Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Step Trackers, Tests and Nebraska's Quarterback Room

September 7, 2018
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If Mario Verduzco has a step tracker on his watch, he certainly hit his target last Saturday.

Forty minutes before scheduled kickoff, Nebraska’s four quarterbacks were warming up in the northwest corner of the stadium. Their position coach, Verduzco, watched intently as he began pacing back and forth between his true freshman starter Adrian Martinez on one end and UCF transfer Noah Vedral on the other. For the 15 or so minutes the group sat in that corner, Verduzco never stopped moving.

“He was probably more relaxed than I was at that point,” Verduzco said of Martinez.

Everyone close to the quarterback has said over the last week that the first true freshman to start an opener at Nebraska was more than ready to actually make history. “He felt really good,” Verduzco said this week. “He did.” But the game didn’t get played and the debut was delayed to Saturday against Colorado.

“You can tell when a kid is ready,” head coach Scott Frost said Monday. “I think he was ready.”

Martinez, and the rest of the quarterback room, might feel even better now.

“I think he feels even more relaxed because he’s kind of got that all out of the way — the hotel business and what we do pregame and what we do in the hotel and all that sort of stuff — so I think he feels even more relaxed this week,” Verduzco said. “We’ll find out.”

The thing is, when Verduzco says his guys are good to go, it’s not really just a feel thing like it can be with other position groups. He has actual physical evidence to back it up. His quarterbacks took playbook tests in the summer and before the season, but they also all take a game test each week.

“They all did really well on their game test [last week], with all the situations, contingency questions and then they’ve got to draw all the pass plays and all that business,” Verduzco said. “They really did a nice job.”

Now, obviously, Verduzco is still waiting to see it translated to the field, but his tests are designed to give him a pretty good feel for what it’s going to look like.

“It’s a diagnostic for me,” he said.

“There are some things they have to know every week with regards to, say, for example, the two-minute drill, things that stop the clock. Those are things they just have to know and I want to know if they know them every week. Then when they’re drawing up the pass play, usually how a guy draws up a pass play is how he sees it in his head. So, if he’s drawing a 5-yard route at 2 yards, there’s an issue.”

And if all four quarterbacks are drawing a 5-yard route at 2 yards, Verduzco knows he’s got an issue that needs correcting. Maybe he explained things wrong; maybe there was some breakdown in communication somewhere. “It provides the information for me,” he says, and there’s plenty of information.

The timeline for testing can vary depending on kick times and game day. Because last week’s game didn’t kick until 7 p.m., Verduzco was able to get them their tests early, the quarterback had all day Friday to complete it and return it to him in his office and then he was able to check things Saturday morning and return everything.

“Otherwise it could be they get it one day and they’ve got to bring it back complete the next day,” he says.

The game plan from last week to this week changed because, wait for it, the opponent changed, but there were still a few things the Huskers were able to use from the Akron plan. The bulk of the help this week instead came from preparing for a defense that looks pretty similar to the one Nebraska’s quarterbacks have been attacking all offseason.

“They’re very similar,” Verduzco said of the Husker and Buffalo defenses. “They’re a 3-4 team and when you get in long-yardage situations they’ll get in nickel and all those things. They’ll bring pressure and show some things in the backend in terms of coverage but yeah, very similar.”

In keeping with the theme of the week — strong practices — Verduzco said each of his guys looked solid. “I think myself and Coach Frost and Coach [Troy] Walters were pleased with their work this week,” Verduzco said. He said Martinez flipped the switch immediately whenever he found out the Akron game wasn’t going to be played.

On his backup, sophomore Andrew Bunch, Verduzco said Bunch still shows the same enthusiasm he did before he was eliminated from the quarterback competition.

“He’s getting better,” Verduzco said. “I’m pleased with his effort and his performance in practice. Does he miss a few things? Yeah, but he’ll be fine.”

On true freshman walk-on Matt Masker, Nebraska’s only other eligible quarterback, Verduzco was just as positive. “He did a nice job on his game test,” Verduzco said, even though simply having to take it caught Masker by surprise.

Maybe it all adds up to a more relaxed Verduzco this Saturday. Or not. Still need to get those steps in somehow.

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