Barring a disaster, Taylor Martinez will break the Nebraska career total offense record Saturday at Michigan State. He’s 114 yards away from Eric Crouch’s 7,915.
It’s a testament to Martinez’s speed and improved passing. But there’s a characteristic just as important that doesn’t show up on stat sheets. In 21 starts the past two seasons, Martinez has absorbed dozens of big hits — and he always gets up.
We saw again Saturday night why quarterback durability is so critical in a spread, running offense. Denard Robinson went down with an elbow injury and it altered the Big Ten race. Injuries don’t reflect a player’s toughness — Denard and Braxton Miller aren’t exactly timid — but Nebraska can’t run its offense without a sturdy quarterback.
When Martinez got hurt in 2010, it raised questions about his long-term effectiveness. Could he withstand a whole season of punishment? This isn’t Scott Frost, or even Tommie Frazier. Martinez has the frame of a wide receiver — not much thicker than Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. How does a guy like that hold up?
Well, he has. And considering the Huskers’ backup (Ron Kellogg) has thrown a grand total of five career passes, it might be a good time for Nebraska fans to thank their lucky stars Martinez is so durable.
>> I got a call from a friend Sunday afternoon who summarized the Nebraska win perfectly. It’s frustrating to go into a game thinking you’re finally going to learn whether Nebraska is any good, he said, then walk away feeling like you still don’t know.
Denard’s injury is part of football, and Nebraska shouldn’t apologize for it. But it’s not disrespecting the Huskers to say the outcome would’ve been in doubt had Robinson stayed on the field. If you’re gonna beat Michigan, you want to beat them at their best. And Robinson’s absence robs a little fulfillment from the win.
Looking at the rest of the schedule — no ranked teams — this might be a season where Nebraska finishes with an excellent record, but doesn’t accomplish a signature victory — Michigan State would be last year’s. In that sense, it would resemble 2003, when NU went 10-3 without beating a team ranked higher than 24th (Oklahoma State).
Unless Michigan wins out, beating Ohio State on Nov. 24, I’d be shocked if Nebraska doesn’t get to Indianapolis.
>> I noticed something a bit different about Nebraska’s players and coaches after the game. Most weren’t wearing big grins. Most weren’t taking big sighs of relief. At least in the interviews I participated in. I think you’ll hear a lot more about this theme this week. They’re very conscious of staying even keel and avoiding a post-Michigan letdown.
>> Defensive coordinator John Papuchis had perhaps the evening’s best sound bite. Asked about the “targeting” penalties Nebraska committed, he said, “Josh Mitchell’s like 5-3. I don’t know how he could target anybody. He’d need a stepladder.” Officials need to get together this offseason and re-think how they judge “targeting the head.” They’ve taken a reasonable point of emphasis and gone overboard.
>> Thanks to those of you who read my Sunday story about Jake Young, 10 years after he died in a terrorist bombing. I received several e-mails from people who viewed Jake as the epitome of all that is right about Husker football. He was a huge personality who made an indelible mark on those who knew him — and many who didn’t.
If you haven’t read the story, I hope you find a few minutes today.
>> Coliseum magic. Nebraska volleyball’s home court added another chapter to its legacy Sunday when the Huskers beat No. 1 Penn State in five sets. I don’t know if the program will keep its home-court advantage the Devaney Center. I do know the Coliseum should go down as one of the best home courts in college sports history. That’s no overstatement.
>> Chuck Culpepper says Alabama is underrated at No. 1.
>> Joe Posnanski on Bill Snyder.
>> Congrats to Oregon wideout (and Omaha Central grad) Daryle Hawkins, who caught a touchdown pass against Colorado. Hope he’s ready for the L.A. Coliseum Saturday night.
>> An incredible story of Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree and his brother, who is in critical condition after a shooting in New York.
>> Speaking of the Cowboys, how close is the line between joy and misery in the NFL? About half the length of Dez Bryant’s fingers. The Giants-Cowboys climax Sunday was perhaps the most stunning finish I’ve seen all year. Had Dallas won, it would’ve been 4-3, half a game behind New York (5-3). Instead, the Giants are 6-2 with a 2 1/2 game lead over second place. I don’t know how NFL coaches sleep after losses like that.
>> As I mentioned on Twitter, how often does a man named Romo help a team named the Giants win twice in the same day! The baseball Giants finished a sweep of the Tigers, making it three straight world championships — and four out of five — for the National League. While it’s nice to see an entertaining cast of characters win, it’s too bad we don’t get to watch world-class players freeze their rumps off in Detroit another night.
Thankfully, the Lions rallied Sunday afternoon. If they hadn’t, Michael Grey, host of “The Show” on 590 AM and a Michigan native, may have taken the whole week off.
>> An interesting story of the relative lack of black players on the Minnesota Timberwolves.
>> I’m torn on the Oklahoma City Thunder trading James Harden. On one hand, Kevin Martin is no slouch. And with Westbrook and Durant, you’re going to be a contender regardless of your No. 3.
However, a lot of people think of Harden as the guy who struggled terribly in the Finals. They forget the impact he made the rest of the playoffs. And as reliant as OKC is on the jump shot, it helps to have a third guy who can create his own shot when Westbrook and Durant are missing jumpers. We’ll see. With or without Harden, I give a slight edge to the Lakers in the West.
>> The Marcus Lattimore injury is heartbreaking. Freshman year, Lattimore looked like he might one day be the best running back in football. Now he’ll have to undergo rigorous rehabilitation in order to play again. Clay Travis wrote last year — the first time Lattimore got hurt — that he is the perfect example for why the NFL age limit needs to be abolished.
>> Last thought for a Monday morning: We can whine and moan about Big Ten football — and I do my share. But how cool was it seeing the blue and maize winged helmet in Memorial Stadium Saturday night?
For all its struggles, there is good old-fashioned football tradition in this league that’s hard for the Big 12 North to match. Hosting Michigan every other year in Lincoln sure beats hosting Colorado or Missouri.