Steven M. Sipple: Martinez gets big chance to fill void

2012-12-01T00:10:00Z 2012-12-10T23:24:08Z Steven M. Sipple: Martinez gets big chance to fill void

They say a quarterback is an extension of his head coach, and it sounds logical enough.

Or maybe Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is an extension of Tim Beck, the offensive coordinator.

Beck pondered the notion a moment and smiled.

"I don't know who he is," the coach said wryly. "He is his own guy, I guess. I respect that. That's probably why we have a good relationship. I don't try to make him something he's not."

Folks have tried that with Martinez. Fan types. Media types. They said in 2010 he was aloof on the sideline. They still say he lacks polish and pizazz at the podium in news conferences, as if it matters.

"He doesn't have to be a rah-rah guy," Beck said this week. "He just has to come do his job and be a good leader, and accomplish the mission at hand."

If Martinez and company accomplish the mission at hand Saturday night, we'll regard him much differently. Put the words "Big Ten champion" next to a quarterback's name, and his clout increases. He automatically commands more respect from the masses — immediate as well as long-term. He strengthens his standing among the greatest Nebraska quarterbacks. He's top-10 material as it stands, or so say his numbers.

Nobody in school history has gained more yards of total offense, or thrown for more yards. In many ways, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior has been remarkable.

Yet there's a void. Stats are nice. Championships are better. By late Saturday night, Martinez may have the void filled. It should happen.

Same goes for Bo Pelini, perhaps Martinez's strongest backer. It's year five for the head coach. Time to close the deal. Time to nail down a conference crown. He's been this close. Now it's there for the taking.

It's time, because Nebraska, 10-2 and ranked 14th, is a better team than Wisconsin (7-5). The Huskers aren't markedly better. Beating the Badgers will be difficult, especially if the Huskers' self-destructive tendencies surface to significant degree.

Yeah, Martinez may fumble too often. But Martinez doesn't crack under pressure. And make no mistake, there is pressure on Nebraska, in part because of what may lie ahead. With a Big Ten championship, followed by a Rose Bowl triumph, NU likely would vault into the nation's top 10. It would probably begin next season in the top 10, and likely stay there for quite some time.

Perhaps you've seen next season's schedule. Nebraska's first five games are at home. It appears the Huskers will be favored to win the first eight.

Go ahead. Let your mind wander — that is, unless you're a Nebraska player. Then you better keep your mind on Wisconsin, a team that's too often come up short this season but is on even ground with NU talent-wise, save for the Huskers' wealth of skill-position talent — starting with Martinez.

His athletic prowess is striking. Perhaps more important, Martinez exudes calm and poise. He's focused. Mature. He knows the offense. He's taken control of the unit. I've said it before: He's playing as if he's on a mission. 

So, maybe Martinez doesn't talk a good game. Maybe he gives the media short answers that often reveal nothing. How much does that really matter? Isn't it much more important to play a good game than talk one?

"I think people take some of his straightforwardness in the wrong way — you know, some of his honesty," said Nebraska senior tight end Ben Cotton. "But I think that's one of the best things about him. He's not going to butter it up for anybody. He's going to tell you how it is. I think he kind of gets that from Coach Bo.

"Those two are on the same page and preaching the same things to this team."

Perhaps they're preaching relentlessness.

In the 2010 Big 12 Championship Game, Nebraska bolted to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter and then "kind of took our foot off the pedal," Cotton said of the 23-20 loss to Oklahoma, in which Martinez was sacked seven times.

"We have to keep the foot down no matter what happens — no matter what the score is, no matter who's winning," Cotton said.

Maybe Martinez and Pelini are preaching the need for a quiet intensity.

In September, when Nebraska started slow against Wisconsin, players were "extremely excited and extremely psyched up, and I think it kind of dulled us down at the beginning of that game," Cotton said.

Nebraska came on strong late and prevailed 30-27. Martinez got hot. He's stayed hot.

Cotton has been vocal in support of Martinez all along.

"I'll have his back until the day I die," Cotton said. "He's a great leader for us. He does a phenomenal job of leading this offense and this entire team."

Martinez does it his way, and his way has Nebraska on the cusp of a conference crown.

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

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