The gist of a recent SB Nation study was to determine where quarterbacks threw the ball on the field, and how that affected their completion percentage.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith, for example, threw a whopping 33 percent of his passes behind the line of scrimmage. Those are bubble screens and those jet sweeps where Smith flips the ball three inches forward instead of merely handing the ball off. Smith gets credit for completing a pass that any walk-on on any program in Division II could achieve.
Taylor Martinez threw 12.6 percent of his passes behind the line of scrimmage. I only recall one jet sweep shovel pass — went for a touchdown to Kenny Bell, incidentally, against Idaho State — but there might have been a few more I’ve forgotten. So much of Martinez’s throws behind the LOS were quick flips to Bell or Jamal Turner, the rare traditional screen to a running back, and a couple more common shovel passes to running backs.
What’s more interesting is that Martinez threw 73.5 percent of his passes within 14 yards of the line of scrimmage. That number goes up to 84 percent if you stretch it out to 19 yards. Martinez had longer completions than that, mind you, but the receivers were doing more of the work, is the point. Just 4.6 percent of Martinez’s passes actually traveled 30 or more yards downfield. There were none, according to SB Nation’s chart, that traveled more than 40 yards.
When it came to completions, SB Nation did not gauge Martinez’s efforts beyond 24 yards, because there was too small of a data size to measure properly. Inside of 24 yards, here’s how it broke down. Remember, this is how far the ball traveled before a WR could catch it, now how many yards a completion turned out to be:
Behind the LOS: 81.8%
0-4 yards: 90.9%
5-9 yards: 75%
10-14 yards: 50%
15-19 yards: 10%
20-24 yards: 16.7%
It’s fair to suggest that Martinez was quite inaccurate once the ball traveled more than 14 yards. He still had his best season passing by far — a 62 percent completion rate, 2,871 yards, 23 touchdowns — and he ran for 1,016 yards, which is a key part of Martinez’s effectiveness at the position. But Martinez’s improvement also seems to point to offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s ability to create a passing game that suits his quarterback’s skillset.
The final stat in the SB Nation analysis underlines that. Martinez’s “adjusted” completion percentage actually goes up to 65.1 percent because of his efficiency in the areas where he throws the ball most: 0 to 14 yards.
Further analysis (my own) at cfbstats.com shows that Martinez was one of the best first quarter passers (No. 17) in the country. (Martinez was No. 19 in the first half.) Considering that, in 2011, he was No. 84 among quarterbacks in the first quarter, that reveals Martinez making a leap in understanding Beck’s basic offense, and Beck better understanding what plays Martinez likes and can make. (Note: In 2011, Russell Wilson — with no time at all in Wisconsin’s offense — was No. 1 in first quarter QB rating. How so many NFL teams and analysts missed the kid’s obvious intelligence to grasp football is a little astounding.)
But it changes — distinctly — after halftime.
Martinez’s third quarter passing rating of 120.08 is not among the top 100 college QB ratings for that quarter last year. Ditto for his 111.70 rating in the fourth quarter — and that’s with, remember, two heart-stopping comebacks at Northwestern and Michigan State. (Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, incidentally, was tops in the fourth quarter in 2012.) Martinez is 82nd in QB rating on third down. That’s not as sharp as an indictment as it may seem — UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Tennessee’s Tyler Bray are lower –but it points to Martinez having room for improvement. (Again, in 2011, Wilson was No. 1 – astonishing that his efficiency was ignored for so long in the NFL Draft.)
Beck told me in an interview that he wants Martinez to play more within the offense in 2013 and take fewer chances. Martinez would probably agree. But I’d suggest that he’ll need something that the stats don’t point out: Better protection.
While Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez (who may move to guard, may not, he’s only flipped position 345 times) have 12 years of experience between them, but against FBS teams with winning records, Nebraska gave up an average of 2.82 sacks per game. That’s 88th in the nation. And since only five teams played as many games (10) against FBS winning competition as Nebraska, there were plenty of opportunities to improve on that average. (The other five schools are all ranked ahead of the Huskers in sacks allowed per game; Kansas is the next-lowest at No. 72.
Sacks have no direct impact on completion rate. But sacks generally point to hurries, and those absolutely do have an impact on completion rate. (It’s worth noting that Nebraska’s season stat compilation only has opponents credited for 14 hurries on the whole season, which I’m comfortable saying is flat wrong. Georgia had 7 in the Capital One Bowl alone. Not a single opposing defense that entered Memorial Stadium was credited with a hurry and no hurry stats were kept for either team in the Big Ten Championship, (which means that, on the greatest run of Martinez’s career, he wasn’t hurried. Not at all.) Anyway, since the NU defense’s sack-to-hurry ratio was 31-to-44, and the Huskers gave up 35 sacks, I’m comfortable suggesting Martinez was hurried between 50-60 times.)
Remember how Martinez had to repeatedly bail the pocket early in the Penn State game because he had so little time to throw? Recall how the protection around Martinez (and Cody Green) turned to jelly in the fourth quarters of the last three bowl games and last two conference title games?
For as good as Nebraska’s offense was at times in 2012 — the performance against Michigan State, turnovers and all, remains a feat of good gameplanning and clutch play — it’s startling that, when you pick through the statistics, it can be that much better in 2013. Martinez has room to grow, so does his offensive line, so do his skill players. The running game, by and large, was a rousing success, even without Rex Burkhead. If Beck and Martinez can find that consistent footing — especially after the early script of plays has been burned off — the Huskers could have an offense that no defense on the 2013 schedule — aside from Michigan — can confidently stop.