I came home from East Lansing with a full notebook, so we have plenty to hit today. But I have to start with a Twitter poll from Sunday afternoon. I asked followers to rank these Nebraska starting quarterbacks, one through four:
Naming the best Husker QB since Eric Crouch is a fun debate. But I didn’t expect 124 responses. Gallup will be calling me any moment with a job offer — though I’m guessing they don’t stay up until 2 a.m. tallying votes.
Anyway, it’s not easy to compare quarterbacks from four different offenses with four different play-callers, competing in two different conferences. But here are some numbers that might help you:
Jammal Lord: 17-10 record, 186 yards total offense per game, 47 percent completion, 36 total touchdowns, 20 interceptions
Zac Taylor: 17-9 record, 222 yards total offense per game, 57 percent completion, 47 total touchdowns, 20 interceptions
Joe Ganz: 10-6 record, 331 yards total offense per game, 65 percent completion, 41 touchdowns, 18 interceptions
Taylor Martinez: 24-10 record, 240 yards total offense per game, 59 percent completion, 41 touchdowns, 23 interceptions
According to fan votes on Twitter, this was their order (with vote tallies in parentheses):
1. Martinez (56 first-place votes, 41 second, 20 third, 7 fourth) = 394 points
2. Ganz (42, 42, 30, 10) = 364 points
3. Taylor (24, 33, 54, 13) = 316 points
4. Lord (2, 8, 20, 94) = 166 points
A few observations:
>> Lord played in an era when Nebraska quarterbacks weren’t asked to do as much with their arms. He also played on bad teams. I thought he would do a little better in the poll; I wouldn’t have included him otherwise. But 75 percent of voters picked him fourth.
>> Taylor, the Big 12 offensive player of the year in 2006, is the only one who didn’t have excellent mobility. My guess is — in this era of dual-threat QBs — it may have hurt him with voters.
>> Ganz is the toughest to judge. He had the fewest starts — 16. And he played against the worst defenses — by far. He received 34 percent of first-place votes.
>> Martinez definitely benefited from the timing of this poll. If the question were asked two weeks ago — or even Saturday morning — Martinez may have been as low as third. But he does things nobody else on the list can do. That’s worth a lot.
>> I think Martinez’s early career has a strong parallel to Lord’s. Big numbers, but also big mistakes. Explosive but inconsistent. If you stopped Martinez’s career after two seasons, it would be very comparable to Lord’s. But Martinez, fortunately, has two more years to improve. He’s showing it.
>> Regardless of which QB you think is the best of the post-Crouch era, none are close to cracking the Top 5 in Nebraska history. At least not yet.
>> I’ll say this about Martinez’s stunning performance at Michigan State. How often do you leave a game praising a quarterback who threw three interceptions and nearly gave away a backbreaking fourth-quarter fumble?
>> In 2009 at Virginia Tech, Bo Pelini faced a critical fourth-and-1 call at the Hokies 37-yard line. Nebraska led 15-13. There was 1:51 left. Had the Huskers converted, the game would’ve been over. Pelini punted. Va Tech took over at its 12. Two plays later, Tyrod Taylor threw an 83-yard pass down the sideline, setting up the game-winning touchdown.
In 2012 at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio faced a critical fourth-and-2 call at the Nebraska 39. Michigan State led 24-21. There was 1:27 left. Had the Spartans converted, the game would’ve been over. Dantonio punted. Nebraska took over at its 20. You know the rest.
The similarity of the two situations is remarkable. But that’s not why I bring it up. When you have a 50/50 chance to finish off your opponent, you have to try. I realize Nebraska’s offense stunk in 2009, just as Michigan State’s does in 2012. But still, the 25-30 yards gained from a punt isn’t enough reward to take your offense off the field.
There’s a movement in the coaching profession these days to go for it on fourth downs. The professional math geeks — I’m an amateur math geek — promote it. This week, Nebraska will face Bill O’Brien, who believes strongly in fourth-down risk. Penn State is 16 of 30 on fourth down this year. Nebraska is 4-for-6.
We may see another big fourth-down situation sooner than later.
>> Here’s my Sunday column on Will Compton and the mood on the sideline before Nebraska’s final score. For fifth-year seniors who were Pelini’s foundational recruits, Saturday was bigger than one game.
>> I pulled Tom Osborne aside outside the Nebraska locker room post-game. He admitted to being a little nervous on that final drive.
“I thought we were at least going to get a field goal toward the end, but I didn’t think we were going to get the touchdown. … I was really impressed. I thought Taylor really hung in there and I thought our guys did a great job in showing a lot of determination and poise.”
Osborne has a lot invested in this season, his last as athletic director. If Nebraska can win a Big Ten championship, it puts a cherry on his AD legacy.
>> Bo Pelini repeatedly praised his team’s heart and determination Saturday night. He also repeatedly lamented their football IQ.
“We need to become a smarter football team,” Pelini said. “We gotta stop being our own worst enemy.”
Nebraska has won three barn-burners the past six weeks. But all three were against average opponents. If the Huskers want to take that next step, they must stop losing the turnover battle and committing costly penalties. NU is 106th nationally in turnover margin and 102nd in penalty yardage.
>> Sam McKewon asked Pelini about the pass interference penalties — on both sides. Bo had an interesting answer.
“Michigan State plays a lot like we do at the corner position with a lot of press, aggressive, getting in people’s face,” Pelini said. “I don’t know if they’ve seen a lot of that in this conference for a long period of time. We probably play a little different than they’re used to seeing.”
Days like Saturday, I wonder if Bo should would be better off teaching technique a different way. It puts a lot of burden on the officials.
>> After Taylor Martinez’s second interception, an overthrown deep post to Kenny Bell, Michigan State defensive end Marcus Rush went after the quarterback, roughing him up during the return. Ben Cotton saw it from 20 yards away, sprinted to the ruckus and got in front of Rush.
After the game, he was still fired up about it.
“I will never allow one of my teammates, especially my quarterback, to get hit after a play like that — something dirty,” Cotton said. “I was going to take whatever consequences came my way.”
>> Speaking of the Cottons, Barney and I were talking about the physicality of the Michigan State defense. The Spartans have always been that way, he said, dating back to 2003 when Nebraska met them in the Alamo Bowl. In fact, Cotton has shown his offensive linemen that game film. He points to one performance, especially.
“The way that Richie Incognito played,” Cotton said.
>> Nebraska’s offensive line held up well against the Spartans’ eight- and nine-man boxes. If you can rush for 313 yards on that defense, you can succeed against anybody.
>> I must admit, when I watch football for entertainment, I don’t pay much attention to receivers’ blocking ability. But I’d like to know how many teams do it as well as Nebraska. Rich Fisher has done a remarkable job with this group the past year. Kudos, especially, to Kenny Bell, who doesn’t have Quincy Enunwa’s frame, but consistently keeps cornerbacks off the ball carriers. You can’t run Nebraska’s offensive scheme without good blocking from the wideouts.
>> What are Big Ten defenses learning about Nebraska’s offense? Speed punishes you for small mistakes. What might be a 20-yard gain against another offense is 50 or 60 for the Huskers. Entering Saturday, Michigan State had allowed just three plays of 40 yards all season. Nebraska had gains of 71, 59, 38, 35 and 33.
>> Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp savaged Michigan State Saturday night.
>> I won’t be nearly as hard on Sparty as Mr. Sharp. But I will say this: In this age of college football, if your quarterback has zero mobility, he better be an extremely accurate thrower. Andrew Maxwell is neither. I recognize that pro-style quarterbacks are tradition at places like Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State. But if you’re gonna have one, he can’t miss open receivers. That’s on Mark Dantonio for not having a better alternative.
>> Le’Veon Bell is a beast. But Michigan State erred in not giving backup Nick Hill more carries. Hill entered the game in the third quarter and immediately rushed for 30 yards on two snaps. His speed was an excellent change-up to Bell’s power. Yet we never saw Hill again. Puzzling.
>> There was a noticeable omission from Michigan’s starting lineup Saturday at Minnesota. I’m not talking about Denard Robinson, I’m talking about Russell Bellomy. After a nightmare performance at Nebraska, Brady Hoke turned to Devin Gardner, Robinson’s backup last year. Gardner had played receiver most of the season. Against the Gophers, he threw for 234 yards.
The Wolverines would’ve been more successful in Lincoln with Gardner. Could they have won? Don’t know. But I guarantee Hoke will be pondering that question if Michigan doesn’t make it to Indianapolis.
>> Lee Barfknecht had a stat in his Monday column that blew my mind. Kansas State has scored 111 points off opponents’ turnovers. It has allowed zero points off turnovers. Wow.
>> I don’t know if Oregon’s offense can make Alabama’s defense look bad. But dangit, I want to see them try. If Notre Dame finds a way into the championship game ahead of an undefeated Oregon, fans will be furious. By the way, this might be a nice year for a four-team playoff, huh?
>> Here’s Andy Staples’ excellent game column from Bama-LSU. AJ McCarron was the hero.
>> I’ve now been to every high-profile Big Ten stadium except Iowa’s — sorry Indiana, Purdue and Illinois, you don’t count. I would rank the experiences like this:
I expect Kinnick Stadium to move into fourth or fifth on that list.
>> Finally, if you didn’t see Chuck Pagano’s locker-room speech, take two minutes. It’s worth it. Pagano is fighting leukemia.