Matching up with the timeline head coach Scott Frost gave Monday morning, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said the Huskers’ coaching staff met last week to discuss the quarterback race. In that meeting, everyone agreed to go with true freshman Adrian Martinez as the team’s starter. Frost instructed Verduzco to call in Martinez and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia to talk with them last Saturday.
The ensuing conversation between Verduzco and Gebbia was night and day compared to the conversation they had Sunday.
“There was no indication to me whatsoever that any of this was going to take place,” Verduzco said Wednesday when he met with the media. “If there was any indication to me, it would have been incumbent upon me to say, ‘Hey Coach Frost, this might take place and we’ve got to be a little forward-thinking and have a plan.’
“I can tell you when I talked to Tristan on Saturday, he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to work as hard as I ever have and when my number’s called, I’ll be ready to go. I’ll be one of Adrian’s biggest supporters.' He thanked me for my professionalism in terms of how we handled it and that he didn’t have to hear it on the internet and all that sort of stuff. I said, ‘Listen, as long as Coach Frost is here those things aren’t going to take place.’”
Saturday night, both Gebbia and Martinez participated in the Boneyard Bash, the team’s annual practice open to students. Sunday morning, Verduzco got a call from Gebbia and the tone was completely different.
“When he called me, he just had a different tone in his voice than when we had talked on Saturday,” Verduzco said.
He said there was no indication from Gebbia what specifically had changed, Verduzco just knew something had.
“He’s such a neat young guy and he answered me when we talked on Saturday in relation to the information I gave him like the champion and the great teammate that I thought he was,” Verduzco said. “That was it and then he called me on Sunday and told me what was different and I could sense it.”
Verduzco said Gebbia didn’t talk with Frost until Monday morning when he let him know his desire to leave. On the Big Ten teleconference call Tuesday between the league’s coaches, Frost said by that point, there was no changing Gebbia’s mind.
Now the team has to move forward. Verduzco said this situation has never happened to him before as a coach but he’s “absolutely” comfortable with walk-on sophomore Andrew Bunch sliding into that No. 2 quarterback position.
“Excited about Bunch,” he said. “Bunch is going to get more reps and the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to get. He’s got a good gun, he’s athletic, he’s intelligent and I suspect he’s going to get better.”
He sees similarities between Bunch this year and Noah Vedral as a freshman at Central Florida last season in terms of their development, their athleticism and their “gun.” If Nebraska can put the game away early against Akron, Verduzco said it would be “tremendous” for Bunch’s development to be able to get him into games the way Vedral was able to play last season.
Of course, that would mean the starting quarterback, Martinez, can build up enough of a cushion to where the staff can call off the dogs. Verduzco said Martinez looks as good as he has since they watched him on film.
“I think once he started getting his stroke back, particularly within the last two weeks, once he got that cranked up, he was ripping the ball really well,” Verduzco said. “We talked about the ‘cha-ching’ thing and that’s just a goofy way of us talking about the rhythm of the stroke. It was just slow and it was a matter of him feeling that and reminding him over and over and over about that, whether he was throwing the ball 35 yards downfield, throwing the ball on the run or if he was just in more of a pocket.
“Once that started to take place, he started ripping the ball like we thought he could.”
Verduzco said the play-calling might change a bit with the hit to the depth in the quarterback room, that Frost could be “a little more judicious about designed quarterback runs” for Martinez but he assured that Martinez would get his share of runs and the team would do what it needs to win games.
Amidst all the change of the last few days, there has been no change in tone from Martinez. He’s handled everything how the staff knew he would.
“And I told him if I did see a shift, I’d cut his freaking head off,” Verduzco said. “He’s been working hard since the moment he got here really.”
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.