EAST LANSING, Mich. — If you watched Nebraska’s 28-24 win over Michigan State on Saturday, you saw Taylor Martinez at his best.
And his worst.
He throws three interceptions that could have been the difference in the game, but somehow, some way, the Huskers make another of those unbelievable comebacks — this time from 10 points down with half a quarter to play — to win on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Jamal Turner.
That’s what life is like with Taylor Martinez. Do some bad things that make people yell and scream, then lead another comeback to win a game that maybe the Huskers shouldn’t have won.
He did it a year ago against Ohio State. He did it two weeks ago against Northwestern. There seems to be somewhat of a pattern developing.
That final drive was just Taylor being Taylor. Fourth-and-10, no problem. Throw it to Kyler Reed for 36 yards and a first down.
We should know this about Martinez by now. The kid doesn’t panic.
“Nothing unusual,” wide receiver Kenny Bell said of Martinez in the huddle on the final drive. “It was just, ‘We’re going to go win this football game.’ When Taylor says something like that, you believe him. He said, ‘They will not stop us. We’re going to go win this football game’ and when you hear that, coming from your leader, it makes you want to just play that much harder.”
Maybe it’s time that Husker Nation starts believing in Martinez a little bit more. Sure, his throwing motion will never remind anyone of Dan Marino, but it’s been pretty effective.
But it’s not just some Husker fans that have a hard time believing. We heard it from a big Vegas oddsmaker on Friday while traveling to East Lansing. The Huskers had been installed as a 1 1/2-point favorite over the Spartans.
“The day I lay points with Taylor Martinez on the road against a physical defense is the day I retire from gambling,” he said.
It was a fair assessment. Martinez hasn’t been his best against physical defenses, but then again who is?
Martinez isn’t a physical runner. He’s not a shifty runner. He is, however, a runner that hits a hole and accelerates with the best of them.
We’ve seen that numerous times through the years, particularly his freshman season when teams maybe didn’t yet know just what he could do.
We definitely saw it again Saturday on his 71-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and again on his 36-yarder in the fourth that was vital in getting the Huskers back into the game.
And guess what? On his way to leading the Huskers to another win, Martinez also became the school’s all-time career leader in total yards with 8,166. That broke the old record of 7,915 set by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch from 1998 to 2001.
Yes, Martinez had those three interceptions, but head coach Bo Pelini is more concerned with what happened at the end of the game.
“I can’t say enough about Taylor and how he played and how he finished that football game,” Pelini said. “He made some mistakes, but you know what? Everybody does. He put that team on his back at the end of that football game and made some plays. He did it with his arm today, with his legs – it shows character.
“One thing about throwing a pick, everybody is going to throw interceptions every now and then, (but) it’s how you come back from those situations. I think it’s just an example of not only Taylor, but this football team.”
And this football team believes in their quarterback. They have been saying it all year long, but people keep asking.
“We love Taylor,” Turner said. “We stand behind him. He has a lot of character, the team has a lot of character. We never stop fighting. That’s one thing I want to applaud the team for is not giving up. The offensive line, the wide receivers, we kept at it and we won the game.”
Bell said Martinez is always poised, that he has ice water in his veins.
“He stayed nice and relaxed,” he said. “He told us in the fourth quarter, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this football game.”’
But Bell said he knew the Huskers were going to win after Martinez fumbled earlier in the fourth quarter. He tried to pick it up and booted it again. In the end, though, offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles recovered it for the Huskers.
“When I really thought we were going to win the football game was when Taylor fumbled the ball and ended up like three Michigan State players jumped on it and Sirles ended up with it.” Bell said.
Yes, that’s Taylor Martinez in a nutshell. He might drive everyone crazy at times — including his teammates — but he also makes big plays to win games.
Defensive end Eric Martin grabbed Martinez and held him up in the air for several seconds after the game.
So what did Martin say to him?
“He was just saying that (I drive him) crazy sometimes and he loves me.” Martinez said.
Nebraska fans can relate to that.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for the Independent.