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Padding the Stats: Huskers Still Young After All 3 Years

November 18, 2020

Sometimes, things just don’t work out, no matter how much you might want them to.

And it’s clear by his words after Saturday’s win over Penn State how much Scott Frost wanted this to work with Adrian Martinez.

“That decisions was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever made,” Frost said about sitting Martinez down and starting Luke McCaffrey. “I think so much of who Adrian Martinez is as a football player and as a person. He’s been through a lot with us. He certainly practiced well enough to play so it was a tough decision.”

Martinez is Frost’s guy. As soon as he decided to accept the job at Nebraska, he honed in on the Fresno native and convinced him to make Lincoln his new home. He committed to him as his starter from day one.

Martinez spent two season and two games as Nebraska’s starting quarterback, but Saturday’s game against Penn State, his first as a healthy scratch, showed what Frost and the teammates that voted him a two-time captain see in the junior.

Sound on for the first 37 seconds of this video, or read the full quote from Martinez below.

“Don’t want you guys to forget we’re a family. You know what I mean? We’re a family no matter what happens. No matter who’s out there, we support each other. We’re going to keep that energy today. Everyone who’s not in, who is in, we’re going to bring it. I got a great feeling. No matter what happens, ups and downs, keep your head up. No more head down on the sideline, none of that bull—. We’re here for each other, for each other. That’s what this s— is about, man. That’s what we’re going to remember. You feel me? Let’s do that s— today. I know I will be. I want to win. Feel me? I want to win. It’s not about me, it’s not about him, it’s about us. Let’s not forget that.”

After losing his job, THAT was Martinez’s pre-game speech to his team. THAT — more than anything he’s able to do with his arm or his legs on the field — is why he’s a captain. And that is why this was such a difficult decision for Frost.

Martinez backed up his speech with his actions on the sideline as Derek Peterson detailed in his column earlier this week. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he wasn’t able to back up his leadership qualities with his play on the field this season, leading to the change at starting quarterback.

Much has been written about that 2018 recruiting class, Frost’s transition class in Lincoln. Despite the staff putting it together while simultaneously preparing UCF for its bowl game, the 247Sports Composite had the class ranked 23rd nationally and fourth in the Big Ten. It didn’t look like a typical throwaway transition class at first glance.

As we get further and further away from that class’s signing day, however, it looks worse and worse. And now, one of the gems of that class has lost his starting spot.

This is the third season since the 2018 class arrived in Lincoln, and just five of them are starters — Cameron Jurgens, Caleb Tannor, Will Honas, Deontai Williams and Cam Taylor-Britt. Three players — Braxton Clark (who is injured), Casey Rogers and, now, Martinez — are primary back-ups. And three others — Tate Wildeman, David Alston and Will Farniok — have yet to truly make an impact. The rest of the players in the class are either already gone or never made it to campus in the first place. Jurgens, the second-ranked player in the class, will be the only one of the top five recruits to start for the Huskers.

That class has a lot to do with Nebraska still being where it is in year three under Frost — struggling to get back to .500.

Of the 22 players who started against Penn State, nine of them were Mike Riley holdovers. Though none of those players were recruited to play in Frost’s offense or Erik Chinander’s defense, they nearly double the number of players from that 2018 class in the starting lineup.

To be good in year three, Nebraska needed more than three true juniors or redshirt sophomores to earn significant roles, but it just hasn’t happened.

Fortunately, the 2019 and 2020 classes are treating Frost much better based on early returns.

From the 2019 class, there are seven players who started against the Nittany Lions, including McCaffrey. There are another 10 players who have earned back-up jobs or special teams roles. Just nine players are still looking to earn roles as redshirt freshmen and just one player left the program.

So far from the 2020 class, there are more players that have seen the field (12) than haven’t (eight), though there are also three players who left the program before the season even started (we can probably chalk those up in large part due to the pandemic).

We’re seeing something of a youth movement this season, and the biggest reason for that is the failures of the 2018 class. This appears to be McCaffrey’s team now, and the Huskers are going to have to live through the growing pains with him that Martinez ideally would have worked through two years ago. Martinez’s experience is what won him the position battle heading into the season; what coach wouldn’t love to have a junior with two years of starting experience starting at quarterback instead of a redshirt freshman?

The Huskers have seemingly taken nearly as many steps backwards as they have forward through Frost’s two-plus years in Lincoln, and that can’t happen any more. It’s time to keep moving forward. Frost’s decision to sit Martinez down and give McCaffrey a shot made that loud and clear.

As for Martinez, I have no idea what the future holds, but I wouldn’t bet against that guy.

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