. Crouch knew what it was like to carry a team as a QB and how to always be ready to make that big play if it was open to him. I see the same competitive nature and quick decision-making skills in Martinez, and I can't wait to see how he improves from here. Josh Compton, Lincoln, Nebraska
Eric Crouch was a great quarterback and is a good analyst and sounds like a caring dad. I had to chuckle, though, reading about how difficult it was for him to fit Nebraska football into his busy schedule. A lot of us missed a quarter or two of last Saturday's Washington game, so we can all relate. It's inspiring to know that even Heisman Trophy winners make soccer games and volleyball matches higher priorities than a football game. I guess that's why we have TiVo's and DVRs because whatever we miss live on Saturdays still seems to get viewed when we find the time later. GBR! Sue Christenson, Des Moines, Iowa
I loved last Saturday's game and am proud to say we have another great quarterback - one of the best we've had in years. Martinez is good, and Eric's right, he's what we've been looking for and came from an excellent high school in Corona. He doesn't have the jitters when he plays because he's an all-natural football player. But hey, let's not forget everyone who blocks for him and protects him. Without them, he would be reamed. It's fun to have a championship contending team again. Thanks Tom and Bo and all the recruiters who brought these scholarship and walk-on players into the program. I am PROUD to be a CORNHUSKER and live in the state of California - home of Taylor Martinez! :) Peggy Marcelo, Indio, California
Thank you a million for this great article about Nebraska football coming back to national prominence. I think Husker Nation will enjoy this season and the ones that follow. Taylor Martinez is a freshman, and he is already producing senior-type performances. When Nebraska got him, I knew from day one that this kid was very special and would be a star. Most people didn't know that TM was California Player of the Year and winner of the Glen Davis Award as California's best high school player. He put his name among some of the greatest athletes in California, including DeSean Jackson and Derek Brown (the running back who played for Nebraska in the mid-'90s). Nebraska got a steal in Taylor Martinez. I am so very happy as a Husker graduate and am very proud of my alma mater.There really is no place like Nebraska.GBR! Roger Wong, San Diego, California, 1988 NU Graduate
Nebraska's win over Washington was awesome, especially on national TV. With Martinez, Burkhead, and Helu, the Huskers look like the old power running teams that I grew up with in the '70s. The running defense started a little slow, but with a few adjustments, they closed the gaps. All phases of the game looked pretty sound, and it showed with coaching. Great job Coach Pelini! Now on to South Dakota State. GO BIG RED! Mike Nimrod, Le Mesa, California
As always, a great piece of writing. Eric Crouch sounds like a typical down-to-earth Nebraskan telling it like it is. Ron Barta, Evergreen, Colorado
I agree with Eric Crouch on every point he made, and I enjoyed reading what he thought might happen once opposing defenses reconfigure their schemes to put more pressure on Taylor Martinez. It sounds like Shawn Watson will just go to the next wrinkle to capitalize. It could remind everyone of our glory years when defenses would cheat up and try to stop our power running game, leaving a tight end wide open and salivating to get the ball thrown his way. Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed may be silent now, but they will emerge as receivers in the big games. You can almost count on that. Jake Anderson, Lee's Summit, Missouri
Thanks Coach Osborne for the great leadership throughout the years and what you bring to this great program. Thank you Coach Pelini for your great leadership and the special ability you have brought to this great program. Coach Osborne could not have picked a better coach than you. Thanks also to all the coaches for their great effort and what they bring every week to the game. Thanks, too, to all the players for their ability to always play hard, week in and out. Remember one thing. We are back! There is no doubt!! Greg Giles, Orlando, Florida