Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez gets a pat from head coach Bo Pelini during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium, Saturday, September 3, 2011. Martinez scored the Huskers first touchdown on the next play. 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Taylor Martinez seems to have a good sense of humor.

His friends say he does.

I hope they're right.

Because, what else can the injured Nebraska senior quarterback do besides sit back and chuckle as many Husker fans clamor for redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong to take over the offense?

Martinez, during his time in Lincoln, has learned plenty of lessons about life in the limelight. About life in general. About the fickle nature of fans. The latest lesson: Folks can be awfully quick to casually push you aside for the "next big thing," and never mind your accomplishments.

In Martinez's case, the list is long.

But folks move on quickly.

I visited Kearney and Beatrice this week. I talked to several Husker fans. I listened to the radio. I read my emails. Read my Twitter account. I took the temperature. And it seems many folks are a bit chilly toward Martinez's return (whenever that may occur).

Many people -- I'd guess the majority -- have warmed to Armstrong, the confident kid from Cibolo, Texas, who will make his third career start Saturday against Purdue (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten).

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Armstrong captures the imagination with his ability to run the traditional option. He throws pretty well. He's in command. He actually seems to have a steadying effect on the offense. He's looked smooth and generally steady overall in helping Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) to victories against South Dakota State and Illinois.

Martinez, meanwhile, has neither played nor practiced since the middle of last month because of turf toe. The longer he sits, the more you wonder how Nebraska coaches will handle his return. It will be interesting.

In the meantime, it feels risky to casually push aside Martinez. It feels wrong.

It feels risky, because Armstrong, and Ron Kellogg III, have played against two shoddy defenses. Martinez, on the other hand, has proved he can win in rough Big Ten environments, against rugged defenses, and under difficult circumstances.

It feels risky because Nebraska's toughest Big Ten tests, by far, are still to come. Is Armstrong ready to stare down Michigan State, the nation's top-ranked defense, which comes to Lincoln in a month?

All Martinez did against Michigan State's bruisers last season was account for 365 yards and four touchdowns. All he did was rally Nebraska from 10 points down in the final eight minutes to win 28-24 at Spartan Stadium.

His detractors are quick to note his three interceptions that day.

When you're a starting quarterback for three-plus seasons, you're likely to accumulate a few detractors, especially if you're 0-for-2 in conference championship games and 0-for-3 in bowl games, as is the case with Martinez.

At some point, if Armstrong becomes the starter for an extended period, he'll pick up his share of detractors. He'll throw interceptions, lose fumbles. He'll get nicked up, physically and otherwise. He'll learn many of the lessons Martinez has learned.

Perhaps Armstrong has noticed how easily many folks seem to dismiss Nebraska's six-game conference winning streak last season, during which Martinez delivered time and again in the clutch.

Perhaps it's human nature to better remember the rough patches. Folks conveniently forget Martinez's poise in the wild comeback against Ohio State in 2011. They forget his monster day (435 total yards, five passing TDs) in 2010 at Oklahoma State. They tend to forget the blazing speed he showed in 2010 at Kansas State, where he rushed for 241 yards and four touchdowns on only 15 carries.

Nebraska fans can only hope Armstrong responds in his first road test the way Martinez did in 2010 at Washington, where he rushed 19 times for 137 yards and three TDs and threw for 150 yards and another score in a 35-point triumph.

Trouble is, Martinez hasn't been nearly that dynamic this season. He apparently injured his toe late in the season opener against Wyoming. He looked tentative against Southern Mississippi and UCLA. The Bruins essentially dared him to run, and he wouldn't take the dare. Soon after, we learned about the toe injury.

Martinez's passing statistics are good this season: 53-for-80 (66.2 percent) for 528 yards and nine touchdowns, with only one interception. He's rushed 32 times for 101 yards. Stats can be misleading, though. Martinez hasn't played to his standards.

Hopefully, the emergence of Armstrong will help push Martinez to improve. Taylor is a tough kid. I'm guessing his story at NU is far from over.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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