During a preseason press conference, Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez was asked what his passing completion goal was for 2012. “70 percent or above,” he replied. Oh how we all laughed. Considering his performances in 2011, many predicted that to achieve this, he’d have to check down to his backs far too often. It’s clear now that he knew something we didn’t.
Nebraska’s current corps of receivers was predicted to be good. In fact, Athlon Sports dubbed it the Big Ten’s best prior to the season. Eight games into the 2012 season, Martinez is sitting at a 66 percent completion rate, but to be fair, he’s had help.
Perhaps the most iconic member of easily the best squad of Cornhusker pass-catchers in decades is Kenny Bell. He has a nickname, a Twitter hashtag “#ThrowToTheFro,” and a very passionate fan that puts others to shame. Bell is Nebraska’s top receiver with 28 catches for 591 yards, six touchdowns and is ranked No. 5 in the nation in yards per catch (21.1).
Every good batch of receivers needs a thug, a goon, someone not afraid to mix it up with defensive backs. The Huskers have that in Quincy Enunwa. Not only is he a partial throwback to the days when Nebraska’s wide receivers were little more than glorified blocking dummies, but he has 25 catches for 300 yards and a touchdown on the year. Bell can hold his own one-on-one, but the opposition has been too busy chasing him thus far.
Martinez has distributed his passes at a far better rate this season as 2011 saw Bell take the top spot again, but do-it-all running back Rex Burkhead was No. 4 on the reception chart. He was only topped in receiving touchdowns by Bell three to two. This year, Nebraska’s primary tight ends, Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed both have two touchdown snags after combining for one last season. Even reserve Jake Long owns a scoring catch.
In 2011, the Cornhuskers managed 2,115 yards of passing offense through 13 games. Eight games into the 2012 season, they sit at 1,800. Should Martinez and his crew of merry catchers continue at this rate, they’re on pace for 810 more yards through the air than last year (1,035 if they make the Big Ten Championship Game).
Nebraska controls its own fate. The Huskers could just as easily find themselves Rose Bowl-bound as they could grumbling on a plane to the Outback or Gator. Regardless, for opposing defensive coordinators, attacking the Big Red’s receivers has to begin at the source with Martinez. If he’s allowed time to set and throw, he has a plethora of weapons to take advantage of.
It’ll be interesting to see just how close T-Magic gets to his goal, if he doesn’t exceed it. Thanks in no small part to his receivers, we’ll see who laughs last come the end of Nebraska’s season.
Brandon Cavanaugh is a college football columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America. Feel free to follow him on Twitter and join in on the conversation