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Monday, September 30, 2013
Cornhuskers won't rush return of Martinez

By Mitch Sherman

LINCOLN, Neb. – Taylor Martinez is coming back. It’ll happen.

Maybe not this week, though. And don’t be shocked if he sits for a good portion of October.

Taylor Martinez, Gerald Hodges
Quarterback Taylor Martinez is questionable for the Cornhuskers' Big Ten opener Saturday against Illinois.
Reading between the lines of Bo Pelini’s comments on Monday, the Nebraska coach appears ready to err on the side of caution in determining the right time for the return on his senior quarterback from a turf-toe injury.

On Sept. 21, Martinez, who has more than 10,000 yards of total offense to his credit among dozens of school records, missed his first game since 2010 as freshman Tommy Armstrong and senior Ron Kellogg III filled in nicely to direct a 59-20 win over South Dakota State.

Since then, Martinez has not practiced. He’s getting closer to 100 percent, Pelini said.

“It’s still to be determined,” Pelini said Monday of the starting assignment against the Illini Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU).

That’s coachspeak.

This from Pelini is not: “I would assume Taylor wants to play. But at the same time, I deal with doctors and trainers. Taylor knows. We’ve talked to him. We’re not putting him out there until I know he’s going to feel 100 percent and can execute our offense at 100 percent.”

Pelini’s thinking represents something of a change from early in the season, when Martinez played at less than 100 percent. His rushing figures decreased each week, from 80 yards against Wyoming to 34 on just six carries against Southern Miss to minus-13 against UCLA.

Martinez is the second-leading active rusher among FBS players with 2,959 career yards, trailing only James White of Wisconsin. When Martinez presents little or no threat to run, his entire game suffers.

You saw it in the second half against UCLA, and it’s why you might not see him in uniform at Memorial Stadium this week.

“You’ve got to be able to put your foot in the ground and go,” Pelini said. “That’s a big part of our offense.”

Martinez won’t return, Pelini said, “until he shows us that he’s ready, willing and able to do that.”

Likely, there’s more at work here. Nebraska is excited about the prospects of Armstrong, the heir apparent to Martinez, who looked ready, willing and able to do it all in his first start, albeit against the FCS-level Jackrabbits. And Kellogg provides a stabilizing, veteran presence.

As a duo, they work.

Additionally, look at the schedule. After upstart Illinois, the Huskers travel to 1-4 Purdue before another bye week. The Huskers need a healthy Martinez for the stretch run that starts Oct. 26 with Minnesota and includes Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa.

Pelini said he feels better about Armstrong and Kellogg than he did before they directed Nebraska to its first-ever 300-yard rushing, 300-yard passing game against SDSU.

“I have a lot of confidence in those guys,” Pelini said. “I think they are both good players. I know we’ll play well around them, too, whatever gives us the best chance to win the football game. We’ll have somebody who is physically and mentally ready to roll at that position.”

Offensive guard Spencer Long said he knew from their practice reps that Armstrong and Kellogg could handle the job.

“It’s really just a matter of doing it in front of 92,000 people,” Long said. “They showed that they could.”

For his part, Kellogg said he’s preparing to start, though Pelini said if Martinez can’t go, Armstrong would probably remain as the first to play.

As for Martinez, he has handled the waiting time of past two weeks, according to Kellogg, “like an adult.”

Don’t be surprised if the wait continues.