Steven M. Sipple: Martinez experiences life's cruel twists

2013-11-01T21:00:00Z 2013-11-01T21:09:19Z Steven M. Sipple: Martinez experiences life's cruel twistsBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR

Pardon me if this all sounds a bit maudlin, but Taylor Martinez is learning about life.

There can be enormous rewards, moments of utter joy, but also cruel twists.

If he didn't know it already, he does now.

"He's frustrated," Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said of the Husker senior quarterback. "I don't blame him."

Reality can be as hard and cold as the concrete in your driveway. Reality can run right over you, especially if you're limping on sore toes and a bum hip.

Beck obviously feels for Martinez, but the coach has no time for sentimentality.

"We have to put a product out on the field," Beck said after a practice last week. "We have to get guys ready to play. We have to move on to the next opponent. We don't have a lot of time to look back.

"We have to make our corrections and push on."

Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) marches forward the best it can with Martinez on the sideline nursing injuries to his hip, toes and shoulder. He says he injured the second and third toes on his left foot and his left shoulder in the season opener. He suffered a hip-pointer in last week's discouraging loss at Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Nebraska on Saturday plays the second of six straight rugged conference games, with no more bye weeks. You wonder if Martinez can get healthy enough to play like the Taylor of old. You wonder if Husker coaches would go back to Martinez being the starter even if he does get healthy. That's not a given.

If you have any compassion at all, you would like to see Martinez experience some semblance of a happy ending at Nebraska.

No guarantees there, either.

No guarantees in life.

This was supposed to be a season in which Martinez would enhance his legacy. He would go from being the dual-threat quarterback who amassed incredible statistics — 37 school records — to the guy who also led his team to a conference championship and/or prestigious bowl win. Only then would he deserve to be on the exalted list of Nebraska's greatest QBs.

Then came the wicked curve, in the form of injuries.

After playing well in the opener against Wyoming, Martinez generally wasn't himself in a forgettable win against Southern Miss and an ugly loss to UCLA. His injuries were taking a toll on his performance. He missed five weeks of practice and three games before returning to the lineup last week.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini made the right calls by starting Martinez against the Gophers and letting him go the distance. Martinez earned the start in large part because of the equity he's accumulated since 2010. He's the school's all-time total offense leader, for crying out loud. You don't turn your back on a senior who has given his all to the program, who has weathered so many storms, even if that senior isn't quite 100 percent.

When Nebraska fell behind Minnesota in the second quarter, it made sense to let Martinez try to orchestrate the comeback. He'd responded in the clutch time and again.

But his performance against the Gophers was uneven, and Steve Calhoun noticed.

Martinez has logged countless hours of practice during offseasons with Calhoun, the Los Angeles-based private quarterback guru.

"He didn't look healthy," Calhoun said Friday. "And him throwing the ball, it didn't look as clean."

That's no surprise, considering Martinez's sore toes on his left foot.

"When you really can't transfer weight to your front foot and put a lot of pressure on it, you're going to get quite a few passes that sail," Calhoun said.

Martinez's timing, as one might expect, was just a little off. What's more, he received inconsistent pass protection from the line.

Last week, as Nebraska prepared for Minnesota, Pelini asked Martinez if he was ready to perform at the level coaches expect. Martinez's answer was predictable.

Of course he was ready.

It's difficult to criticize Martinez for his response to Bo, even in hindsight. Even with injuries, Martinez thought he gave the team its best chance to win. He's played with injuries before. And let's face it, coaches expect players to play through pain. That's football. Martinez wasn't 100 percent, but he was close enough. He wasn't being selfish; he was being a competitor. 

A competitor who sees the end of the line approaching fast.

At the moment, all he can do is watch.

Talk about a cruel twist.

"He's got to get healthy," Beck said. "That's what he's got to do first, with his hip."

Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong and fifth-year senior walk-on Ron Kellogg will try to right the Big Red ship, which has slid into rough water.

"It's the next guy up at every position, no matter who it is (that's being replaced)," Beck said.

Yes, even if it's the guy with 37 school records.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or

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