Who would have ever thought that when we were watching Taylor Martinez run away from everyone, and the offense purring like a cat, we would end up where we are right now.
That place is basically one where everyone isn't wondering what's wrong with the offense. They believe they know. But the answers aren't always the same.
The first target is Shawn Watson. His offenses have only seen real success the first part of Bo Pelini's first season with Nebraska and the first half of this year. The irony this season is that the offense wasn't really his. His allegiance to the "West Coast" style of play is noted enough that we don't need to go into that.
His unit was running roughshod over everyone, and when the offense was struggling more blame was put on the players themselves, because it seemed they either played down to their competition or there was this mysterious force at play which only seemed to go into effect at home.
Watson hitched his wagon to Taylor Martinez, and it was all working swimmingly until one wheel fell off. Then another.
Then it became abundantly clear that while Nebraska had some capable guys behind Martinez, this system wasn't designed for them.
|Not being Martinez shouldn't be a crime (Cody Green pictured), but in a system coached around Martinez' ability, it almost seems to be.|
It was designed for Martinez.
His unique explosiveness turned seven yard gains into long touchdown runs. His blazing speed meant that if he was in the open field…forget about it – nobody was going to catch him. Nobody backing him up had either of those assets. So, when the reserves were called in, the offense went straight into the dumpster.
Roy Helu Jr. was able to take advantage of one opportunity, that being the Missouri game where Martinez was originally hurt. You'd have to think that if Missouri went into the game planning for a running attack from the backs versus Martinez himself, they would have had more success. But they didn't, and Helu Jr. ran wild on them to the tune of a team-record.
No other team they would face would make that same mistake, and Martinez' numbers plummeted.
Most of it has to do with the fact that he was hurt. He wasn't even completely healthy against Washington, though, he looked better in that game running the ball than he had in every game since the win over the Tigers.
But just like last year, Watson found himself having to redo his offense, because his number one guy wasn't able to do the job.
That leads me to the biggest issue I have with all of this, and yes, it has to do with Watson. But not so much with his coaching as his recruiting.
You see, Watson recruits the quarterbacks. Since he took over the position as both O.C. and QB Coach, it seems that's the only position he's recruited. And for the most part it's been a bit of an embarrassment as he has had as many decommits as he has had commits. Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert and Tyler Gabbert. All at one point future Huskers, only to ultimately choose to head to another team.
Part of the problem with this has been that Watson has found himself one and done, meaning when he got Josh Freeman, he was done. When he got Blaine Gabbert, he was done. When he got Tyler Gabbert, he was done.
It was more circumstances which led other quarterbacks to Nebraska like Kody Spano – a late pick up when Oklahoma State pulled his scholarship so they could bring in a JUCO player. It wasn't until after Tyler Gabbert changed his mind and joined his older brother at Missouri, when Nebraska found another quarterback to replace him. Brion Carnes, a relation to former Husker Tommie Frazier, was added to the class almost at the last minute. As for Green, he was the one quarterback Watson did eventually pull in.
He was very similar to Gabbert and Freeman in size, arm and athleticism. Freeman was probably the best pure runner of the group, and Gabbert has proven to be a pro-caliber thrower. Freeman currently starts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But both of them had the luxury of something that Green hasn't had: The same system
When Joe Ganz graduated, he left a system that was certainly West Coast in style, but it had perhaps a bit more of a running aspect to it from the quarterback position. That was certainly the case in Ganz' final year which was the first year of Head Coach Bo Pelini.
|Joe Ganz fit what Shawn Watson wanted to do a lot more than any of the quarterbacks on the team, save perhaps Green.|
Bo was always a defensive guy, but he had and still has this belief that you need to establish the line of scrimmage and run the ball. What the system did under Ganz was a nice reflection of how Watson incorporated all of what Ganz could do. And you could say that for the first half of Pelini's first year, his defense was being carried by the offense. That changed toward the latter half, but Nebraska went to the Gator Bowl that year and won, after the team had a losing season just a year prior.
The problems started when Joe Ganz left.
Zac Lee has some strengths. He has a strong arm, and in non conference play he was throwing the heck out of the ball, prompting everyone to think that the transition from Ganz to him wasn't going to be so bad after all.
But there was the Virginia Tech game which was a disaster, and as the season progressed, Lee's prowess at doing most everything regressed. The offense became almost a moot point. But they had a great defense, and it was hoped that would be enough to get them a ways. It did, but not far enough, of course.
Coming off surgery on his elbow, Lee was out for the Spring and in came Green, who was now looking at his one clear chance to take the bull by the horns. Sure, there was this upstart named Martinez, but come on, the kid was recruited as a safety. He'll get some token reps, but if Green is the guy he would surely be able to make a big leap over the Spring.
But for the purpose of evaluating them all, neither did Martinez. Yes, the kid could run. We all knew that. But his throwing in that glorified practice was very mediocre. It was certainly not enough to make you think that he had a chance in Watson's style of offense.
But boy, that kid could run.
Here's where we get to the point that I think ultimately defined Nebraska as you see today.
You see, there had to be a decision made. Cody was physically a lot closer to what Watson wanted than Martinez. You could argue that Martinez was more like Ganz, physically. But from what little we saw of Martinez in the Spring Game, he wasn't near the thrower. Ganz had a knack. That's about the best way I can put it. He was constantly maligned for his arm strength, which Lee had in abundance. But Ganz has a tenacity Lee didn't exhibit at the time. Some would argue he's never exhibited it at all. And Joe had his confidence about him that told you in big situations he could make big plays.
I know some will get on him about late-game blunders like Texas Tech, where he tried to make a play down the sideline, which was ultimately intercepted. But there were more than a few positive plays he made that offset it. And anyone could see how good he was in that two-minute offense.
So, maybe in regard to height Martinez and Ganz were close, but that was it.
And back to what kind of player Watson was recruiting, Green sure did fit that mold.
So, what happened?
Who decided that this offense would go away from what seemed to be its essence, so to speak? It's a hell of a thing to go from a pro-style offense to the "Option" or "Zone Read." That's not just a change in how this guy lines up, that guy blocks or whatever. That's an entire change in philosophy.
My own theory on this was that at some point of the evaluation process, the decision was made that Martinez' ability to run trumped everyone else's ability to do pretty much everything else. And when that changed, it was all the other quarterbacks who had to adjust to an offense that none of them save the true freshman Carnes, were recruited to run.
Jamal Turner, who is working out as a wide receiver down at the Under
Armor All-American Game, is perhaps the closest thing to Martinez the
Huskers will have going into the 2011 campaign.
Another theory I have on this is that there is no way in Hades Watson would have made that call.
Now, don't think I am excusing the guy. I think there is something to be said for coaches who have been doing this for as long as he has, and having the ability to cater a system to a player even if it's not the ideal system for your ideal picture of a QB. Martinez certainly became a better thrower. Even against Oklahoma State's famously bad defense, you still have to be able to hit guys consistently in order to throw for over 300 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
But even with that, he's not exactly Joe Montana. He coughs up the ball seemingly all the time. He makes very bad decisions when the pressure is on. And that was when he was healthy. When he wasn't healthy, but more experienced, he still made the same bad decisions, most of which he got away with. And yes, he still has no idea how to hang onto the ball.
When the decision was made to make Martinez the guy, however, the bet seemed to be made, and Watson as well as Pelini threw all their chips on the table, hoping that this kid would, first and foremost stay healthy, but he would learn how to be a quarterback at this level.
Now, I won ‘t say that Martinez isn't better now than he was. I am sure he's considerably better in some areas. But he's making the same mistakes now as he made in game one. The only difference in the last half of the season was that he didn't have those lightning quick feet to bail him out. And the lack of those feet meant Watson couldn't call everything that had been catered to the ONE guy who could do it and had already done it earlier in the year.
Why would anyone do this? Regardless of how good this kid could be, why would you seemingly sacrifice the integrity of your system to orchestrate something around only one player who can truly run it?
Here comes the coach speak: You pick the players who you think give you the best chance to win
Taylor Martinez can be the guy. He just can't be the only one. If he is
that yet again next season, and he eventually gets hurt, consider this
last season just a brief but accurate look into the frustrating future.
Yep. It stinks hearing it, but that's it in a nutshell from where I am sitting.
The offense was tweaked to take advantage of all the strengths of a quarterback who was originally recruited to be a safety. And behind him you have a slew of scholarship quarterbacks who don't belong.
Another bet I would be willing to make is that Watson didn't see this coming. You think he was just jumping for joy at the idea of running the option? Yes, he likes mobile quarterbacks, but that mobility is more about being used as a defense rather than as another avenue of attack.
I firmly believe he's of the mind that you put your quarterback in as few precarious positions as possible when it comes to potential bodily harm.
Well, the option is all about putting the quarterback into precarious positions which could end up in bodily harm. Hell, taking that hit is the idea so that the pitch works better.
The Zone Read is a little easier on quarterbacks, but he's still one of your primary ball carriers, thus one of the biggest targets on the field.
So, what it seems to be here, at least to me, is a conflict of sorts. You have Watson's philosophy clashing with Bo's. Of course, I could relate Bo's philosophy on offense the same way most actors refer to the commands by good directors. It's simple. A director says ‘a little slower', ‘a little faster' or ‘more intense.' Bo's would be ‘run it more' and then ‘no, run it even more.'
Even he has admitted that the best defense is not letting the other team's offense on the field.
How do you do that? You run.
Well, Nebraska has one true running quarterback playing, and he's got a bad wheel. They have another dual-threat type, who will be going into his redshirt freshman year. And in less than a week, another dual-threat quarterback in Jamal Turner, will be arriving on campus.
That tells everyone and their dog where this offense is going. They are seemingly recruiting successfully for the style of offense they want to run.
But is Watson the guy to run it? At this point it would seem like that's a negative. It's not his baby. It's not his offense of choice. It goes away from probably a load of tendencies he has built up over years of running a pro-style attack. There have been a load of questions about his ability to develop quarterbacks in regard to the system he actually likes. You think he can develop quarterbacks for a system he doesn't?
If he's not the guy, though, will he say that? Will Bo acknowledge that? Will anything be done to adjust an offense that is in drastic need of adjusting?
Or will he stand pat, assuming that adding just one more guy to the mix will actually pay off down the road?
If you ask me, I think people have had enough of banking on just one guy. You can see where that has gotten them. The offense has been the Achilles Heel of this team for almost three years now. It's one of the big reasons they haven't played in two consecutive BCS bowls.
In this case, a third time is definitely not a charm.