The future is moving on. Luke McCaffrey, at one point in 2020 thought to be the answer at quarterback, is putting his name in the transfer portal and leaving Nebraska. Hail Varsity was able to confirm the report on Tuesday.
McCaffrey later tweeted about his decision.
After struggling with this decision for weeks, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and explore my options. I am thankful for the support Nebraska fans have shown me. I have so much love for my coaches and teammates from my time here. I am excited for the future.
— Luke McCaffrey (@mccaffrey_luke) January 26, 2021
A 6-foot-2, 200-pound Colorado native, McCaffrey played quite the role in his second season in Lincoln. He played in seven of Nebraska’s eight games while making two starts at quarterback. McCaffrey completed 48 of his 76 passes (63.2%) for 466 yards and one touchdown while rushing 65 times for 364 yards and three scores, but he was reckless with the football, throwing six interceptions and fumbling four times.
In the season-opener against Ohio State, McCaffrey flashed the kind of play-anywhere potential that was the talk of the offseason. He went 4-of-5 passing for 55 yards, rushed for 80 yards on nine carries and also had a 5-yard reception. He shared the backfield with starter and junior quarterback Adrian Martinez at one point.
Next time out, against eventual division champ Northwestern, he wasn’t used until Martinez was pulled at the end of the third quarter and McCaffrey was sent in as a replacement quarterback. He completed 12-of-16 passes for 93 yards, and he rushed for 49 yards on eight carries. In a 21-13 loss, he threw a fourth-quarter interception but drove Nebraska toward a near game-tying score late.
McCaffrey made his first career start against Penn State the following week, leading the Huskers to a 30-23 win. McCaffrey completed 13 of his 21 passes for 152 yards, a touchdown and a pick, and he also led Nebraska with 67 rushing yards.
He started the next game as well, but Nebraska was blown out by Illinois and McCaffrey was replaced by Martinez late in the second half.
It was Martinez’s job from that point on.
McCaffrey’s rushing proved his most valuable trait in 2020, where he had 65 carries for 364 yards, both ranking third on the team. But his passing was an adventure.
Entering into the offseason, Martinez figured to be the man holding the reins of the quarterback room moving forward. His 71% completion mark set a single-season program record, and though the highs might not be as electric as McCaffrey’s, the lows weren’t as damaging. Martinez provided Nebraska with consistency in terms of what to expect.
McCaffrey’s decision still comes as something of a shock. It leaves the Huskers with three scholarship quarterbacks for the months ahead––Martinez, redshirt freshman Logan Smothers and true freshman, and early enrollee, Heinrich Haarberg.
During a preseason in which the offense moved “exceptionally” well with McCaffrey at the helm, the younger quarterback very much pushed the incumbent for the starting job. Though he didn’t win, head coach Scott Frost contended he had two guys worthy of starting.
Around Thanksgiving, he doubled down.
“There’s no doubt in my mind Luke McCaffrey is the future around here,” Frost said.
That future is now uncertain. Nebraska was hesitant to change his position full-time, but at the end of the season, Smothers, a true freshman in 2020, served as the backup. In McCaffrey’s absence, Smothers figures to move up a rung.
“He has a little bit of work to do still,” Frost said of the Alabama native. “But what I really like about him is his ability to see the field and make decisions. He makes really quick, decisive decisions. Gets the ball out of his hand and is a really good athlete. Really one of the key things for quarterbacks in this system if they’re going to excel is being able to kind of think fast, and be one step ahead of the game, and I definitely see that trait from him.”
Whereas Nebraska’s first two quarterback signees under Frost (Martinez and McCaffrey) leaned toward runners who can throw, the most recent two (Smothers and Haarberg) might be categorized as throwers who can run.
Martinez will enter into his fourth year on campus but still hold junior eligibility. Smothers will be a freshman in his second year. Haarberg is a freshman in his first year. Don’t count out either of the freshmen if Nebraska chooses to open up the quarterback competition for a third year in a row. On the heels of a 3-5 campaign, it stands to reason that it would.
NU also has walk-on options in fourth-year man Matt Masker and third-year Brayden Miller.