MINNEAPOLIS — You learned a little about a lot of things after Nebraska fizzled out offensively Saturday against Minnesota, but that only seemed to lead to more questions.
NU quarterback Taylor Martinez disclosed that it wasn't actually the big toe on his left foot that bothered him — and had kept him out since the Sept. 14 UCLA game — and that his injury shouldn't be classified as “turf toe.”
The senior also said his left shoulder, which he injured back on Aug. 31 against Wyoming, was still hurting.
And NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck was upfront saying he thought about a predetermined point in Saturday's game when he would insert Tommy Armstrong, the redshirt freshman who had started the previous three games at quarterback.
It was all footnotes on Saturday, however, as Martinez returned but the NU offense mostly struggled in a 34-23 loss at TCF Bank Stadium that gave the Huskers their first Big Ten dent as they started a crucial six-game stretch.
Martinez missed some throws but Husker receivers added some drops as he went 16 for 30 for 139 yards. Beck chose to run him sparingly, and his impact on the ground game was limited to a 35-yard gain in the third quarter.
Nebraska scored just 13 points in the last 52 minutes and finished with fewer than 37 for only the second time all season. NU never found any offensive rhythm (with a season-low 60 plays and 328 total yards).
But Martinez seemed destined to be the story, no matter the outcome.
When asked if he was 100 percent Saturday, he said: “I'm getting there. I'm close.” It was an inevitable question after NU head coach Bo Pelini had said repeatedly that the Huskers wouldn't bring him back until he was full speed.
“It's been a very rough past month or five weeks or whatever it's been,” Martinez said. “I was pretty much living in that treatment room and just trying to get my foot healthy, or as healthy as possible or as much as I could tolerate it.”
Martinez said the problem has actually been with the two toes next to the big toe on his left foot. He declined to say if there had been a fracture in the toes.
“Every time I push off,” he said, “it just feels like a shock.”
Beck said the NU staff watched him closely as he returned to practice last Sunday and by Wednesday and Thursday felt ready to get him in position to play. Beck had been alternating Armstrong and Ron Kellogg in Martinez's absence, and said as of Friday he was thinking about going to Armstrong for the fourth series Saturday.
NU jumped ahead 10-0, with Martinez even starting out 5-for-5 passing. But Beck said he felt a little uncomfortable making the switch after three series with Minnesota back within 10-7 and the Huskers coming off a punt.
Beck stayed with Martinez, and Nebraska managed just three points the rest of the first half even though the Gophers twice helped Husker drives with 15-yard penalties on defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman for grabbing Martinez's face mask.
“I felt the tide turning a little bit,” Beck said, “and I didn't know if it was good to be able to make that move at that point.”
As the game went on, Beck said, the right situation just never seemed to present itself to make a change.
“And that's on me. That's my fault,” he said. “I probably should have. My plan was to do it. I stuck with it in those other games. I got caught up in this game.”
After completing 11 of 17 passes for 101 yards in the first half, Martinez was 5 for 13 after halftime, and his last throw was intercepted by defensive back Jeremy Baltazar with 16 seconds left.
Asked again about Martinez, Beck said he stuck with him “because he was rusty, and I wanted him to get that rust shaken off.”
“So he needed to play,” Beck said. “Getting him out, when a guy needs to play, is probably not the smartest thing to do.”
Pelini bristled when asked about Martinez and his return, and mentioned the dropped passes being on the receivers.
“Let's not go there and act like Taylor Martinez lost this football game for us,” Pelini said. “Our problems today were far beyond who our quarterback was.”
They had to do with things like inconsistency on first down. Three promising drives that produced only field goals. A costly second-quarter fumble by Ameer Abdullah in a game when the I-back ran for 165 yards on 19 carries.
“We didn't make plays,” Beck said. “All over the field, we just didn't make plays.”
Beck acknowledged that Martinez and his receivers might have been a little out of sync. Physically he thought his quarterback held up OK.
And the start-to-finish outing showed the Husker staff's commitment to and trust in a quarterback making his 43rd career start.
“He had a great run. He had some good passes,” NU receiver Quincy Enunwa said. “It's not always easy to come back off of three games of not playing — plus some bye weeks — and go in and be the T-Magic he was before.”
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the game:
Video: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez after the game:
Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon: