Adrian Martinez was off to start Saturday’s game. Most of his passes were high and a few more were low, and he wasn’t having a whole lot of success on the ground. Nebraska quickly fell behind 14-0 and played from behind for most of the game.
I saw more than a couple people calling for Noah Vedral to take Martinez’s place. Scott Frost stuck with his quarterback, however, and Martinez played himself into a rhythm. By the end of the night, he had racked up 445 total yards of offense. One play in particular sticks out, however.
This week’s Play of the Game is Adrian Martinez’s 25-yard run that set-up Wan’Dale Robinson’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Seven of Martinez’s first 10 carries went for two yards or less with three of those behind the line of scrimmage (including two sacks). He finally got loose late in the third quarter for an 18-yard carry then opened the fourth by putting on the jets and beating the defense to the pylon for a two-point conversion that tied the game.
After a field goal by Illinois to re-take the lead, Nebraska had an answer. The Huskers marched down the field, and shortly after crossing midfield Martinez converted a third-and-8 with a tough 10-yard carry. Two runs by Robinson picked up 7 yards, leaving the Huskers with a third-and-3 at the 26-yard line.
At that point with Nebraska’s kicking issues, the Huskers had to move the chains because their chance of getting the three points needed to tie it from that spot was low. Martinez took the game into his hands and not only did he move the chains, he nearly scored by himself.
On 3rd and 3, Adrian Martinez gets 25 with his feet and sets up the go-ahead TD. pic.twitter.com/oDcIRcVcng
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) September 22, 2019
Nebraska lined up with two receivers to the right, one to the left, Robinson in the backfield behind Martinez and tight end Austin Allen in the H-back spot to the right. Martinez motions Allen over to the left, then on the snap he comes back around to the right to serve as the lead blocker.
Martinez faked the handoff to Robinson but kept the ball himself as the defensive end went with the running back. A couple of Nebraska’s linemen got to the second level to block the inside linebackers while Allen blocked the outside linebacker coming over from the far side of the formation. The outside receivers occupied the nickel back and cornerback, which left Martinez one-on-one with the safety coming forward in run support.
He made him look silly, then ran right past a tackle attempt from a defensive lineman trying to track him down from behind. From there it’s a foot race, and the slot corner comes off JD Spielman and just barely manages to get a piece of Martinez’s foot, tripping him up at the 5. Martinez fell forward to the 1 and put the Huskers in a great spot.
One play later, Robinson punched it in for his third touchdown of the day, giving Nebraska a 42-38 lead with 8:00 to play.
Neither side scored again, making the 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive the game-winning drive. After forcing an Illinois three-and-out, Nebraska chewed up a ton of clock with a 10-play, 70-yard drive that included a 44-yard run by Martinez, his longest rush of the season (besting the 25-yarder from the previous drive). Nebraska missed the field goal (after having a made kick negated by a false start), but the Blackshirts closed out the game with a stop, forcing four straight incomplete passes.
Martinez finished with 118 yards on 18 carries (6.6 yards per carry) to go with his 327 yards and three scores through the air. He became just the second quarterback in Nebraska history to throw for 300-plus yards and run for 100-plus in the same game, joining the other Martinez.
“I don’t read too much but I hear the whispers that he’s tentative and not playing well,” Frost said. “Those people won’t be saying that after the way he played tonight. Can he still get better? Yeah. Can I get better? Yeah. Can the team? Yeah. The kid is a winner and a great player and he’ll continue to be.”
Seventy-nine of those rushing yards came in the fourth quarter when Nebraska needed Martinez the most, none bigger than those 25 that set-up the go-ahead score.
“He has that killer instinct in him,” Robinson said. “He’s the leader. Whenever we need someone to look to, it’s him. Anytime we got out on the field we know he will make the right reads. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to make sure we are in the best position to win.”
Martinez was aggressive and decisive on that big run, and after struggling to beat linebackers and defensive backs one-on-one through the first three-and-a-half games, Martinez juked the safety out of his shoes, showcasing the electrifying running ability that made him so dangerous last season.
That’s why Adrian Martinez’s 25-yard fourth-quarter run is this week’s Play of the Game.
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.