Adrian Martinez runs past Iowa defender
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10 Most Intriguing Huskers: No. 1 Adrian Martinez

June 10, 2020

Now in its third year as a summer series, we’re looking at Huskers who could be major swing factors in Nebraska’s upcoming season. And we’ve reached the end.

Already covered: 

No. 1: Adrian Martinez

What can I write about Adrian Martinez that hasn’t already been written by now?

His 2019 season has been dissected every which way in every corner of the Nebraska-sphere. He was good throwing up the seam. He was bad throwing to the sideline. Some say he was too hesitant to run. Others say he looked too heavy to run. He was hurt. “He regressed.” Eyeballs gotta be in the right place. Decisions gotta come faster. 

Martinez, at least how I look at it, was crippled by the situation last season. If it wasn’t snaps going awry it was receivers not helping him out. When receivers were doing their job, the time to throw wasn’t there. When there was time, Martinez looked conflicted on what to do with it. Was a worse-than-let-on injury to blame for not wanting to tuck and run? 

Nebraska is buttoned-up about player health so we probably won’t get the answer to that question, or clarity on just how hampered he was. No doubt, though, Martinez’s sophomore campaign is going to go down as a maddeningly weird one. Nearly 100 fewer passing attempts than in his freshman season, only 10 touchdowns to go against nine picks, a sub-60 completion percentage and a slightly higher per-play average. 

Are you a glass half full person, or a glass have empty?

I tend to err on the side of optimism when it comes to NU’s quarterback, that 2019 Adrian Martinez isn’t an indicator of 2020 Adrian Martinez. A Freshman All-American quarterback doesn’t just lose his ability overnight. What we saw in 2018 is still in there, and, mind you, this is about to be his junior season. These things take time.

"Martinez getting banged up early set the tone," one anonymous coach told 247 Sports’ Garrett Stepien. "To be blunt, he was a better player in 2018. That's most likely because of the injury. They have to improve around him. They need better receivers for what they want to do, but the offense has a lot coming back. It's on Martinez to get back to that level.”

I have a hard time believing the departure of JD Spielman—who would have been NU’s leading returning receiver, the first man in program history with three 800-yard receiving seasons—is going to have a positive effect on the team rather than a negative one, considering Nebraska is still in the “Talent Acquisition” phase of its rebuild. 

Still, Martinez has high-level replacement options at wideout, an offensive line that should be (needs to be) one of the better units in the conference and a senior running back who could threaten 1,000 yards on the ground. 

Problem areas last season are easily identifiable, and that’s at least encouraging.

Martinez had the most rushing attempts (144) of any Nebraska player last season. “That’s something that Coach Frost probably doesn’t want to have happen on a consistent basis,” quarterback coach Mario Verduzco said in March. Fourteen runs a game from the quarterback is a big number, but Nebraska ran the ball nearly 60% of the time and Martinez is a dynamic runner when healthy. Taking away that dual element of his game is not something NU’s going to do, but finding a way to marry it more appropriately to the rest of the offense so as to keep him upright for an entire season is going to be important.

Martinez had the second-most interceptions in the Big Ten last season. Seven of them came in the first half, six of them on first down. Tempo was a topic of conversation. Nebraska’s got to be able to get rolling for the offense to be successful and putting yourself behind the eight ball runs counter to that goal. 

On throws outside the pocket, Martinez completed just 42.6% of his throws for 7.1 yards a pop. On play-action throws, he completed 52.3% for 5.9 yards a toss. That’s not going to cut it. 

“As we went through the film analysis and he and I looked at it and sat down and talked, it was just about making certain that his eyeballs are in the right spot,” Verduzco said. “When they’re in the right spot, he’s pretty good now.”

Eyes are giveaways. When it comes to manipulating a defense, they can either be your friend, or they can betray you.

“He did pretty good, but there were some times he could have helped himself and helped the team by being a little more disciplined with his eyeballs, in terms of where they belonged,” Verduzco said. “It wasn’t a healthy amount of times, it was just in some instances where (he’d say), ‘Man, what are you doing with your eyes, Bub?’”

Martinez was legitimately one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten throwing against single-high safety looks and Cover 2 coverages. But when defenses played Cover 3, he struggled mightily.

I wrote this on the quarterback in February:

It’s true that he missed open receivers, electing to throw into coverage instead. It’s true he trusted his arm strength a little too much at times, or trusted he could fit a ball into too tight a window. But when you watched Martinez late in 2019, you saw a guy out there with shaken confidence. If you’re thinking about missing a throw, you’re going to miss a throw. Then you spiral. Martinez was frustrated.
How much of his flustered state of being last year while throwing from the pocket had to do with protection and snap issues? We’ll find that out pretty early on in 2020 if the snap has worked itself out. How much of it had to do with defenses simply having film on the kid and knowing what to do on the back end of their coverages in order to confuse or manipulate him?
That’s something you can be positive Verduzco, Frost and Martinez have spent and will spend a good deal of time on this offseason: reading coverages. Martinez won’t be facing a Don Brown defense in 2020 but the last five teams on the schedule will most likely task Martinez with beating them with his arm if he wants to leave with a win.

“I've lived this,” Frost said. “When a team struggles, the team's struggles are the quarterback's struggles, and the quarterback's struggles are the team's struggles. He cares as much as anybody on our team and wants to win as much as anybody on our team. He takes that hard just like I would or just like you would. I can say he seems like he's in a really good frame of mind right now.”

Noah Vedral electing to transfer to Rutgers is a pretty good sign of where the quarterback competition stands. Martinez didn’t spend this offseason resting on any laurels. There are two young quarterbacks behind him who could both legitimately take his job this season. That he’s still the guy isn’t blind faith or playing favorites. If you trust this coaching staff’s ability to evaluate talent before it gets to campus (most do, I do), there’s nothing yet to suggest you should doubt their ability to put the right players on the field once they get to Lincoln. 

Frost said last season that Nebraska would go as far as Martinez would take them. 

The same can be said for this season. With a remade defense, and an almost completely new receiving corps, he’s maybe even more integral in setting the ceiling.

Don’t jump off the bandwagon. 

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