Taylor Martinez as a Second Half Passer
The Omaha World-Herald's Sam McKewon did an admirable job in looking at a number of statistics related to Taylor Martinez's passing accuracy last year. He noticed a decline in efficiency from the first half to the second half. He pointed to pass protection as an important element that may explain the difference. However, he didn't spell out whether the sacks were coming disproportionately late in contests and disproportionately later than for other teams. So while that could be an important factor, what might some other explanations be?
First, we can question some of the statistics themselves. The rankings of quarterbacks included players that threw just 19 passes in the third quarter all year. That's an average of fewer than 2 third quarter passes per game. How much stock do we want to put in a sample size that small? Eliminate those guys and he moves up the list.
Moving the Chains
While Martinez may not have been tops in overall efficiency, he completed 34 passes for first downs (out of 100 attempts) in the third quarter of games last year, good for 31st nationally. But in doing so, he averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt. That contrasts sharply with the 12.8 yards per attempt in the first half of games. Yet the rate of completions for first downs for first half throws was just a hair better, at just under 35%. So why the difference in yards per attempt? Some of it might be mercy. Against teams like Southern Miss, Arkansas State, Idaho State, and Minnesota the Huskers may have taken their foot off of the gas after taking big halftime leads. If you're usually waiting until third and long to call a pass, your stats will suffer. But calling passes on first down in the second half against Idaho State would be downright cruel.
Nebraska found itself in a number of desperate circumstances last season. With the Huskers trailing UCLA with three minutes remaining Martinez forced a throw that was intercepted. That's probably not going to happen in the first half. Trailing by 18 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter to Ohio State, Martinez forced another throw that was intercepted. Again, in less dire circumstances he probably doesn't think he needs to try that. Trailing 42-10 to Wisconsin to open the second half, the Huskers probably feel that they have to score. Martinez throws a pick on third and long in his own territory instead of just eating it. As the game gets more out of hand the Huskers are completely one-dimensional and Wisconsin tees off which forces a lot of incompletions. Trailing by two touchdowns to Georgia in the latter half of the fourth quarter to Georgia, Martinez forces a pass under pressure that's picked off. Again, these all seem to be fueled by the big holes dug by the defense that he was forced to overcome later in games. He had the luxury of patience earlier in games.
Judging a quarterback is something you should do over a season or better yet over a career. Parsing out their stats for parts of games becomes a dicey proposition. The number of second-half comebacks we saw from the Huskers is probably more important. It's also worth noting that NU outscored opponents in both the third and fourth quarters of games last season (the Huskers were actually outscored in the second quarter). The 50-point third quarter advantage was it's best for any quarter. I'm more impressed that Martinez will be among the top ten returning passers when it comes to "adjusted" completion percentage. Add in his running skills and you have a darn good quarterback. In any quarter.