Published Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm / Updated at 12:15 am
FOOTBALL
Shatel: Martinez may lack glitz, but respect NU's gladiator

EAST LANSING, Mich. — He makes you throw your nachos, in high def, at your HDTV screen.

He holds the all-time Nebraska record for total offense, but he may never replace your favorite Nebraska quarterbacks. He may not rank in your top 10, much less top five.

You can hold him accountable for clearing the championship high bar.

You don't have to embrace him or understand this nice, quiet young man from Southern California.

But, man, you have to respect Taylor Martinez.

If you have an ounce of love for the game of football, you have to give it up and bow down to the man for the brass he displayed time and again on this cold, unforgettable Saturday.

In an aptly named Spartan Stadium, Nebraska and Michigan State staged one of the most physically brutal games you'll ever see. Every other play, it seemed, a Husker or Spartan was being carried off the field on his shield.

There was no warrior greater than Martinez, who is brave of heart and short of memory.

After throwing three interceptions, Martinez picked himself off the canvas and led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, the latter one 80 yards in one minute, 14 seconds.

A 38-yard pass to Kyler Reed on fourth-and-10. A pass interference call on MSU that set NU up at the 5-yard line with 17 seconds left.

Then an end zone corner route to Jamal Turner, a back-foot beauty of a pass by Martinez, for the unreal dagger.

T-Magic.

Please, no more talk that Martinez isn't a classic Nebraska quarterback. That he's too sloppy, too unorthodox, that he's not accountable or doesn't carry himself like the great leaders of Husker Mount Rushmore.

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Baloney.

The evidence on display here Saturday would suggest otherwise, your honor. The guy has the real stuff, and lately, he's had it when it's needed the most.

And yes, we know Nebraska greats are judged by championships and big moments on the biggest stages.

Martinez is working on that one. And he took a giant step closer to that pedestal on Saturday, a day when NU answered Michigan's victory and remained in charge of the road to Indy and Pasadena.

“It's awesome,” Martinez said of standing atop the Nebraska total offense charts, a room with a serious view. “There were so many great players who came through Nebraska. I'm really honored.”

But he can't be Tagge or Turner or Tommie. Taylor is going to be Taylor.

Which means he's going to do what he did on Saturday: He'll drive you crazy and make you love him.

We got the full Taylor at Spartan Stadium.

He threw a maddening interception, right to MSU's Kurtis Drummond, with no Husker receiver in sight.

He completed a pass by flipping the ball forward to a receiver while being chased out of the pocket.

He scooted around the end and sprinted 71 yards for a touchdown.

“He looked fast today,” said NU running backs coach Ron Brown.

There were two other picks, one on a deep ball he didn't throw away and one near the MSU end zone when he misread the corner. That one nearly ruined everything, with the corner returning it for a long touchdown. But it was called back on a personal foul.

Given a reprieve, Martinez shrugged off the mistakes and made good.

“I'm pretty good at that,” said Martinez with a shrug.

On a day when it looked like his legacy would be big numbers and big disappointment, Martinez showed everyone he knows what defines the quarterback position.

And it started with that shrug.

“He looked in the huddle and said, 'We're going to win the game. There's no way they can stop us,'” said sophomore receiver Kenny Bell. “When you hear that from your quarterback, your leader, you just want to fight that much harder.

“Taylor has an attitude where if something goes bad, you have to put it down, forget it and move on and play. That rubs off on the whole team. That's what you see in the fourth quarter.”

Somewhere, Jerry Tagge or Tommie Frazier or Scott Frost have to appreciate that. Certainly, Frost can relate to what Martinez has gone through.

Afterward, I asked Brown, who was around Frazier, Frost and Eric Crouch, if Martinez had any of their characteristics.

“I think he does,” Brown said. “He's probably more maligned. The critics, the media, those things he hears. He lives in a world that's foreign to us. And yet he's such a fighter. He continuously fights back.

“That's a little different. That shows how much he's grown. I don't know that he could have done that two years ago. Back then, one thing would lead to another. But he's matured. He's showing great poise.

“What he continues to do for us, he's going to go down in the books.”

Before the game, an MSU radio analyst could be heard belittling Martinez as a guy who threw like a junior high quarterback and was lucky to make a play. But it's a little different coaching against Martinez. He makes the other coaches sweat, because he can go off at any moment.

Suddenly, Martinez has become a dangerous quarterback for a whole new reason. He's a warrior.

Junior high quarterbacks don't do what Martinez did here, on this field, against that ferocious defense. Winners do.

The question is, how much will he win? What we know is, his head coach will give him every opportunity, including going for the touchdown at the end rather than kicking an early field goal.

“Tim (Beck) said, do you want to play it safe?” said head coach Bo Pelini. “I said, 'Let's go win the football game here.' I trust Taylor to make the right decisions, and he did. He put the team on his back.”

After the game, defensive end Eric Martin lifted Martinez and put him in a bear hug. “Sometimes he gets on my nerves,” Martin said to reporters nearby. “But I love him!”

Maybe you said that, too.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

* * *

>> Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after the MSU game:



>> Video: NU's Taylor Martinez after the MSU game:



>> Video: NU's Jamal Turner after the MSU game:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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