Scoring the Huskers: Quarterbacks
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

QBs, Preparing For Anything Against Troy & Other Notes from Practice

September 12, 2018

For the third consecutive day of practice, true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez did not participate. He has been labeled a game-time decision for Saturday against Troy after the knee injury he suffered against Colorado. Is there a scenario where Martinez could not practice all week and then play Saturday? Well…

“We’re going to do what gives us the best chance to be successful,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said Wednesday. “It’s hard for a quarterback not to do anything all week and so we’ll see what he can do tomorrow. We’ve got a walk-through and then Friday we’ve got a short practice, so we’ll see what he can do there and make a decision come gameday.”

When the two met, Martinez told quarterback coach Mario Verduzco on Monday he was going to play. Verduzco just laughed and answered back “OK, I don’t think you’re the one that’s going to make that decision.” Martinez wants to play, “he wants to be out there for his teammates,” Verduzco says, but Nebraska will be smart with its budding quarterback.

“He’s progressing every day,” Walters said. “He’s out on the field progressing. He’s meeting with Coach V [Verduzco], making sure he learns the gameplan. All the reps he’s gotten in fall camp have been good so he knows what’s going on and we’ll see how it goes.”

If he does play, it seems as if the coaching staff will adjust the play-calling to try and scale back the number of hits he takes. Martinez had 13 actual runs against Colorado, was sacked twice and took a few more hits after throws.

“We’re going to be smart and we’re going to understand that if he plays, he’s got to be smart,” Walters said. “We’re going to need him. We’ll call the game accordingly and make sure he makes it out healthy. We’ll play to his strengths and go from there.”

But if Martinez doesn’t play, and the offense turns over to walk-on sophomore Andrew Bunch, what then? The staff still has plenty of confidence.

“I don’t look at Andrew as a walk-on and Andrew doesn’t look at himself like a walk-on,” Verduzco said. “He certainly doesn’t behave like one or prepare like one.”

The longtime quarterback coach has started a walk-on at quarterback before. He thought back to Eric Sanders at Northern Iowa (2004-07) who was a little like Bunch. “Had a good gun, really quick, really intelligent,” Verduzco said of the two. For Walters, it’s about the preparation.

“This fall, he was working with the ones at times so he knows what to do, he knows this offense, he knows what’s expected of him, he’s a sharp guy,” Walters said. “He’s one of those guys who’s going to prepare his butt off and if his number is called, he’ll be ready to go.”

If, for whatever reason, Nebraska has to turn to quarterback No. 3, they’ll get walk-on freshman Matt Masker as up to speed as they can. Masker worked with the threes and fours during fall camp, but over this week of practice, he’s even seen some action with ones.

“He’s done a good job,” Walters said. “We’ll find out where his level of understanding is at the end of the week and if he happens to get in, we’ll find a play that fits him and allows him to be successful.

“We’ll tailor the gameplan around him, around his strengths and what he knows and what he can do.”

And in the event of a doomsday scenario and Nebraska needs another quarterback, there are contingency plans that will be in place.

“If we get to option three we’ll have a plan,” Walters said. “Not going to divulge that information right here, but we’ll have a plan and if that happens we’ll have to go out and execute and find a way to win.”

That’s pretty much right in line with what head coach Scott Frost said Monday. This staff has used multiple quarterbacks in short order before. In 2016, their first season at Central Florida, they played three in the first two games. Whether cornerback Cam Taylor, a converted high school quarterback, needs to be called on or something else, the coaching staff will be prepared.

And hey, maybe some UNL students can go shoot their shot.

Walters, jokingly, said: “We’re having open tryouts after practice for guys to show us what they can do.”

Other News and Notes:

>> Offensive line coach Greg Austin said the Huskers are rolling with six main guys on the line: the five starters and guard Boe Wilson. That could grow as the season moves along and they get more comfortable with other guys, but those are the main ones after one game.

>> Against Colorado, Nebraska had two crucial drops. Wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. dropped a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter that would have put the Huskers up 35-27. Wideout JD Spielman dropped a third-and-16 ball from Bunch that would have given Nebraska a first down with a lead and less than five minutes to go in the game. Both plays had defenders in the area that either got a hand on the receivers’ arms or on the ball, but those are plays both have proved capable of making. Regardless, Walters isn’t worried about them.

“The best of us, we’ve dropped balls. It’s what you do afterward. They were upset, they were frustrated afterward. It hurt them. If it didn’t hurt them I’d probably say something and make it a big deal, but they understood the importance of those plays,” Walters said. “They’ve been diligent to stay after and make sure it doesn’t happen [again]. I’m not worried about those guys.”

>> On the fumbles — because Nebraska lost two and had several other balls they put on the deck Saturday — Walters and the staff are taking a different approach, though.

“Every week we have ball security drills and I think at times guys go through that and they take it lightly and they kind of just go through the motions,” he said. “We made it a point of emphasis this week and said, ‘Hey, this matters.’ Even when we go ball security, we can’t take it for granted.

“We really focused on that this week and the guys responded. We shouldn’t see any fumbles Saturday.”

>> Running back coach Ryan Held ran through his running backs a bit on Wednesday. We’ll have a story on them shortly, but here’s a quick rundown.

Held liked the performance from freshman Maurice Washington, now he just wants to see him get more vertical in his running.

On junior Greg Bell, Held said his 45-yard run should have gone for six but he was too tight running with the ball. Held likened him to a 95-year-old running all tensed up. He’s not worried about Bell’s speed.

On freshman Miles Jones, Held said he missed Saturday’s game with an eye injury but the expectation is that he’ll play this year. Held said this offense needs four or five healthy backs.

It looks increasingly likely sophomore Jaylin Bradley will redshirt. Held noted there are several guys ahead of him on the depth chart.

>> Verduzco spent some time with reporters breaking down Martinez’s lone interception Saturday. He said the first thing he noticed was how quickly Martinez went to make the tackle. It was no Drew Brown hit, but Verduzco liked the form.

“He did a pretty good job. When you watch it on tape you’re like, ‘Oh god is he going to blow up his shoulder?’ But he did a good job,” Verduzco said with a smile. “As Coach Frost has said, you can’t be a candy-ass and play quarterback for the Cornhuskers.”

Verduzco was also pleased with their conversation on the phones right after.

“He was very articulate with me with regards to what happened and sometimes when you see that on tape, it’s not exactly what he said, but what he said in terms of throwing that interception was what I saw on tape,” Verduzco said. “He wasn’t MSUing, you know what I’m saying?

“He wasn’t making stuff up. He told me what he saw and what I saw on tape was exactly what he said.”

Verduzco shouldered the blame for the mistake as well, saying that particular progression needs to be outside-in as opposed to inside-out after looking at the linebacker.

“Ultimately that comes back to me, he’s 18-years-old,” Verduzco said. “He knows how I am on the phone when those things occur. I’m relaxed, I’m not going to scream and yell at him, I’m going to ask him, ‘What did you see, how are your feet, did you see the coverage?’ I’m going to ask him those sorts of things. It’s not going to do him any good just to climb down his throat.”

>> Walters wants to see the Huskers win the field postion battle against Troy. He thought penalties on special teams caused the offense some difficulties against Colorado. Statistically, the staff knows that if you start past the 25-yard-line, your chance of scoring goes way up. I'll have more on this later. 

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