Nebraska football head coach Scott Frost announced on Monday that starting quarterback Adrian Martinez would not be available for the team’s season finale against Iowa.
The junior, who has had a career-best 2,867 passing yards and 27 total touchdowns, has played through injuries to his jaw, ankle and shoulder this season. The shoulder injury kept him out to end the first half in the Huskers’ most recent game, but he ended up playing the rest of the game.
“He’s such a tough kid, I didn’t expect him to play in the second half,” Frost said on Monday. “And he came up to me right before the second half kickoff and said he wanted to go.”
With Martinez out now, the reins will most likely be passed to second-year quarterback Logan Smothers. Frost said true freshman Heinrich Haarberg could also see the field.
Every year under Frost, the Huskers have started a quarterback not named Martinez for at least one game. In 2018, Andrew Bunch lost his only start against Troy. Noah Vedral went 0-2 in two starts in 2019, although he led the Huskers to a last-second win over Northwestern after Martinez got injured in the game.
In 2020, Luke McCaffrey unseated a struggling Martinez for the starting job. He’s the only non-Martinez quarterback to win a start in Frost’s tenure, leading the Huskers to a win over Penn State. He returned to his backup spot two games later.
Just like the other examples, Smothers’ situation is unique. Bunch’s start came against a Sun Belt program, and he had experience in a high-pressure situation the previous game. Vedral had a year beforehand serving as the No. 2 quarterback for an undefeated Central Florida team. McCaffrey slowly gained a larger role in the offense, making non-injury-related appearances in 2019 and serving in a two-quarterback system early in 2020.
Smothers hasn’t had any of those luxuries. He has played in five games this year, but three of those appearances were in garbage time wins. The other two were due to Martinez injuries — he played one series against Michigan State that ended in a punt, and finished the first half against Wisconsin.
His longest time on the field came against Fordham, when he completed 4-of-7 passes and ran for 36 yards on four carries. After that game, he said his key to staying ready was treating practice like game day.
“You got to treat every moment like it’s your first rep,” he said in the days after the win.
Now, the former four-star with 11 career pass attempts will make his first start against a 9-2 Iowa team that leads the nation in interceptions.
After Martinez had four interceptions against Purdue, Frost said he wasn’t considering a quarterback change. However, he expressed confidence in Smothers at the time and did the same now.
“Logan and Haarberg are both taking reps and getting ready, they’ve both done some really good things in practice,” Frost said. “Logan’s done some really good things in game and I got confidence.”
Haarberg has even less experience. The true freshman hasn’t thrown a collegiate pass yet, not getting snaps in any of the Huskers’ blowouts. Matt Masker got on the field as the third quarterback in the win against Fordham.
Before quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco was let go, he said he wanted to instill in Haarberg and other quarterbacks lower on the depth chart that they needed to be ready to go at all times.
“I tell them, don’t wait man, keep going,” Verduzco said in October. “Don’t wait till next spring. Don’t wait till you’re a junior. Get going now. (Haarberg) appreciates that. I guess I’m hard on him a little bit. But to get the mental part, at least with regards to the playbook lined up with the strength of his arm and his athleticism? That’s the goal. I think he’s taking that coaching well.”
While Haarberg has a chance to see the field against Iowa, Smothers is still the likely starter, according to Frost. While the quarterbacks may lack in-game experience, the coach is confident in their abilities to make plays.
“Small sample size (of games), big sample size of practice,” Frost said. “But I feel real good about him being ready to play on Friday.”