Over the last few weeks, we’ve been counting down the 10 Huskers with the highest intrigue factor heading into the 2019 season. We’ve now got only two names left to reveal. Here’s who we’ve covered so far:
- No. 10: Mike Williams, senior wide receiver
- No. 9: Jack Stoll, junior tight end
- No. 8: Cam Taylor, sophomore defensive back
- No. 7: JoJo Domann, junior linebacker
- No. 6: Dedrick Mills, junior running back
- No. 5: Collin Miller, junior inside linebacker
- No. 4: Cameron Jurgens, redshirt freshman center
Remember, this isn’t importance. If it was, the quarterback would probably be the top guy on the list. This is intrigue, and there are still two guys left who, once you see them, you’ll probably just nod approvingly. Hopefully. If not, you can yell at me then.
Let’s play a game.
|Yards per Play||Expl. Plays||TDs Resp. For||Compl. %|
*Expl. Plays = explosive pass plays are gains of 20 or more, runs are gains of 10 or more
Who ya taking out of that group?
Those four represent, according to returning production (meaning someone like Justin Fields at Ohio State is excluded from this exercise), four of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
Sophomore Adrian Martinez has had a few things to work on this offseason (more on that Sunday), but in terms of his status in the pantheon of Big Ten quarterbacks, he’s already at or near the top in a lot of minds. He’s Quarterback B up there in that table, but if you named him Quarterback No. 1 instead, I wouldn’t argue. (Michigan’s Shea Patterson is A, Iowa’s Nate Stanley is C, Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey is D.)
That’s what this upcoming season is about.
Nebraska’s ceiling is tied to Martinez’s.
His workload in the passing game was merely average his first season in Lincoln, he ranked fifth in the conference in attempts per game and then fourth in yards per attempt. On person asked after the season ended if we should be concerned by the lack of a true deep ball threat during his first season, as the Huskers didn’t often ask Martinez to air it out, instead opting for shorter quick-hitters and midrange routes that, if blocked properly, broke big.
But that’s this offensive philosophy. Is he going to start bombing 40- and 50-yard throws now just because he’s a season older? Probably not. But, I still expect the overall workload to see a bit of an uptick. The passing numbers in Year 1 weren’t the best in the conference, but they were still right there with the top guys. Nebraska ran it 39 times a game last season, on average, and Martinez threw it another 31 times. With Devine Ozigbo gone and some questions about how the backfield carries are divvied up, does that run/pass split come a little closer to 50/50? If so, and that gets Martinez and extra five or so attempts a game, what do the passing numbers look like in Year 2? Top of the league?
A hypothetical: Can Martinez hit marks of 3,000 yards passing and 24 touchdowns this upcoming season while keeping the turnovers down? I think so. That’s only an extra 400 yards off of what he did last season. If he gets to that, how do you view him?
Because Martinez has something the other guys in that table above don’t, and something only a couple other Big Ten quarterbacks have: truly dynamic, make-you-miss, make-you-look-silly running ability.
Thirty of those 65 explosive plays were running plays. In terms of returning Big Ten passers, no one else had more than 19 last season. His 4.5 yards per carry average is the best among returning passers, with Patterson the next-closest-guy at 3.6. And that’s factoring in sacks. Only Trace McSorley and Clayton Thorson had more rushing scores than Martinez’s eight last season, and no other returning passer had more than five.
The first play of his collegiate career was a draw play right up the gut that gained 18 yards. The downright dumb ability to avoid would-be tacklers and keep plays alive is just downright dumb.
That’s shades of some pretty spectacular quarterbacks in recent years who have won some pretty spectacular awards for quarterbacking. And this dude was an 18-year-old kid going up against arguably the second-best conference in football (I don’t personally think it’s arguable but let’s just keep everyone happy).
The intrigue factor comes with this: what exactly is Martinez about to do for an encore?
We expect the offense to improve, right? In terms of raw numbers, what will that look like and who will be the catalyst for that improvement given the top running back and top receiver from last year’s offense are gone? The offense produced 450ish yards and exactly 30 points each time out. The Big Ten’s scoring leader was Ohio State at 42.
Does Nebraska get to 37? An extra score, on average, each Saturday? Where does that score come from? How does Stanley Morgan Jr.’s 84 receiving yards a game get distributed? Is it fully made up? What about Devine Ozigbo’s 90 rushing yards? Martinez could end up being responsible for both of those, and if the turnovers get cut down, he’s absolutely capable of making up some of that rushing production while spreading the ball around the yard a little more.
Only one player in college football put the ball on the deck more than Martinez last year. He had 12 fumbles and lost half of them. Rookie mistakes. Give him half of those back and I’d bet a lot of money on a second-year Martinez being able to score a touchdown once every three tries.
The most encouraging thing about Martinez’s game is the fact none of his missteps last season were anything other than a young, inexperienced quarterback doing young, inexperienced quarterback things. The stuff he has to work on represent the natural progression for a quarterback. He was also surprisingly good about not turning the ball over when his team was trailing in a game.
Scott Frost said this about Martinez in March on the Husker Sports Nightly radio show: "Adrian, from the minute I met him, I knew he was a special kid. We had a decision to make coming out of spring ball and coming out of fall camp on who our guy was going to be at quarterback. Our staff could see who he was and had an idea of what he was going to be come and knew he had a chance to be really special. My hope is that when he leaves Nebraska, he's thought of as one of the all-time greats at the position. In fact, I hope he's thought of as the greatest to ever play at Nebraska at that position."
And then he said this, a month later on ESPN 590 AM, after spring ball had wrapped: “We feel like we’ve got a really good quarterback and we’re in a hurry to surround him with the type of weapons that we need in order to have a really good offense. You’re kind of on a clock with that. We feel really good about young quarterbacks, but while we’ve got a guy like Adrian, we want to surround him with as many good weapons as we can and guys that can change games.”
No pressure or anything.
But this is a guy who seems well-equipped to handle it.
This is a guy who has already proven he’s a good quarterback in the Big Ten.
This season we’ll get to see if he can become the best quarterback in the Big Ten.
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.