I won’t usually be one to comment on sports. I like to play sports, or I did before I blew my knee playing football. It’s not any sort of resentment that will keep me from playing, it’s really just a loss of joint functionality that may keep me from playing. It’s only been 5 months and two days since the injury and not quite 4 months since the ACL reconstruction surgery so I don’t really know where I’ll be physically when the healing process is complete. Before I went off on that tangent, I was going to say that I like to play sports more than I like to watch sports. I’m just not that much of a voyeur; I like to be involved in the action.
However, in the past few years I’ve learned to enjoy watching football. American football, not that pansy sport where pansies kick a round ball around and fall down crying when another pansy comes within two yards of them. In the tradition of Lincoln, Nebraska, where I’ve now lived most of my life, I cheer for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Saturday’s Big Twelve Championship game was hard to watch. Really, this whole year has been kind of tough because we had the talent to win big. The Cornhuskers did okay, but should have done better. There is a single point that had it been just a little better, would have created an undefeated season. That single point is Freshman Quarterback Taylor Martinez.
In all fairness, he spent a good portion of the season benched by injuries. That’s not something he is to blame for, nor is anyone else. Before the injury, Taylor was the one of the hottest QBs in NCAAF. The injuries took an explosive, resourceful quarterback and made him into a gimp and not just physically.
Seven sacks in the Big 12 Championship Game would normally speak of offensive line problems. But the majority of those sacks were simply holding on to the ball for too long. I saw a guy who was second guessing his normal secondary course of action. Before the Injury if plan A didn’t work, Taylor just ran it. This worked for him because he had speed. With a bad ankle, even in recovery, his speed was not all there, or at least he hadn’t recovered his confidence in his speed. Either way, Taylor doesn’t seem to have adjusted. He seemed to look for his first target and if that target is unavailable, he panicked and got sacked.
Taylor should be a great QB. He has the skills. He had the mindset. I think his injury removed his youthful intrepidation. He can’t get that back. He needs to get past his fears and accept that he will get injured again. Once he has that acceptance he can skip the fearful panic and coolly react when the first plan doesn’t work and then go to plan B or C or go for the traditional overthrow out of bounds. Ironically, his fear of getting injured is increasing his chances of getting injured. Getting sacked less would significantly reduce the odds of having to limp off the field or worse. This means maintaining his cool and getting rid of the football in a calm and collected manner to an intended receiver, even if that wasn’t the first planned receiver.
It didn’t help that his first attempt to do that resulted in an interception. It probably affected his mindset for the rest of the game. It should have. But he took it to mean, don’t throw when pressured as opposed to meaning throw when pressured, but throw for the sidelines.
These are all the mistakes of youth and inexperience. And hopefully these are all mistakes that can be educated out of him.
I hope to see him performing up to expectations in the Holiday Bowl. If he’s not physically and psychologically up to speed, don’t play him for the whole game. One bowl win is not worth losing this potentially great player. It’s more important to work on recovering his sprained joint and replacing his blown intrepidation with an acceptance of the dangers of the sport. It wouldn’t hurt to get him to start noticing that Plan B may sometimes be another receiver and doesn’t always have to be a run for it.
To truly become a great quarterback, Taylor Martinez is going to have to learn to not let the emotions destroy his game mindset. Fear affects everyone, but the degree to which Taylor allows it to affect him is currently his biggest obstacle. Confidence under pressure is what makes some quarterbacks great and others with the same technical skills only good. We already know Taylor has the skills. We’ve seen them. We want to see them again.