Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost and quarterback Adrian Martinez talk on the field before the Red and White Spring Game
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Has a Turnover Problem and Players Have Put Emphasis on Fixing It

July 23, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Frost is excited about his 2021 roster. The head coach said so a number of times Thursday during Nebraska’s various availabilities at Big Ten Media Days. It’s not just excitement either. It’s confidence.

“Part of this is talent, part of that is just the character of the young men on our team and the culture surrounding the team,” Frost said. “I’m excited for this season, we got to go earn whatever respect we get and so far we haven’t done enough of that but our players are really excited to do it.

“We really have been focusing on the things that we needed to fix as a football team.”

Turnovers have defined a lot of Frost’s tenure at Nebraska so far. They certainly did in 2020.

During the 2020 season, Nebraska won the turnover battle only once. That was in a win against Penn State. The Huskers were even against Northwestern (a loss) and Purdue (a win). As Derek Peterson wrote in late December: “Win the turnover battle: win the game. Lose the turnover battle: lose the game. Cancel out your giveaways with equivalent takeaways: the game is a toss-up.”

Over Nebraska’s eight games in 2020, the Huskers averaged 2.3 giveaways and only 0.9 takeaways per game. That was good for the most giveaways a Nebraska team has averaged since the 2012 season. Even worse, it was the least takeaways for the Huskers since 2007.

A lot of the focus has fallen on the quarterbacks. “No more frickin’ turnovers,” quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said in the spring about what he wants to see as improvement from Adrian Martinez in 2021. Of the Huskers’ 18 total turnovers in 2020, 16 came from Martinez and Luke McCaffrey. Looking specifically at Martinez though, he lost a Big Ten-high of five fumbles last season. He currently leads all FBS players with 15 career fumbles lost.

Tight end Austin Allen isn’t worried about Martinez heading into 2021 despite the numbers. Something is different about the quarterback, something he tried to quantify a number of times when asked in Indianapolis.

“Adrian is super, super confident right now,” Allen said. “That’s all I’ve got to say about it. He has nothing to lose. He’ll tell you that he has had a couple of off years, the last couple of years. He had a great freshman year, trimmed down 15 pounds this last offseason. He’s the second fastest guy on the team. It’s crazy.

“I think you’re going to see a completely different Adrian than we’ve seen the last couple of years and it’s going to be for the better as a leader and as a player and in his character.”

Austin will also tell you that he believes Nebraska has everything it needs to be successful. The talent is there, as Frost noted too, but something has kept the offense from clicking.

“What’s holding us back is the fumbles, the interceptions, the penalties,” Allen said. “It’s so hard as an offense to get the ball on a touch back and you get the ball out here on the 20 or 25—I don’t even know what it is anymore—but you get the ball out here and you get a false start. You start the drive first-and-15, first-and-20, it kills drives. It goes from the drive having the upmost potential for success to you’re probably going to punt now. That’s what’s killed us and that’s what has held us from being successful the last couple of years. Turnovers and penalties, that’s on us. That’s on me to hold a running back accountable when he’s holding the ball out, swimming with it and just running. It’s not tucked high and tight, that’s not the right technique.

“That’s not what we’ve been taught and that’s not what’s going to win us games. That’s what I think is the biggest thing holding us back from wins. The fumbles, the interceptions, the penalties.”

Allen said the team could tell Frost was fed up with the turnovers during spring practice. “You can tell it means a lot to him to get this fixed,” Allen said. Once summer rolled around though, Frost couldn’t be part of the equation to fix it any longer. It was now on the players to keep working until fall camp rolls around. “He can say all he wants but it’s on us to hold each other accountable and get it fixed.”

It’s personal for someone like Allen, who wants to see the ball more. When things are clicking on offense, the tight ends are used more. It’s simple as that. Allen knows that means the turnovers has to get fixed, because an offense will never click when it’s losing the turnover battle.

Frost has seen the players step as leaders to get it fixed. That leadership has been valuable for the team too.

“Really impressed with the leadership,” Frost said. “That gets the freshmen and the newcomers going in the right direction faster and I think it’ll help their development come along faster.”

And if things go in the right direction faster? Well, then maybe—just maybe—the turnover problem can finally be solved. It’s hard to say until the season rolls around, but Frost seems confident it’ll look different.

Not too confident, of course. Plenty has yet to be shown.

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