Re-Imagining Nebraska's Season If Taylor Martinez Never Got Injured
Injuries have derailed Nebraska’s 2013 season, none more so than the one to senior quarterback Taylor Martinez in the season-opener against Wyoming. While Martinez did play in three other games, he was never himself, and Nebraska’s offense struggled as a result.
But what if that injury never happened?
What if we got to see a healthy Martinez lead Nebraska through the 2013 campaign? Just as a refresher, here are Martinez’s 2012 statistics, compared with the combined statistics of Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg from 2013.
Armstrong + Kellogg
Armstrong + Kellogg
(All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)
If we assume an improvement on Martinez’s statistics in his senior year, even if everything else remained the same about 2013, here’s how I see the season playing out if a healthy Martinez was able to go the distance.
Wyoming and Southern Mississippi
Actual results: Win and Win (NU 37, UW 34; NU 56, USM 13)
Imagined results: Win and Win (NU 2-0, 0-0)
Even with an injured Martinez, Nebraska was able to outscore Wyoming with a young defense learning its way. And against Southern Mississippi, one of the worst FBS teams in the country, Nebraska would cruise to an easy victory regardless of the signal-caller.
Actual result: UCLA 41, NU 21
Imagined result: Win (NU 3-0, 0-0)
Yes, I know that Martinez played in this game, but an injured Martinez is very different from a healthy Martinez.
Remember, Nebraska held a 21-7 lead in this game late in the second quarter. UCLA’s comeback was spurred in part by a young defense breaking, but the primary culprit was an offense that could not finish the job.
A healthy Martinez changes that. With a healthy Martinez, Nebraska scores at least once in the third quarter, putting the game out of reach and nipping UCLA’s miracle comeback in the bud.
South Dakota State, Illinois and Purdue
Actual results: Win, Win and Win (NU 59, SDSU 20; NU 39, UI 19; NU 44, PU 7)
Imagined results: Win, Win and Win (NU 6-0, 2-0)
Although one is an FCS foe and two are Big Ten opponents, the reality is that there wasn’t a tremendous difference in terms of talent level between these three schools. A healthy Martinez would have helped Nebraska cruise to victories in each.
Actual result: Loss (UM 34, NU 23)
Imagined result: Loss (NU 6-1, 2-1)
As shocking as the loss to the Gophers was at the time, in hindsight it is understandable.
Minnesota played a smart, tough game, taking advantage of weaknesses in Nebraska’s young defense to control the game.
An injured Martinez couldn’t lead Nebraska to victory in Minneapolis, but given the circumstances I could see even a healthy Martinez not making the difference.
Actual result: Win (NU 27, NW 24)
Imagined result: Win (NU 7-1, 3-1)
Northwestern took a page out of Minnesota’s playbook and was able to out-physical Nebraska’s defense in the first half. It looked to continue NU’s misery.
But a funny thing happened in the second half. Nebraska’s defense adjusted, and some of the young players came of age.
Even with a rotation of Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg at quarterback, Nebraska was in position many times in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. It was only a bad turnover by Armstrong that allowed the Purples to take the lead, putting the “RK III to 1” Hail Mary in place.
A healthy Martinez would have provided Nebraska with the offensive firepower needed to end the game in NU’s favor without needing a prayer to be answered.
Actual result: Win (NU 17, UM 13)
Imagined result: Win (NU 8-1, 4-1)
Offensively, Michigan was a bit of a mess in this game, with Nebraska’s defense able to stifle quarterback Devin Gardner and the Wolverine’s rushing attack. A healthy Martinez would have given Nebraska more offensive firepower, putting more points on the board and even more pressure on Gardner.
Actual result: Loss (MSU 41, NU28)
Imagined result: Win (NU 9-1, 4-1)
Nebraska’s loss to Michigan State might have been the most excruciating defeat for Husker fans in recent memory, given how the game played out. Nebraska outgained Michigan State 392-361 and on the day showed it was the better football team.
Except, of course, for the five turnovers and the minus-five turnover margin.
Which, of course, is the perfect time to use the “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play” cliché.
Martinez was hardly the poster child for ball security in his time as Nebraska quarterback. But it is almost inconceivable that with Martinez directing the offense Nebraska would have had the five turnovers it did. Take away even one of those turnovers, and add in the boost offensively Nebraska would get from a healthy Martinez, and this game flips from a loss to a win.
Actual result: Win (NU 23, PSU 20)
Imagined result: Win (NU 10-1, 5-1)
Nebraska’s defense was able to hold on against a hard-hitting Penn State rushing attack and win in overtime. If we assume that the defensive performance would be the same, and that the offense would be more potent with a healthy Martinez, Nebraska likely wins this game without the need for overtime.
Actual result: Loss (UI 38, NU 17)
Imagined result: Win (NU 11-1, 6-1)
Hey, remember that Michigan State game? Well, play it again but put the opponent in black and gold, and you get this year’s Iowa game.
Once again, at home Nebraska outgained its opponent (288-281) but four turnovers and a minus-four turnover ratio doomed NU to a loss.
If you count the fake punt—which, in my mind, is the single worst call during Bo Pelini’s tenure in Lincoln—as a turnover, then you have the same minus-five turnover ratio and the same result as against the Spartans.
Again, Martinez is hardly the guy you think of when ball security is an issue. But I do not see a four-year starter on Senior Day making the turnovers Nebraska did against Iowa and putting NU in the hole. This game would have been a slobber-knocker with a healthy Martinez, but Nebraska would have had enough firepower to win.
Actual postseason: Non-BCS bowl bid, likely to Gator or Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Imagined postseason: Loss to Ohio State in B1G Championship, at-large BCS berth
An 11-1 Nebraska would have gone to Indianapolis ranked likely in the top 10 to face Ohio State. While I think the Buckeyes are a bit of a paper tiger (the Ohio State-Michigan game being so close had more to do with Ohio State than Michigan), tailback Carlos Hyde would have been a singular matchup nightmare for Nebraska and would have been the difference in a high-scoring affair.
But an 11-2 Nebraska would have been in line for a BCS berth and a chance for Pelini to get a big monkey off Nebraska’s back.
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