No denying that Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez has had a huge impact on Nebraska's offensive turnaround. He's seventh in the nation in rushing, averaging 140 yards a game. What's even more impressive is his jaw-dropping 10.53 yards per carry average. He's simply an explosive player, and he adds a dimension to Nebraska's offense that, frankly, Nebraska hasn't seen in years. Last week's Washington game bore this out; defenses have to pick their poison. Concentrate too much on Martinez, and watch Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead gash you repeatedly. Focus on the backs, and watch Martinez score easily from anywhere on the field. He's also shown a decent arm, though Nebraska hasn't called on him as much in the passing game. Take his clutch third down completions against Washington, when he converted several third-and-long passes.
But Martinez isn't the sole reason for Nebraska's sudden offensive prowess; credit also has to go to the improved depth on the offensive line. I credit Jeremiah Sirles and Jermarcus Hardrick with upgrading the line, with Andrew Rodriquez and Brent Qvale playing key roles as backups. Back in the days of the "pipeline", the backups played a key role in wearing down opposing defenses, setting up the starters for big production when they reentered the game. Now we're seeing a little of that depth return. You also can't dismiss the emergence of wide receiver Brandon Kinnie, who's become a playmaker in his last few games.
But the key has been the explosiveness of Martinez, who uses incredible ball fakes and his blazing speed to speed past defenses before they realize what happened. Game after game Martinez breaks a long run, and simply makes it look easy. No surprise that Nebraska has as many gains of fifty yards or more in three games this season as they did all of 2009.
The legend of Martinez is growing. ABC/ESPN's announcers are having to learn how to pronounce "Martinez" under fire, and it won't take them nearly as long as it took them to learn "Ndamukong" last season. (Well, except for Doctor Lou...) With the gaudy stats have also emerged excessive hype. Adoring fans now call him "T-Mart" or "T-Magic", and think there is nothing he cannot do.
Problem is that Martinez is still a redshirt freshman who's only played three games of college football...three games against, well, some of the worst defenses in college football. Idaho ranks #97 out of 109 division 1-A teams in rushing defense. Western Kentucky ranks 101st, and Washington ranks #107. Over time, we'll get more confirmation whether these defenses are truly that bad, or if Nebraska just made them look that way.
That uncertainty is part of the reason the "T-Magic" nickname rubs me the wrong way. Husker fans would ridicule a Missouri, Colorado, or Texas freshman quarterback that had a nickname like that, so it seems disingenuous to adopt it. Some Husker fan even has taken it upon himself to create a "T Magic 4 Heisman" Twitter account for crying out loud. (Three games in, and he's suddenly a Heisman candidate?!?!? For crying out loud...)
That's not to suggest that Martinez might get there someday; he's got four years of eligibility remaining, and frankly, he's only going to get better. He's going to learn how to read defenses better, and refine his passing skills. That in turn is going to make it even more difficult for defenses to clamp down on him since he has so many ways to beat you. Starting the hype campaign so early discredits the credibility of Husker fans, especially so soon after the Ndamukong Suh for Heisman campaign last season.
We'll learn enough about Martinez in the month of October. A nationally televised Thursday night game against Kansas State will lead things off, followed quickly the next week against an expected marquee matchup against Texas. At the end of October, another matchup against Missouri should also get Martinez some serious national attention. If Martinez is still producing eyepopping highlights and mind-blowing statistics by Halloween, we'll know for sure that Nebraska has an emerging star quarterback.
Until then, much of the hype is premature.