Who won the day yesterday? The headliner at Nebraska’s annual Red-White scrimmage was new head coach Scott Frost returning to a sideline he once owned, but his new protege stole the show. True freshman Adrian Martinez had the flash and the touchdowns to endear himself to a near-capacity crowd, but he wasn’t even the most efficient quarterback on his team. Tristan Gebbia has largely been overlooked.
The redshirt freshman quarterback ended the afternoon with 125 yards, two scores, a 70 percent completion clip, a 171 passer rating and a gem of an over-the-shoulder throw to wideout Jaevon McQuitty on the first play of the game. Gebbia was the first quarterback on the field for the team that was loaded with presumed starters and didn’t make any mistakes. For a practice against a somewhat muted defense, he was still pretty good.
So why are we not talking about him more? Why was Frost asked about Martinez specifically and not Gebbia? (The answer here is, admittedly, an obvious one.)
In any matter, Frost's answer to a question regarding a specific quarterback was telling.
"In a game like that, you might be the guy that’s in there when the right play is called and the right guy is open, you might be the guy that’s in there when somebody misses a protection and you get sacked," he said. "Quarterbacks can look good or bad through no fault of their own."
Gebbia's first two drives of the day didn't look great. They featured play counts that ventured into the double digits and turnovers on downs. But he also scored touchdowns on his next three full drives (there was a two-play “drive” that ended the first half in between), punctuated by a seven-play, 74-yard scoring spurt and a four-play, 75-yarder. Maybe more important than anything, he didn’t turn it over.
“Tristan did a great job with just leading the offense, great decision making,” the Red’s play-caller and team’s offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “I thought he looked comfortable running the ball, throwing the ball in this offense and that’s what we’re going to need.”
The Calabasas, California, native has done work this offseason. His huskers.com profile lists no change in size from Year One to Year Two, but Gebbia has added bulk (and height?) to his frame. He’s stayed after almost every practice in the spring to work on routes with receivers, sometimes upwards of an hour after the coaches leave the field. His roommate says he’s football all the time.
“I’m just trying to rest and Tristan will be like, ‘You want to go run routes today?’” wideout Tyjon Lindsey says. “And I’m like, ‘No Tristan, just chill for a little bit.’
“I love Tristan because he’s always been on my head since I got here. Without Tristan, I wouldn’t be where I am because he has that mentality to go 110 percent every time. He always wants to work.”
Gebbia is, obviously, in the midst of what appears to be an uncomfortably close quarterback competition. Frost said they're not going to judge or anoint a starter solely base on Saturday. Those that predict Martinez wins the job point to his true dual-threat nature and his hand-in-glove fit within Frost’s offense. But, Gebbia showed he’s more than a capable runner — maybe more so than he was being given credit for.
He looked comfortable.
There’s still a ways to go in terms of moving from “comfortable” to “in command,” though; UCF transfer Noah Vedral said early in the spring things didn’t click for him until the eighth or ninth game of 2017. Walters said it’ll be important for Gebbia and the other quarterbacks to “make sure that they continue to learn the offensive system [in the summer] so when we come back in fall camp we don’t start from scratch.”
Gebbia was pretty vanilla after the game, but he did agree he’s still got some adjusting to do.
“We aren’t where we want to be,” he said. “First I had to get adjusted to it because I am used to coming out of the huddle and looking for safeties and what does the box look like, but now it’s, ‘Okay, signal, where is everyone at and what is everyone doing?’ It’s a little different. As time passes, we’ll get adjusted to it.”