Nebraska’s two quarterbacks were told they’d both play Friday against Iowa.
“Our plan was to play two series and put Luke in,” head coach Scott Frost said after the 26-20 loss.
And for the first half, Frost largely stuck to the plan. Adrian Martinez, a junior and the team’s starter for the first two games this year, got the first two drives. Those possessions yielded 33 yards in 10 plays and two punts.
Then came in redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey, a starter for Nebraska’s win over Penn State and last week’s loss to Illinois. McCaffrey got the next two drives, leading field goal marches of 11 plays/62 yards and six plays/22 yards.
Martinez got the last drive of the first half—an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive—and then the first of the third quarter—an eight-play, 70 yard touchdown drive. McCaffrey got four plays on a drive midway through the fourth quarter, but it was Martinez the rest of the way.
“We graded every rep last week in practice and they were dead even,” Frost said. “Both completed 81% of their passes in practice. Both had two turnovers, one of which wasn’t their fault. We’ve got two good young players, two good quarterbacks.
“I said last week, Luke’s the future of this program. There’s no doubt what kind of player I think he’s going to be. I just don’t know if that future is now or when Adrian’s all done at Nebraska. But I’ve been I’ve been doubted in Nebraska as a quarterback. Adrian’s felt that too. I was proud of how he responded.”
The whole team was.
Martinez battled. A team captain, the experienced vet—because that’s what Martinez is at this point, weird as it is to say—was 18-for-20 throwing the ball for 174 yards. He added 28 yards rushing and a score on the ground. No interceptions, but no touchdowns. He had the one fumble at the end of the game, a strip sack that ended a potential game-winning drive, but he might be at least partly excused for that.
“I walked up to Adrian after the game and told him I loved him,” wideout Wan’Dale Robinson said. “I’m glad he’s my quarterback. He fought his ass off, excuse my language.”
Players around the quarterbacks have been quick to shoot down any notion that going back and forth between the two guys causes any kind of hiccups. Given the number of reps Nebraska gets in practice, there’s enough to go around, everyone says. “They’re really interchangeable,” Robinson said.
Perhaps there should be a little more separation after Friday’s game, though.
In the first half alone, Martinez had as many 20-yard completions as McCaffrey had had in the previous two weeks combined. Martinez looked downfield. Nebraska got a few more shots.
That vertical game is still very much a work in progress, but Martinez had perhaps his best throw of the year when he identified his 6-foot-8 tight end, Austin Allen, and put the ball in a spot where literally only Allen could make a play. It was going to be a big completion, or it’d fall harmlessly out of bounds.
I don’t even care what they rule it.
Give Austin Allen an extra piece of pie after this. pic.twitter.com/RnWxnuPxMr
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) November 27, 2020
That one went for 23 yards. Nebraska scored to tie the game at 13-all three plays later.
Martinez looked good on the first possession of the third quarter as well, moving the offense methodically down the field, going through his progressions, and keeping things on schedule. There wasn’t a negative play or a penalty on the possession and Nebraska turned that into a 20-13 lead.
“I feel good out there,” Martinez said. “I believe (quarterback coach Mario) Verduzco did a great job of preparing myself and Luke this week. We had a really solid game plan. I felt really good about my approach and mindset. And the guys around me. Obviously, there’s room for improvement. There always is. We could have put more points up on the board and finished a couple more drives but we’re going to continue to get better.”
Like Martinez said, there’s still work to be done, the opening possession of the third featured the Huskers’ last points of the day.
“We need to continue to hit a few more of the easy things that (defenses) give us that we miss at that position, particularly in the pass game,” Frost said. “I thought we threw it downfield better. I thought both guys managed the game well when they’re in.
“We got two good players, we’ll continue to let them compete.”
Martinez says he’ll continue to try to do things the right way.
“Regardless of whether I’m the starter, the backup, whatever role I have on this team, I want to be the best leader, the best captain, and teammate I can possibly be,” he said. “So, I think it puts some things in perspective for me and allowed me to approach practice and each day with a better mindset.”