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The conundrum of Adrian Martinez
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The conundrum of Adrian Martinez

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Michigan vs. Nebraska, 10.9

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez (2) celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown run against Michigan on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The conundrum of Adrian Martinez is this:

Nebraska wouldn't be where it is as a program without him. His toughness, his leadership, his accountability, his willingness to reshape himself and refine his game prior to this season.

The other side is this: The Huskers are where they are because Martinez plays such a prominent role in this program's fortunes every Saturday.

"Adrian's a warrior. And he's an unbelievable player," Nebraska coach Scott Frost said late Saturday night following a 32-29 home loss to No. 9 Michigan. "So I hurt for him."

Martinez hurt, too. He cleared his throat and let out a long breath as he stepped to the postgame podium.

He had scored four touchdowns; stood tall in the pocket and taken shots while perfectly delivering the passes that first got his team back into the game, and then put the Huskers ahead as Memorial Stadium roared its approval.

But he had also lost a fumble, again in a critical moment, allowing Michigan's offense to trot onto the field already in field-goal range, and letting the Wolverines become the latest team to keep NU's program in a seemingly unending spiral of heartache.

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"I'm not going to stand up here and make excuses for myself. I can't be careless with the football," Martinez said.

Martinez also said this about his fumble: "I thought the play was over."

It was a situation where that absolutely could not be the thought. The one thing Nebraska could not do was set Michigan up on a short field with a turnover. It was the one thing that happened. Michigan's Brad Hawkins made a tremendous play to strip the ball out and recover it. Martinez absolutely had to do everything he could to hang on to the ball, with no thought of the play being over.

It happened because Martinez is Nebraska's best player, the one NU's coaching staff, perhaps correctly, could trust Saturday to pick up the yard needed to get that first down and keep a potential game-winning drive on the tracks.

That's another part of the Martinez conundrum. There has never been any doubting the Californian's want-to. He gives Nebraska chance after chance with his ability and desire to extend plays. He's also hurt NU by trying too hard at times.

"I wanted it," Martinez said of Nebraska going for it on fourth-and-short on its first drive of the game, bypassing a chip-shot field goal to try to either pick up the first down or score a touchdown.

"I think going for a touchdown there is big for us," Martinez said. "Big momentum for us, big opportunity."

Scott Frost was proud of his team after a comeback falls short against Michigan.

Martinez's words spoke to the respect he commands in Nebraska's locker room from players on both sides of the ball.

"He's amazing. He's a baller, as you can see," said running back Rahmir Johnson, who was the recipient of a Martinez dime of a touchdown pass as the quarterback was smacked in the pocket.

"He comes in every day doing what he's got to do, and we appreciate that," Johnson said. "We need that, too. He's just a baller, and I love playing with him."

Martinez was in the middle of Nebraska's 22-point third-quarter blitz, throwing three touchdown passes to tie his career high before adding a 5-yard touchdown run to tie his career best for total touchdowns in a game.

Nebraska was in position to win because of him. Nebraska lost, in part, because of his mistake.

That's the cruelty of football. And Martinez plays a position that oftentimes takes an unfair share of the blame.

But it's his belief, in himself and his teammates, that also keep pushing Nebraska right up to the edge of a breakthrough win.

"I love Adrian. He’s been playing lights-out. Even with the nicks and bruises, I wouldn't want anyone else to be our quarterback," Cam Taylor-Britt said. "He gives 110% every play, but everyone has mess-ups, and I have my mess-ups. But it’s about how you come back from it. I believe if there was more time left on the clock, we could have made something happen."

 

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Husker men's basketball/baseball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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