MADISON, Wisc. — Adrian Martinez has played through both a broken jaw and a high ankle sprain this season, and Saturday the Husker quarterback added another issue: Some sort of injury to his throwing arm or shoulder.
Neither Martinez nor Scott Frost would fully elaborate after the game, but Martinez “had some doubts” about whether he’d play in the second half. Backup Logan Smothers came into the game on the final series of the first half. Martinez tossed the ball around just before the start of the second half, then played every snap.
“I needed to see how I was doing out there on the field, but we made it happen,” Martinez said.
He threw for 351 yards and became NU’s career leader in total offense. He threw two interceptions as well. The second of those may have been because of Martinez’s injury, Frost said. Martinez wouldn’t cop to that.
“I don’t like to make excuses, so that’s just a bad throw,” Martinez said.
Frost paused for several seconds when asked how close Martinez was to not playing in the second half.
“He’s a tough kid,” Frost said, nearly overcome with emotion. “I think there’s a lot of people who wouldn’t have played in several of the games he’s played in this year.”
In playing two snaps, Smothers burned his redshirt for the 2021 season. He’s now appeared in five games this season — Fordham, Buffalo, Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Against Northwestern, Smothers also played for one drive because Martinez got hurt.
'Too angry for an explanation'
Frost said he was “too angry to ask for an explanation” on the official's decision not to throw a flag on NU’s final offensive play of the game, when it appeared Husker receiver Zavier Betts absorbed a big bump from a Wisconsin defensive back on a fourth-and-20 throw near the Badger end zone.
A pass interference penalty there would have given Nebraska one more play with four seconds left at around the UW 10-yard line.
“I said, ‘You need to throw a flag on me because’ — I don’t want to talk about it,” Frost said. Frost was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Martinez declined to comment on the no-call as well, but he appreciated Frost’s willingness to stand up for his players.
“We appreciate the fight,” Martinez said. “But, I mean, there’s no reversing that call.”
New look at running back
A new position coach helped lead to an all-new running back rotation for Nebraska.
The Huskers rolled with a three-man attack against Wisconsin made up of rushers who were seldom used this season. Starter Markese Stepp (nine carries for 18 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin) had just six combined attempts in the previous seven games. Walk-on Brody Belt (seven for 31) didn’t appear in the last two contests. Marvin Scott (nine for 29 and a score) hadn’t played since Fordham in early September.
“Coach (Ron) Brown made a decision that he felt he was comfortable with and decided to lean on me and Marv,” Stepp said. “We went out there and did what we could, ran hard. I think we fared well. I don’t know if that defense has been tested like that all year and they’ve faced some pretty good teams.”
The trio combined for 78 yards and 3.12 yards per carry against a Badger defense that entered leading the nation by allowing just 1.90 yards per try.
Some of the change was forced. Previous starter Rahmir Johnson didn’t travel after getting injured late against Ohio State two weeks ago. Second-year freshman Sevion Morrison entered the transfer portal last week. And early-season standout Gabe Ervin has been out with a knee injury since September.
That left Stepp, Belt and Scott along with the only other NU scholarship back, Jaquez Yant, who traveled but didn’t play.
“Nobody’s really separated,” Frost said of the position. “… We’d be a better team if we had one guy at the front of the pack and it’s been a group of guys. Taking nothing away from them — thought they all played well tonight.”
Martinez, who ran for 23 yards on nine attempts, said the backs ran hard and were where they needed to be.
Stepp said the group is up for one more challenge against Iowa as each player gives an audition of sorts for the offseason ahead.
“Another game where we come up short,” Stepp said. “Yeah, we have losses. But I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily a losing team. Our attitude isn’t losers. We’re not losers, we’re really winners. We just have to find a way to get the little things done.”
Debut for Fidone
Thomas Fidone knew early in the week he would be part of his first Nebraska game plan. It didn’t make his debut any less thrilling for the Huskers’ top-rated recruit from its 2021 class.
The true freshman tight end first appeared on the last play of NU’s first drive. On a second-and-goal play from the Wisconsin 1, Fidone was in motion as a lead blocker on a sequence where Stepp scored. He said he had a “nice little welcome-to-the-Big-Ten hit” when he ran into a Badger defensive end.
“He got the win and I didn’t,” Fidone said. “Something to learn from and keep on improving.”
The action was the culmination of months of rehab after Fidone tore his ACL in late April during spring workouts. Fidone will redshirt this season, but the Council Bluffs Lewis Central grad said he would relish a chance to contribute next week against Iowa.
“The whole team wants to win,” Fidone said. “We want to win and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to stay home and win.”
Big night for Touré
While Austin Allen was setting Nebraska tight end records, Samori Touré collected a few accolades as well with a big night.
The senior receiver finished with seven catches for 113 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown out of a bunch formation that tied the game at 14 in the second quarter. The Montana transfer logged his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season, tying the mark held by Stanley Morgan from 2017.
“We went into the game knowing that we were going to take shots, take shots, take shots and hopefully that would open up the run game,” Touré said. “It worked. We were moving the ball a lot with ease throughout that first half. It just comes down to finishing drives and making the plays that we need in crunch-time moments. We’re just so close but we’re not there.”
Touré's 42-yard catch and run on NU’s first play from scrimmage set the tone for a unit that would punish Wisconsin’s vaunted defense like no one else has this year.
Touré, at 831 receiving yards this year, has an outside shot at cracking the 1,000-yard plateau against Iowa. He’s currently eighth on the school’s single-season receiving list.
“It’s just hard when you battle all game and feel like you do a lot of things right,” Touré said. “It’s just not enough.”