Eight minutes and 13 seconds into the second half, Nebraska’s offense took the field. Maurice Washington bounced left on first down for 7 yards, then right on second for 16 yards. Adrian Martinez took a quarterback keeper up the middle for 5 yards then Washington picked up 6 more between the tackles on second for another first down.
With Washington on the bench for the entire first half, Nebraska’s ground game—last year a top-15 rushing attack nationally—sputtered to 51 yards on 30 carries. The first four plays of the second half, three of them Washington’s by design, Nebraska had picked up 34. Nebraska was in business.
On first-and-10 from South Alabama’s 41, Nebraska sent Washington on a wheel route down the left hash. Four Jaguar defenders were in the vicinity and Martinez forced it to him anyway. Mike Williams stood wide open near the left sideline. A crucial miss from the Huskers’ star quarterback on a day filled with them.
“After the interception, I just said, ‘Let that one go, you were late with it,’” quarterback coach Mario Verduzco said Wednesday. His eyes failed him.
Verduzco gives his quarterbacks (and himself) 24 hours to mourn. A play, a drive, a game, you have 24 hours to dwell on it, and when those 24 hours are up its time to move on to the next week and the next opponent. On Monday, Martinez seemed laser-focused on this week. On his 2019 debut, he simply said his teammates deserved better.
When Verduzco met with the media later in the week, he didn’t baby the sophomore, but he also did his best to shift some of that blame onto himself.
“Both of us were piss poor,” he said. “He’s just a young guy, man. I’m charged with the duty of getting him ready to go and I didn’t do a very good job. I’ve got to get better.
“I probably could have been a little bit more, let’s say, detailed or hard on him about making certain his eyeballs were in the right place because that was the issue with regards to some of his errant throws.”
Verduzco doesn’t watch his quarterback when the game is going on. He watches the coverage Martinez is looking at. At the snap, Verduzco knows where the ball needs to end up and if it doesn’t get there, he gets a reason from Martinez on the sideline but he won’t see for himself until Sunday when he goes back over the film.
Saturday he was confused by what he was seeing. Sunday he knew exactly what was wrong. Eyeballs, as Verduzco said probably 15 times Wednesday, weren’t where they were supposed to be.
“Obviously I was distraught, if you want to call it that, Saturday night but when I came in and watched the tape, all that stuff is just simple stuff,” he said. “The interception he threw, his eyeballs were just in the wrong place. He knows better than that. He hasn’t done that all camp.
“And then on the first errant throw, we were on the right hash and it was the same thing. Is it acceptable? Absolutely not. Did it make me a little more fired up that he wasn’t totally mentally ill and all that sort of business? Yeah.”
The first errant throw was a first-quarter third-and-12 ball from the shadow of Martinez’s own end zone. JD Spielman and Kanawai Noa lined up on the right side of the formation, Noa ran a post, Spielman ran a corner route. Spielman’s guy got hung up at the intersection and Martinez missed him, instead throwing to Noa without seeing the safety sitting on the top of the route. Probably should have been an interception.
Martinez’s whole family was in town for the game. That have an impact on his play? What about the cameras in his face from the time he stepped on the field? Pressure to live up to expectations? Aliens that came down the night before to take his brain? (OK, Verduzco gets the creative credit for that scenario.)
“We can rationalize it a boatload of ways but, ‘Hey, you were wrong. Don’t do it again. You know better,’” Verduzco said.
A lot of the offensive woes Saturday just come down to that simple fact. As for the snapping issues in the game, Verduzco said that’s just not something he’ll use as an excuse.
“Certainly [throws his timing off], his feet and his eyeballs and the whole chute,” Verduzco said. “I don’t worry about that. We’ve talked about that at particular times, he just can’t worry about that. He’s just got to play the game. It has an impact, but that doesn’t have anything to do with him having his eyeballs in the wrong place on an interception. We’ve just got to get through that. He’ll be fine.”
Verduzco said snaps this week have been better. Not perfect, but better. Cam Jurgens said they’re quickly correctable.
As for Martinez’s response this week in practice?
“Been great,” Verduzco said. “He’s fine. Ready to go.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.