Over the weekend, Jacob Padilla reset the field with Nebraska’s roster. Who’s back, who’s joining the party, who’s on scholarship, who’s not. He’s got one for offense, defense and special teams and you should stop what you’re doing and go read all three. Come back when you’re done. I’ll wait.
Now that that’s out of the way, this week and next we’re going to score those groups on a 10-point scale. Each day will be a different positional group and each will get a grade based on strength heading into 2019. We begin with…
Returning: Redshirt sophomore Noah Vedral, sophomore Adrian Martinez, sophomore Andrew Bunch, redshirt freshman Matt Masker
Incoming: Freshman Luke McCaffrey
Returning production: 100 percent of everything
Adrian Martinez was special in his first year in Lincoln. Really special.
So special, he set a school record for games with 300 yards of total offense in a season (seven), tied a school record for games of 400 yards of total offense in a season (three) and shattered the freshman passing record. Martinez went for 2,617 yards passing in his first year; the previous record was 1,631.
So special, he had national media saying things like, “He’ll win a Heisman there” and proclaiming Nebraska a lock to be preseason top-25 days after finishing a second consecutive 4-8 campaign.
So special, when you talk to him you think he’s a senior and when you’re told he’s an 18-year-old true freshman your jaw drops. He’s a natural leader and a guy who deflects praise to everyone else while absorbing their criticism.
So special, he made it to where the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award was a question with two correct answers when the other guy up for it had one of the most productive seasons, regardless of class, in all of college football.
So special, he outplayed the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in that guy’s own house. When Nebraska met Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 3, Martinez was flat better than Buckeye quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Just in terms of freshmen quarterbacks playing significant snaps across the country, Martinez was top-three in virtually every statistical category a quarterback can show up in. He led all freshmen in total offense a game (295.1 yards).
The quarterback position as a whole entered 2018 as raw as possible. When the Huskers began fall camp, it had two scholarship quarterbacks, two walk-on quarterbacks and one guy who was ineligible by transfer rules. Among that group of five, they had 29 pass attempts total, and all 29 belonged to the one guy who was ineligible.
This offseason will be 180 degrees different.
Martinez has a full season’s worth of starting experience and the knowledge he’s played in every “big-time” venue he’ll play in during a regular season while at Nebraska. Andrew Bunch proved a more-than-capable backup, picking up a start in Game 2 against Troy and going 31-for-47 for 320 yards on the year. Vedral will be in his third year inside head coach Scott Frost’s offense. McCaffrey gives you another capable, scholarship body in the room.
The quarterback position is weird in the sense you want depth but you never want to have to use it. Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco likes to say if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. McCaffrey is likely heading for a redshirt in 2019. Still, having real depth behind your starting quarterback makes play-calling in this offense that much easier.
There will need to be improvement, though.
Martinez led the country in fumbles lost (six) and was second in total fumbles (12). The ball security has to improve. To his credit, that was something he himself harped on as the season wound down. He said he was focusing on that.
But this offseason figures to be a big help in that regard. Rather than learning a new system — one that takes a little longer than usual to pick up — and rehabbing a shoulder injury like he was last year, Martinez gets to focus on refinement.
Rather than, “Where is the football supposed to go on this play,” it becomes, “Okay, where should the football go against this look.” I’ve said it time and time again; the growth this offseason Martinez needs to make is nothing out of the ordinary for a young quarterback. He’s what you want in that regard. The mistakes in 2018 could largely be anticipated, now it’s important to cut them out.
Plus, there’s another offseason of strength training ahead of him. Only one quarterback in the Big Ten this season logged more rushing attempts than Martinez and only two teams gave up more sacks than the Huskers. Martinez doesn’t slide (THE FAKE SLIDE WAS AWESOME) and he’s not one to just throw the ball away at the first sign of pressure.
He took a lot of hits in Year 1 and will continue to take a lot of hits. Getting another season with Zach Duval to build up his frame should, theoretically speaking, open up even more of the option element of Nebraska’s offense (especially if the fumbles go down) or at the very least give the coaching staff a little more confidence when they dial of that QB Wrap.
When you start a rebuild in any sport, you need a foundational piece. Depending on the sport, you need a couple. If it’s football, you really need that piece to be at quarterback. Nebraska has that. The cross-country flight Frost made from Florida to California to flip a Tennessee commit the night he got the Nebraska job will only continue to grow in legend as Martinez’s legacy grows.
Nebraska hit the jackpot with him. I think this offseason and upcoming 2019 campaign will go a long way toward determining when everyone gets that payout.
Justification: Everyone’s back, two capable backups, a truly special starter who had an all-around strong first year but had too many turnovers to simply overlook.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.