Is it Time for the One Hit Nebraska Hasn't Taken Yet?
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Is it Time for the One Hit Nebraska Hasn’t Taken Yet?

November 04, 2019

I’ve found myself falling back on a Scott Frost axiom: “It’s never as bad as you think, never as good as you think.” A lot of what’s out there is overreaction. Criticism is earned, at this point, but the loudest microphones are just putting out noise, I think. Nebraska is porous at a lot of things but can be really good at doing some things for fleeting stretches. Teams don’t lose so many games like this without showing something. Nebraska’s offense did close with 75-yard and 71-yard scoring drives to twice take fourth-quarter leads and Nebraska’s defense did begin the game with a five-drive sequence in which it gave up 34 yards and produced two takeaways. 

Putting three phases of the game together, and doing it for all four quarters, remains Nebraska’s biggest problem. Fixing that continues to prove difficult because it means isolating and fixing about a dozen little problems all on the fly. 

One potential little thing I’ve been thinking about: should Nebraska let its quarterbacks get hit in practice?

If the Huskers believe they will play how they practice, then why not try and put one of the most critical positions on the field in the most game-like setting possible when you can control the environment? The green non-contact jerseys were necessary last year when the Huskers were an ankle turn at quarterback away from being in a shaky situation. But with three more-than-capable scholarship quarterbacks on the roster (and another arriving next season), it might be time to ditch them. 

It might help address two things: decision-making on offense, finishing on defense. 

Sophomore Adrian Martinez has taken a step back this season. Almost inexplicably so. Before the year began, I wondered whether this season or next would be the year Nebraska felt pressure to win big so as to not waste what looked like a truly special talent at quarterback. Now, nine games into the year, the question has shifted. Nebraska is now asking itself how it broke a truly special talent at quarterback. 

He’s completing 59.5 percent of his passes, ninth among qualified Big Ten throwers, behind names like Jack Plummer and Nate Stanley. Martinez is 14th in touchdowns thrown, has more interceptions than all but Plummer, has seen his rushing success dip, and has more fumbles than any other player in the league. 

At times, the game looks like it’s moving too fast. At times, Martinez looks like his instincts say “tuck and run” and his brain screams “wait and make a throw” and he bleeds both options dry. 

Is there a benefit to be gained if that same play is happening in practice and there’s the threat of a 240-pound linebacker popping the quarterback instead of training his mind to think there’s extra time to stand and make a throw because the hit isn’t coming? Maybe. There’s certainly a benefit to building a habit of protecting the ball when getting hit. A former player astutely pointed out earlier in the season to watch when Martinez falls, that rather than protecting the ball, he braces for the ground and ball security becomes a secondary priority. 

Does the quarterback have more time to make a play in practice, so he strings things out rather than making a decision and rolling with it? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I don’t know if opening that group up to some punishment throughout the week would help, but we might be at a point where Nebraska has to try something outside the box. 

It may also help the Blackshirts find a finishing move. Tackling is starting to creep back into the conversation. This kind of play, a would-be sack to make it third-and-super-long that instead became a 19-yard run into the red zone, seems to happen more often than it should; Nebraska is closing in on a should-be sack it doesn’t end up getting. 

The defense has six sacks in the last four games. It’s hard to work on bringing the quarterback down in practice when you can’t bring the quarterback down. 

Maybe this is off-base. Could be. But something is off. Watch that Martinez clip again and you see (if you didn’t the first time) Frost pleading with his quarterback to just take off with the ball. Where there was harmony between coach and quarterback last year, there exists a disconnect this season.

Until the Huskers can figure out why, and, more importantly, how to correct it, things are going to look how they did against Purdue, and how they’ve looked off and on all season. Never as bad as you think, but the silver linings are growing fewer and farther between. 

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