(Left) Courtesy of MCT, (right) Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
If he is given even the slightest bit of running room, he will speed through it and make the opposition pay.
That’s how Ohio State coaches and players described the danger that Nebraska redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Martinez poses for the Buckeyes’ defense this Saturday.
“(Martinez) is one of the best runners I’ve ever seen at the quarterback position,” said OSU coach Urban Meyer, who has coached the likes of former Florida and current New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow.
A quarterback who can just as easily break a long touchdown run as he can loft a 50-yard pass, Martinez has thrown for 1,059 yards this season while running for 298 more. He has 14 total touchdowns – three on the ground, including a 92-yard scamper against UCLA on Sept. 8.
In his two-plus seasons as Nebraska’s starting quarterback, Martinez has 4,779 career passing yards and 2,137 career rushing yards. Three times since 2010 – Martinez’s redshirt freshman season – the quarterback has broken runs longer than 80 yards.
To put that in perspective, former West Virginia quarterback Pat White, the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher at the quarterback position, never had an 80-yard run. Former Auburn quarterback and 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton’s career-long run was 71 yards. Last year’s Heisman, former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, also has a career-long run of 71 yards.
Martinez is one of the country’s premier dual-threat quarterbacks, and for a college defense, there might not be a more daunting task than trying to defend one.
“Certainly a threat for us, running around making plays. He knows where his strengths are. His strengths are his feet, his mobility,” said OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel.
Luckily for OSU, the Buckeyes have a pretty good dual-threat quarterback of their own in sophomore Braxton Miller, who has 1,510 total yards this season – 577 of which are rushing yards.
The Buckeyes’ defense defends Miller multiple times a week in practice. OSU players said that should help them this Saturday when the No. 12-ranked Buckeyes’ square off against the Martinez-led, No. 21-ranked Cornhuskers.
“Definitely I think it helps us. There’s not many quarterbacks out there that run sub 4.4s, high 4.3s (in the 40-yard dash),” said redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino. “Braxton’s obviously one of them, but so is Martinez. I think it definitely helps us going against Braxton everyday.”
Meyer agrees, but he added that while OSU will benefit, so will Nebraska. They too face a speedy quarterback in practice.
“I think both defenses will not be shocked by the speed. They’ve seen it in practice,” Meyer said.
Miller and Martinez could not be much more alike.
Both are a little undersized – Miller is 6-foot-2 and Martinez is 6-foot-1. Both lead their respective teams in total yards, and both are among the country’s fastest players, not just quarterbacks.
If there is a difference between the two, it is probably straight-line speed, and according to Sabino, Martinez might have the edge.
“If he sees a crease, he’ll roll with it. He’s a fast guy so we have to be very disciplined in our assignments,” Sabino said.
Sabino is familiar with Martinez’s speed because he, and the rest of the 2011 Buckeyes, played against him last year in OSU’s 34-27 loss in Lincoln, Neb.
Practicing against Miller last season didn’t seem to help the Buckeye defense much in defending Martinez during the 2011 contest. The then-sophomore quarterback threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns while running for 101 yards and a score last Oct. 8.
This Saturday, the task of defending Martinez will be even greater. The redshirt junior has matured significantly as a player. To go along with his running ability, Martinez is now a very able and accurate passer.
And Martinez is probably not just able, but elite.
Martinez is 11th in the country in quarterback efficiency with a 169.6 rating, completing 67.8 percent of his passes with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11-to-1. Last season, Martinez had a 126.5 rating and completed 56.3 percent of his passes with a 13-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The improvement did not come easily for Martinez. The California native worked tirelessly on his throwing mechanics during the offseason. Las Angeles-based quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun, a former New Mexico State quarterback and teacher of the pass since 2004, worked with Martinez on his motion, footwork and more.
Martinez’s stats prove the hard work paid off.
The OSU coaching staff has noticed Martinez’s progression, too.
“I think he’s got a great understanding of what (Nebraska tries) to do,” Vrabel said. “Whether he’s running option or whatever, he’s not going to just drop back and try to beat you that way.”
Vrabel, and the rest of the OSU coaching staff and defense understand the task at hand Saturday.
“He’s going to be a huge challenge for us,” Vrabel said.
Despite Martinez’s speed and breakaway ability, at least one OSU defender is confident the Nebraska gunslinger won’t be chalking up any long runs against the Buckeyes.
“I don’t know what (Martinez’s) 40 time is, but if he’s out there, I’m going to catch him,” said redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby.
Roby and OSU are set to take on Nebraska at 8:00 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium. The game will be nationally televised by ABC.