Adrian Martinez is nearing the end of his true freshman season.
Does that make the Cornhuskers quarterback a one-year veteran or still very much a rookie?
A little of both. Last weekend’s game against Ohio State was a good demonstration.
Let’s get this out of the way: The backward pass near the goal line early in the second quarter was a bad idea — maybe the kid’s worst of the season:
The top thing to remember in the red zone is to make no mistakes. At least not big mistakes. At worst your team should get a field goal when you’re inside the 20-yard line.
But Martinez was trying so hard to make a highlight-worthy play that he forgot that cardinal rule. Not only did this turnover happen at the OSU 10-yard line, it came on first down. That’s a down where anything — a sack, a slide, a pass into the 12th row of the grandstands — would have been preferable to a backward pass.
But of course there was some good stuff from Martinez against the Buckeyes as well. He is an electric player who can make plays as a runner as well as through the air. His running ability came to the forefront early. Watch how he showed patience after the play fake, hit the hole with speed then dragged a defender with him for several more yards:
Martinez didn’t need a lot of room on a 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter but he still displayed a solid play fake, freezing Chase Young and nullifying the penetration that the defensive end got on the play. From there all Martinez had to do was hit the hole:
The QB’s second touchdown run of the second quarter gave Nebraska a 21-16 halftime lead and perhaps dreams of an upset against the Buckeyes, who came in 10th in the College Football Playoff rankings.
But the Cornhuskers could not maintain that advantage in the third quarter, when the Buckeyes took over. Martinez completed his first two passes of the second half but endured a brutal 1-for-7 stretch after that.
That span included a critical drive when the Cornhuskers, still leading 21-16, reached Ohio State territory. But Martinez dropped what appeared to be a good snap to set up third and 12. On the next play the freshman overthrew J.D. Spielman, who had his defender beat for what should have been a first down:
The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on two of their next three possessions and never trailed again, while Big Red went through a rough period on offense.
Nebraska played reasonably well in the loss and 450 yards of total offense is nothing to sneeze at. Martinez had some highlights, as you can see, and his numbers — 22-of-33 passing, 266 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, plus 72 yards and two scores rushing — were solid.
But, as is common with first-year starters not named Tua, there have been some questionable throws and decisions.
The loss to Ohio State showed just how much Martinez has room to grow.
Nebraska coach and former quarterback Scott Frost should have a lot of fun in the next couple of years honing Martinez’s game so that he cuts down on those kinds of mistakes. Frost was a good quarterback in Cornhusker coach Tom Osborne’s system but, funny enough, he would not have made the ideal type of quarterback for his own offensive system he’s running now.
Adrian Martinez does. It will just take the kid time to get there.