Nebraska football fans have pinned a lot of hopes on quarterback Taylor Martinez and I-back Ameer Abdullah this season—and with good reason. Both of them eclipsed 1000 yards last year, even with Abdullah only serving as a starter replacing the injured Rex Burkhead.
Much ink has been spilled about Martinez and his impact on Nebraska, both negatively and positively. But Martinez will have a large impact on Abdullah's success this season as well.
The primary way Martinez will help Abdullah is by drawing attention from the defense. Ordinarily, if a team had a returning running back who had 1137 rushing yards and eight touchdowns the previous season, opposing defenses would be focusing on how to stop that running back.
Those were Abdullah's stats from 2012, even with him appearing only in relief of the injured Burkhead. But because Martinez is such a dynamic offensive threat (1019 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing, 2871 yards and 23 touchdowns passing), Abdullah becomes a secondary threat in Nebraska's offense.
That means he gets defended like a secondary threat—meaning he will have more opportunities in space to make big plays.
(Stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)
Protection from Injury
Last season, Abdullah led Nebraska with 226 total rushing attempts, but Martinez wasn't far behind at 195 attempts. While fewer touches obviously leads to fewer total yards rushing, it also diminishes Abdullah's chances for injury. Additionally, spreading the load between Abdullah and Martinez helps to spell Abdullah, keeping him fresher for longer in the game to attack a tired defense.
A Dual Threat
In 2012, Martinez improved his completion percentage to 62 percent, up from 56.3 percent in 2011. That means whoever is on the receiving end of a Martinez pass is more likely to make a reception.
Nebraska's two best tight end weapons from last season, Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, have graduated. Jake Long, the likely starter, has been sidelined throughout fall camp with injury, and there is precious little proven depth behind him.
So it may be that Nebraska's offense will rely more on one tight end or no tight end sets, which could see a back like Abdullah split wide more frequently. Last season, Abdullah had 24 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns. There is a case to be made that those numbers could jump drastically in 2013.
Better By Comparison
If a running back was no. 17 in the country in terms of fumbles, putting the ball on the carpet eight times in 14 games, most fans would consider that a huge red flag and have that as a major concern going in to the season.
But when compared to Martinez, who led the country (again) in total fumbles with 16, Abdullah looks practically sticky-fingered. It might not be the most positive thing in the world to think about, but Martinez's record of holding on to the football makes Abdullah's look great by comparison.
(Fumble stats from teamrankings.com)
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