The mercurial quarterback battle royale

Ten rounds of equal parts frustration and enchantment

Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson are two electrifying quarterbacks who have both, at times, been slowed by their inability to do the most traditional quarterback-y thing they're asked to do -- throw the ball. They've been tied at the hip in that regard, but the race is even closer than public perception makes it appear.

The pair are ranked five and six in the Big Ten in QB rating, five and six in yards per game, last and second-to-last (with a tie) in interceptions, and five and six in rushing attempts. Outside of how they secure their cleats -- Martinez uses shoelaces, Robinson magic -- they appear all but inseparable.

But there could be one key difference: Martinez appears to be getting better.

After the disastrous three interceptions at Wisconsin, Taylor Martinez said he "just needs to make better decisions." He said it three times, actually, which didn't seem to give any indication as to how that would happen nor inspire much confidence that it would.

But here's the thing, he has started making better decisions. Taylor Martinez has had a Wisconaissance.

Since that game, Martinez is 77-for-122 passing (64.2%) for 865 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. That's a passer rating of 142.18 which, if it was his season total, would place him third in the Big Ten ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. That's not factoring in drops, which have become a growing problem of late.

WR Kenny Bell said there were "at least four" in the Penn State game. The Minnesota game had at least three that I can remember in the third quarter alone. No matter, the trend is clear. Martinez, as a passer, is playing as good as he's ever played.

"He's throwing in windows, making good reads," Bell said Monday of Martinez' improvement. His running numbers have taken a hit. He hasn't rushed for more than 60 yards since the Ohio State game and his yards per carry has dropped to 3.85 from 6.68 YPC in September. Nebraska fans will take that trade. Martinez is learning how to throw. He won't forget how to run. The threat of his speed is enough on its own.

Just ask Bo Pelini.

Pelini said Monday he'd need "an hour" to list all the ways Denard Robinson can beat a defense. "If somebody says a mobile QB doesn’t put more stress on a defense they probably don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “It’s another dimension (for the defense). That’s why people are doing it."

And perhaps no quarterback "does it" better than Denard Robinson. Like Martinez, he exists as a passable passer due to the stress he can put on a defense with his feet. But here's the interesting things with Robinson - the rush factor has become less of a danger later in the season.

In his three year career, Robinson has averaged 118.33 yards per game and 7.93 yards per carry on 14.91 carries per game in August/September. In October/November, those number drop to 67.5 yards per game and 5.05 yards per carry on 13.36 carries per game. If you prefer to look at it this way, Robinson averages 116 yards per game and 8.15 yards per carry in non-conference play and 66.14 yards per game and 4.87 yards per carry in conference.

Robinson has been slightly better as a passer of late. In two of the past three (Purdue and Illinois) he's completed better than 60 percent of his passes but thrown zero touchdowns against two interceptions.

Relying on either quarterbacks' arm is still a tricky proposition for either fanbase which makes the key to this game rather easy to identify. Whichever quarterback does what he doesn't do best better likely wins.

At this point, I might give that edge to Taylor Martinez. 

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Comments 10 comments so far

“Wisconaissance”.  That alone was worth the read. :)

At the end of the day, the reason there are not that many “dual threat” QB’s in the NFL is because of sound fundamentals in one on one tackling. The better running stats at the beginning of the year is due to lower caliber D players not “sticking” the QB when their opportunities arise. Does anyone think these “elusive” QB’s would gain a yard in the NFL or strike fear in NFL D coordinators? Yes there are exceptions (Vick, Newton) but very rare. Would anyone NOT rather have a slightly elusive but very accurate passer than the reverse.

The worst thing a coach can hear must be that an opposing player “sheds” tacklers. That is on the coach. It is not the fear of an elusive QB, it is the fear that your D is not sound in their fundamentals.

I forgot to mention, CATCH THE BALL!

This is one of the best articles I’ve read all year regarding the Huskers…Brandon…you should replace that yutz Sam McKewon at the World Herald…good analysis…low hyperbole…and few analogies…which are understandable to boot!

We’ve already been talking about this on

In article after article they keep talking about the 3 interceptions at Wisconsin. What they fail to also mention is that the Offensive coordinator called 15 pass plays out of 17 in one sequence. Not what you do with a passer who makes big yards with his feet.  Also, one of the recent interceptions was right into the receivers hands but he bounced it in the air to be intercepted.  Michigan’s defense looked pretty good against the run in their last game. Nebraska’s offensive line still does not block well so the game Saturday is still a toss up. Also, mobile quarterbacks have always been a problem for Bo’s defenses.

This year, Robinson is my favorite non Nebraska player. He’ll probably be next season, too. How can somebody that lethal, have such a big cheezin smile on his face?
I think in this matchup, you’ve also got to consider coaching.
I give that edge to Al Borges, with his weapon (Robinson) against a good defense. Borges has a genuine track record, while Beck is a “wip” -work in progress. Both Borges and Robinson, have more experience than the Nebraska duo. At the moment, I don’t see how Nebraska outscores them.
So, I’ll expect to be pleasantly surprised.

Stats wise, Michigan compares virtually equally, or favorably with Nebraska is all the categories, except net punting and strength of schedule. Not often, do you see this even a matchup, QB and team.
If only the D was more consistent. And yeah, the dropsies need to be cut down, some. When are Nebraska’s receivers going to seize the moment?
So far, everybody can run on the Corn. Now, against a running game like this?
I’ve heard the “big house” isn’t as crazy loud as you’d expect 110,000 peeps to get.
On balance, like T-Magic said, “just another game.”

@Howard in CA,

To answer your question both Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez could gain yards running the ball in the NFL as could any running QB could.  However the NFL is a passing league and there are reasons most Duo threat QB’s don’t make it at the next level, they couldn’t move the chains on a consistent basis, and running at QB just can’t get it done for four quarters and 16 games a year.  heck some prolific college passers don’t make it at the next level because of various reasons either not being able to make their reads and checkdowns, the game is just too fast for them to absorb. 

I suspect Denard Robinson and Martinez both have chances to make it at the next level at WR.

Excellent article. I do not believe however that I’d take that trade. I for one miss Taylors explosive long runs…his performances last year before his ankle injury was the most exciting football coming out of Nebraska in a LONG time in my opinion. We seem to have lost that explosiveness in our new offense - funny with all the speed we reportedly have now. Who is breaking the big plays? No one. Haven’t seen much of it at all lately. Still can’t quite believe they didn’t build an offense around Taylors speed and running skills, which, btw, were good enough last year to include him in Heisman talk…would someone please tell me why? Seems like such a waste. Could they not give him the running opportunities AND improve his passing skills at the same time, or are they sharpening up his passing skills with the thought of adding his running later as an icing on the cake? Now we have a barely servicable QB who quite frankly is pretty average as a basic QB. Where has the old T Magic gone? I miss him.

If given the choice between a QB that can run or not run, everyone in history takes the QB that can run.

It’s really not up for debate. 

Because you can run, doesn’t automatically mean you can’t throw.  Newton is going to dominate the NFL for year not because he is a good passer, because he is a good passer and a great runner.  It’s pretty simple really.

Given the choice between a good passer and a zero runner and a good passer and a great runner, the choice is easy.

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