In the wake of his 10-for-10, 121-yard, one touchdown passing performance on Saturday against Rutgers, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Tate Martell and his devoted followers. As high as I have been on Dwayne Haskins dating back to last season, the opposite has been true for Martell, due in no small part to his lackluster throwing performance in April’s spring game. And I am here today to say that was wrong, and very stupid of me.
I have said on The Hangout in the Holy Land podcast that he could not “pass his way out of a wet paper bag,” I have said and written that when Matthew Baldwin and Chris Chugunov were fully ready (either in terms of health or preparation) that they would be better suited to backup Haskins due to possessing a more similar skill set, and I even went so far as to predict that Martell would not be a QB at Ohio State next year, either via a transfer or a position change.
While I think that the last one is still a possibility, though much narrower than before, I should have known better than to doubt Martell’s abilities, because, for the most part, I think Ohio State’s coaching staff is incredibly competent, especially with identifying talent (the mismanaged 2015 QB battle aside), and from Day 1, Urban Meyer has spoken profusely about Martell’s talents.
I also knew the insane numbers and accolades that he racked up at Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, yet, for some reason, I thought that my judgement of an off-season scrimmage was more insightful than that of the coaches who see and work with him every day in practice. That was clearly dumb.
In my defense, in the spring game, Martell looked ill-prepared to take on college defenses, and while it could be argued that Oregon State and Rutgers aren’t themselves “college defenses,” Martell nonetheless impressed, especially against the Scarlet Knights. Clearly when you are, literally, perfectly throwing the ball, that’s good.
However, Martell’s performance was more than good. It was historically good. This should be partially self-explanatory, but the Vegas native set a new single game completion percentage record in Ohio State history for QBs attempting 10 or more throws (that’s the “no duh” part), but what is a bit surprising is that only one other Buckeye quarterback has ever been over 90 percent; Bill Murkowski did it in 1961, going 10-11 for 90.9 percent. Also interesting is that Haskins currently sits third on that list for his 20-of-23 (86.9 percent) effort in the same game as Martell; it’s a good time to be a Buckeye QB.
Despite his success throwing the football against the Scarlet Knights, in my opinion, Martell’s most explosive— and perhaps most impressive— play came with his legs, as he went 47 yards practically untouched for the final score of the game. Now, it is in no way surprising that Martell is an incredible runner, we’ve known that since before he got to campus, and honestly, he looked good running the ball back in April. So, his ability to juke and elude tacklers is impressive, but not surprising.
However, the thing that most impressed me was that this nearly 50-yard scamper came not on a designed run, nor immediately after Martell saw that his first receiver was covered. You can see him go through his progressions on the left, and then when he moves back towards the middle of the field, he is about to get his arm back into a passing position when he realizes that a wide-open lane has developed in front of him, and he takes off.
I still have my doubts about whether someone of Martell’s skill set (not to mention stature) can be the ideal quarterback in a Ryan Day pass-first offense, but his willingness to allow passing plays to develop as long as possible is certainly encouraging... especially when he can run like this when they don’t.
Martell’s other big play came in the second quarter on a 51-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin. The fact that Martell was able to throw the ball 48ish yards in the air to a wide-open receiver is promising. I honestly did not expect that he had the arm to make that throw; that’s on me.
However, it wasn’t exactly a perfect pass. McLaurin did have to turn completely around to catch the incoming ball, and had he not so thoroughly burnt the defensive back, there is a very good chance that this ball would be picked off, or at least broken up.
But I’m getting off my point, this article is to apologize to Tate, not nitpick his performance. The takeaway from this touchdown is that he has the makings of a more than passable (no pun intended) Power 5 arm.
If Haskins went down on the first play against TCU this Saturday, I don’t know that I would feel super comfortable with Martell running a pass-first offense, but should Haskins depart Columbus as a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft (which I think is becoming more and more likely with each pass that he throws), I feel comfortable in the potential that Martell has shown with his arm. The talent in his legs is already obviously there, but his arm still needs some strength and refinement. However, this throw proved that there is far more to work with than I gave him credit for.
So, in closing, I might not have become a Martell stan overnight, but his thoroughly impressive, well-rounded, efficient performance against Rutgers (yes, even though it was Rutgers) has made me do an almost 180° turn on him (in all honesty, it’s probably closer to 150°-155°).
I apologize to him for saying that he couldn’t throw at the level needed to be a QB at Ohio State; that was obviously wildly idiotic. I apologize to him for saying that someone—anyone— else would be better to backup Haskins this season.
I don’t know about you, but this whole process of excepting and admitting my mistakes in forecasting Martell’s success has been remarkably cathartic, and actually has me even more excited about the prospects for this season than I already was following the two blowout wins.
So, in closing, I apologize Tate. I have learned my lesson, and in the immortal words of the late, great Jerry Orbach as Dr. Jake Houseman in the seminal 1987 film “Dirty Dancing,”
“When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.”