The quarterback battle was the most popular story line from the preseason, and the season-opener against Ohio State backed up Scott Frost’s words about Nebraska having two quarterbacks they feel comfortable with.
“Having two good players that are good people too and that are friends, I think they are both rooting for each other, pulling for each other,” Frost said last week. “There’s a lot of situations where having both of them on the field gives us some of our best players out there.”
According to the Huskers themselves, the relationship between the two quarterbacks has turned what could normally be a somewhat awkward situation into a possible advantage for Nebraska.
“It probably just makes it easier, more healthy,” Frost said. “Both of them deserve to play, that’s what I said before. I think you could see that in that game. They both ran hard, they both threw the ball well. They both did things well, so they both deserve to play. If we can find ways to get them both out there, we will.”
The quarterback position is unlike almost any other in football. Rotation is common at a lot of other spots, but for the most part, a team’s starting quarterback is going to be out there for every meaningful snap barring injury (or equipment failure, as we saw against the Buckeyes).
When McCaffrey arrived on campus as an early-enrollee in January of 2019, Martinez had only one year in the program under his belt; though he won the starting job as a freshman, he was far from a grizzled veteran. Yet instead of seeing the newcomer with a famous name as an adversary, he took him under his wing.
Last week, a reporter asked McCaffrey about his relationship with Martinez.
“I could go on and list for days what I appreciate about him, but one of the things I talked about last week is how when I first got here he took me in,” McCaffrey said. “He saw it as competition but then he also understands what our team needs to do to win, so he has that balance so well-knit that everyone on our team can see it and everyone can see the competitiveness in him and how he really will do anything needed to win games. That’s probably what I would say is most appreciated.”
I don’t think there’s a starting quarterback anywhere that wouldn’t be annoyed by being taken out of the game, especially when the head coach has spent the last month speaking so highly of the back-up.
Conversely, there aren’t a lot of players who see themselves at quarterback that embrace converting to or contributing at other positions. McCaffrey has some experience doing just that, however. During his sophomore year of high school at Valor Christian in Colorado, McCaffrey plays primarily wide receiver while his older brother Dylan started at quarterback.
“To be able to play with him was a very unique and special experience,” McCaffrey said. “That’s something, now that I’m here, as good of a guy as Adrian is and as appreciative as I am of Coach Frost and Coach Verduzco, it’s another unique situation where I’m very thankful that I have those guys on my team and in my corner. A big reason I played receiver in high school at all was my brother was the quarterback, and now a big reason I’m playing it is because I have those two coaches and Adrian also by my side and so to have those people in my corner and on my team, I’ll fight for them.”
Martinez spoke on Monday about the way he embraced McCaffrey as both a teammate and a competitor.
“I believe it was the right thing to do, simply because I care a lot about this program and the culture that we set,” Martinez said. “So when he first got here, I wanted to make sure I established a good relationship with him and helped him with anything he needed. It was pretty apparent right away that Luke was a really smart guy, a hard-working guy. He wasn’t going to need a ton of help, I should say.
“I truly believe in this program and making sure we’re headed in the right direction, and that means bringing in all guys, and especially for me, the quarterback room. I want to make sure our guys are where they need to be and Verdu has done a great job of establishing that, and that’s our culture. We look after each other and at the end of the day, we’re all wearing that N on the helmet.”
Against Ohio State, Nebraska’s quarterbacks completed 80% of their passes for 160 yards and ran the ball 22 times for 165 yards and a touchdown, though both quarterbacks lost a fumble.
Overall, Martinez said outside of a couple throws he felt he was pretty efficient. His focus is on continuing to be decisive and run hard, and obviously bell security is always an emphasis.
“Obviously the turnover was big,” Martinez said. “It really let them get ahead of us — I don’t want to say put us out of the game, but my fumble was definitely a big moment and it can’t happen. I‘ve had trouble in the past with turnovers and it’s something that we have to limit in order for us to be a good football team.”
That will be the case for both Martinez and McCaffrey moving forward, but Frost appears to like the two quarterback dynamic for this year’s team and the combined 330 yards between them shows why. How that room and the two-quarterback usage evolves as the season plays out will be worth monitoring closely as we look ahead to the future of the quarterback position at Nebraska beyond 2020, but for the time being, all parties appear to have embraced their roles for the good of the team.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.