Husker QB Adrian Martinez is working to keep teammates upbeat. 'No pointing fingers with him’

Players call Adrian Martinez “2AM,” a nod to his number and initials. His work wasn’t done as he walked off Folsom Field; the trip home was time to talk to more teammates.

LINCOLN — Isaac Armstrong had been a collegiate kicker all of three days when he lined up for a 48-yard field goal to keep his team alive. No reasonable oddsmaker would have given him much of a chance to make it, and Armstrong didn’t come close to making it.

But it didn’t soften his devastation as Colorado students swarmed around him after the Buffaloes’ 34-31 win over NU. In that moment of shock and doubt, Armstrong got a visit from the teammate who’s subject to the most scrutiny, who has gone, in the span of two weeks, from a precocious Heisman Trophy contender to the guy whose name is dragged most through the mud on message boards.

Before anyone else did, Adrian Martinez told Armstrong to keep his head up.

“I was pretty miserable after the game,” Armstrong said Tuesday. “He was the first to come up to me and assure me the loss wasn’t on me.”

And, indeed, Armstrong did not wear it. No one indicted the senior punter who’s become a pinch kicker for Nebraska because the starter has an undisclosed injury.

“This isn’t on him,” coach Scott Frost said after the loss.

No, it was Martinez, among the players, who had to shoulder the criticism. He fumbled three times, losing two. He was picked off once. And even if he played a hand in every NU touchdown — throwing two, running for two — Martinez had apparently concerned his coach enough for Frost to play it safe in overtime.

“I didn’t want to risk throwing an interception, or losing the ball,” Frost said.

It was, for a man who preaches no fear of failure, a notable statement of caution.

And thus Martinez had to answer for it Monday.

Reporter: “How does that make you feel, to know that’s going through his mind?”

Martinez: “Yeah, well, I mean, I trust Coach Frost. Whatever he’s calling, I know there is a thought process behind it and one that I side with. I trust him as a playcaller — and what he is calling — and it’s my job to execute it. Whether he wants to throw the ball, run the ball, we as players have to make it work. We have to.”

It’s a dutifulness drilled into him, in part, by his position coach, Mario Verduzco, who is often at Martinez’s side before and after practices. Verduzco told Martinez after a lackluster first game against South Alabama that, in tandem, they’d own the shaky performance.

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from

For Saturday’s game at Colorado, Martinez was coached not to keep on an inverted read play that featured Maurice Washington sweeping around an unblocked defensive end toward the sideline. The first, disastrous play of overtime? That was the play. CU’s end came up quickly, and Martinez, had he gone rogue, could have run behind a block of right tackle Matt Farniok, who purposely let the end go in order to block a linebacker.

Martinez gave. Washington gained nothing.

“That’s how we were practicing it all week, how we were going about things, thinking that the running back was going to get outside that defensive end,” Martinez said. “Hindsight’s always 20-20, but me being the competitor I am, I maybe wish I could have kept it and got a better result. But that’s just the thinking in my head.”

Two plays later, Martinez took a sack while waiting for receiver Wan’Dale Robinson to pop open behind CU’s linebackers. Armstrong missed the field goal after that. Game over. Gut punch loss. Message boards on fire. Phone lines burning up. A Husker team, in the locker room, feeling awful.

Martinez’s job wasn’t done. He worked his way around the locker room, talking to individual teammates. He told the group to remember the feeling, the depth of the loss, and use it going forward. With the media, he was given a chance to opine on yet another bad snap — delivered before the fateful sack — and Martinez didn’t take the bait.

“Regardless of the snap, who gives a (expletive)? You know? I’ve got to be able to make the play,” Martinez said Saturday.

And then, on the trip home, he doubled back and talked to more teammates, further embracing the role Frost asked him last spring to assume. It is perhaps hardest after a loss, when hope built in weight rooms and practice fields feels fleeting, distant.

“I was trying to go around and talk to guys and keep them up and continued that on the bus and plane, the whole way through,” Martinez said. “That’s part of the process. I think guys appreciate it — and guys don’t always have to vocalize their feelings to me — but, being a captain, a leader, it’s my job to get us going in the right direction.”

He’s completed 60% of his passes. He’s third in the Big Ten at 9.8 yards per attempt. Including sacks, he’s carrying the ball 16 times per game — only Army’s triple-option quarterback is averaging more among signal callers. His No. 2 receiver is a true freshman; his No. 3 receiver is a running back. On passing downs, according to Football Outsiders, he is being sacked 21.7% of the time. This ranks last in college football.

Martinez shoulders the blame in public. According to teammates, he’s no different in the locker room.

“No pointing fingers with him,” Armstrong said.

“He’ll put it on himself before anyone else,” Farniok said.

And even Frost — who has high standards and goals for Martinez — by Monday had firm, full praise for his quarterback. Martinez was efficient and courageous, Frost said. He can get better, but so can players around him.

But Frost will say, too, the most pointed thing.

“We’re going to go as far as Adrian takes us,” he said.

That’s the quarterback role at Nebraska. Frost lived it. Martinez does now.

“My teammates knew I was playing my tail off out there for them, and they were doing the same for me,” Martinez said. “I think they appreciated that and respected it.”