The spotlight in football -- in the good times and bad -- shines brightest on the quarterback position.

Adrian Martinez is aware of that.

The Nebraska sophomore has had an up-and-down season, is playing through a knee injury and, yes, he hears some of the outside noise.

"I would be lying to you if I told you it was easy," Martinez said after the Huskers' 37-21 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday. "It is tough seeing some of the things and hearing this or that, but I have my family, I have my teammates, and more importantly, these coaches who believe in me.

"No one has turned their back on me as a player or as a person."

Martinez played one of his best games of the season Saturday against Wisconsin, throwing for 220 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 89 yards and another score. He broke free for some big runs, including a 45-yarder.

There were a few mistakes, too. Martinez had an interception tipped and picked off in the second quarter, which set up Wisconsin's second touchdown, and Martinez was unable to avoid a critical sack early in the third quarter, which cut short a spurt of Husker momentum.

NU coach Scott Frost, who knows full well what it's like to be a signal-caller in the Nebraska fishbowl, said Martinez "played like the Adrian we know."

"That kid has gone through a lot, through our struggles," Frost said. "I went through it, when we were 11-2 and I was the most hated guy in the state of Nebraska ... It's hard.

"We're not good enough around him yet. He played a lot like the guy we all expect him to be today except for a couple of plays."

Like he has for two seasons, Martinez was quick to take blame for some of those mistakes, calling them "bonehead plays." The sophomore said he won't stop working on corrections.

"The guys inside this building who truly know me and know what I am about know I am very thankful for that," he said. "I have been working as hard as I can to get us to where we need to be. I am going to continue to do that and try and play my best to give this team the best chance to win."

Special-teams woes continue: Nebraska had an early 7-0 lead and momentum. Wisconsin quickly took it away when Aron Cruickshank fielded a short kickoff, raced up the middle and broke free along the Nebraska sideline for an 89-yard touchdown.

Just like that, the Badgers had sucked some life out of the Huskers' upset hopes.

Special teams continue to be an Achilles' heel for the Husker football team.

It started with the opening kickoff, which yielded bad field position (their own 14-yard line) for the Huskers. There was a missed field-goal attempt in the third quarter that would have pulled NU to within 27-17.

"Against a team like that, if you're going to (pull the) upset, when you get your chances, you have to take advantage of them," Frost said. "I've been telling the team all week, conviction, (and) 'Go make it happen.' Ain't nobody going to give you anything in life, nobody's going to give you anything in football. You have to earn it."

As for Cruichshank's kickoff return ...

"... when you go up seven and you have all the momentum and you kick a high ball to the (11-yard line) ... and give up a kick return, you just flushed away a chance to be in control of the game," Frost said. "So that needs to get better."

Huskers without key starters: Nebraska was without some key players, including its leader in receptions and receiving yards.

Wan'Dale Robinson did not suit up against the Badgers. The freshman wide receiver/running back has been slowed by an injury that occurred during the fourth quarter of the Purdue game on Nov. 3.

His absence was not completely surprising. Frost said earlier in the week that the freshman would be a game-time decision.

Nebraska was also without two starters on the defensive line. Senior Darrion Daniels, who has been banged up for the past two games, was not in uniform, and neither was senior Carlos Davis.

"Carlos told us before the game that he wasn't healthy enough to play," said Frost, who later added that Davis practiced during the week.

With Daniels and Davis out, younger players got a chance to play. Damion Daniels made his first career start at defensive tackle, and true freshman Ty Robinson made his collegiate debut.

Nebraska was without defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt most of the game. He left with an undisclosed injury after a kickoff in the second quarter.

Backs against the wall: Nebraska (4-6) has lost four straight games, yet it can still reach a bowl by winning the final two games (at Maryland and home against Iowa).

That means no room for error.

"These next two games we have to make it happen without a doubt," junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said. "We can't hope and wish that it's going to happen. We've got to believe that it's going to happen and come out with the intent to make it happen each and every day from now on."

Will the Huskers respond better with their backs against the wall?

"I hope they understand their backs' against the wall, but I want a team that plays like their back is against the wall in every single game," Frost said.

Drive killers: Nebraska reached the Wisconsin 40-yard line or better eight times Saturday, including seven times inside the 34. The Huskers only had 21 points to show for it.

Three of those drives ended in turnovers on downs, and another ended in a missed field goal in the third quarter.

Sack killers: Wisconsin had four sacks of Martinez, and they came in big moments.

Two of them came on back-to-back plays on the Huskers' first drive, knocking NU out of field-goal range. Another resulted in a 20-yard loss on the Huskers' first drive of the second half.

Wisconsin now has 37 sacks this year. The two on the opening drive came with a three-man rush.

Climbing the charts: Martinez, who had 309 yards of total offense against the Badgers, passed Jerry Tagge for eighth place on the school's all-time career yardage list. Martinez is up to 5,446 total yards.

JD Spielman, who caught four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, increased his career all-purpose yards total to 3,580, which moves him to 10th on the school charts.

Senior Mohamed Barry, who had 12 tackles, is now in the Nebraska top 20 for career stops with 237. He's at No. 18 and is one tackle shy of tying Wayne Meylan for 17th.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.