Published Monday, October 28, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:10 pm
FOOTBALL
Shatel: Huskers could use fresh option at QB with Taylor Martinez ailing

Of course Taylor Martinez said, “I'm ready to go.”

He hears the clock ticking. This is his senior year. Last call to do something big. Last call for legacy.

He injured his shoulder and two toes in the season opener, back on Aug. 31. Nebraska lost the first shot at a big game, to UCLA on Sept. 14. Martinez had sat on the sidelines since then.

Martinez had sat and watched helplessly as his senior year passed before him. Last week, when coach Bo Pelini asked if he was ready, there were six games left in his career. Tick, tock.

So he said 'Yes, Coach.' He's played hurt before. Been a warrior. He was close enough, he felt.

Pelini agreed. Can't blame the coach. You have to trust the player to tell you the truth.

Martinez looked like himself early. But as the game wore on, it was clear he wasn't.

Coach Bo said on Monday he didn't think Martinez's injuries — which now include a hip pointer — played a factor in his performance.

But even with dropped passes and missed blocks and plays getting into the huddle late, it was clear that while Martinez may not be the problem, an injured Martinez is not the solution, either.

Right now, Nebraska needs solutions.

What it has is confusion. For over a month, Pelini said Martinez had turf toe. There was no mention of the shoulder problem.

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On Saturday, Martinez said it wasn't turf toe but wouldn't say what it was. He said they called it turf toe because it sounded good. Classic.

Were the toes broken? Why wouldn't NU just say it?

On Monday, Pelini couldn't say what ailed the toes — he couldn't remember the doctor's term — but said they were sprained toes.

Nebraska doesn't need confusion. Pelini and Co. need everyone on the same page.

They also need an offense that does much more than what we saw Saturday.

If Martinez isn't 100 percent, he can't help Nebraska. Go with the kid, Tommy Armstrong.

The redshirt freshman looked sharp against South Dakota State. Against Illinois and Purdue, two of the worst teams in the Big Ten, there were rough edges.

And the defensive schemes and personnel lining up in November are a little tougher than the Illini or Boilers offered.

But Armstrong gives you two things right now: health and the option. With the option comes its sidekick, the running game. That's the best possible identity NU can take into the last five games. And the Huskers could use identity.

I don't know if Armstrong can win one or five games. But Martinez has too much going on right now: shoulder, hip, toes.

He's been a warrior throughout his career, but flashbacks of the 2010 Big 12 championship game keep coming back. NU doesn't need a repeat of that Martinez, helpless in a collapsing pocket.

It's a cruel twist of fate, and no way to have a senior year. But if turning to a freshman to win games is the best option, then Martinez can understand.

Once upon a time, that was him.

» I know coaches and players like to play hide and seek with injuries, but I wish NU would have just said whatever Martinez's toe injury was from the beginning. If we have to get out our medical dictionary to look up the word, we'll do it.

» From now on, when I want to know a player's availability for a game, I'll just call Vegas.

» Pelini spoke for almost an hour Monday. He answered questions but didn't have many answers. One of the best things was a story he told, about how he and his son Patrick ran into two Nebraska fans after the loss. The fans were standing by the team bus, cheering the team as it boarded and offering support.

“My son looked at me and said, 'Dad, those are two great fans,' ” Pelini said. “I said, 'You know what, Patrick? That's the 99 percent (of Nebraska fans).' ”

» Several readers on my Monday chat wanted to know if there's a magic number of wins Pelini has to hit this year. I think number of wins can be skewed, especially with a schedule that has six all-but-guaranteed wins on it. Well, five. Before the season, I considered Minnesota one of those six.

» Haven't tipped the ball yet, but Creighton fans are making the Big East presidents look good. They've bought 1,100 tickets to the Big East tournament — Madison Square Garden, New York — in March. The Big East only sells all-session tickets, and they go for $180, $275, $350, $399 and $600 each. That's not counting the plane ticket that costs an arm and the hotel that will run you a leg. Now if they can only find a Sundecker's.

» The folks who bought those $600 tickets no doubt can get into the new Lexus Club at the CenturyLink Center. The Lexus Club is the former club lounge, and along with the improved HD video scoreboard, it's given the Link a new “wow” factor. There are a lot of TV's in that place. But, no, you can't buy a car there.

» Creighton fans might hear the voice of Kevin Kugler in the Lexus Club this season. No, he won't be selling you a car. Or buying you a drink. Nebraska's national sportscaster has signed up with Fox Sports to do Big East hoops on TV this year. When does the man get any sleep?

» Dick Stockton also will do Big East games this year. Stockton is better suited for this than baseball. I associate Stockton with NBA playoff games in the 1970s and '80s. I just hope he doesn't say, “Doug McDermott, guarded by Andrew Toney.”

» Basketball season starts soon. Has Andrew Wiggins won the NBA MVP yet?'

» Good thing I had Missouri in the projected four-team playoff last week. The trap door opened again on Saturday and of course MU lost in the north end zone of Faurot Field. Yahoo Sports columnist and Mizzou grad Pat Forde wrote that they should detonate that end zone. Better give Matt Davison a piece of that turf first. Wasn't that where Phil Bates scored the only touchdown in the 1981 NU-MU thriller? Yeah, I thought so.

» UNO hockey is off to a 2-4 start, but at least the easy part of the schedule comes up. Two games each against Denver, North Dakota, Michigan and Miami (Ohio). Piece of cake.

» I see you, Iowa fan, looking at Nebraska with anticipation.

» Northwestern back Venric Mark's season is likely over, thanks to leg injuries. But that doesn't mean Nebraska has seen the last of the senior. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is talking about using an available redshirt year for the second-team All-Big Ten back, who has played in only one full game this season.

» Please join me at the Omaha Press Club next Tuesday at noon for my Sports Lunch Series. My guest will be legendary radio voice Kent Pavelka. Nebraska will be between its exhibition game (Monday) and its season opener (Nov. 8), so I'm sure Pinnacle Bank Arena and the state of Husker Hoops — and football — will be among the topics. See you there.

» One more and I'm outta here: Here's to Mike Jirschele, who finally got his call from the Kansas City Royals last Friday. Jirsch was in Class AAA longer than Crash Davis. He had been in Omaha so long he could have run for mayor. He'll be missed, and good that he goes out with a Class AAA championship. That had to be a sweet phone call. About time!

* * *

Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the Monday press conference:



Video: NU's Tommy Armstrong at the Monday press conference:



Video: NU's Quincy Enunwa at the Monday press conference:



Video: NU's Jeremiah Sirles at the Monday press conference:

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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