Nebraska football: Martinez is the starter, but a case can be made for McCaffrey
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost got the fanbase buzzing again last week during a Zoom session with media.
Asked if there’s a clear pecking order in the quarterback competition between junior Adrian Martinez and redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey, Frost said this:
“I wouldn’t say it’s clear yet. Adrian’s certainly playing well. Luke’s certainly playing well. We feel like we’ve got two guys at the top of that heap that are playing well enough to help us win games. Every position is a competition. We’re going to have to make those decisions pretty quickly, but I’ve been really impressed with both guys.”
On Monday, Frost proclaimed Martinez would still be the starting quarterback, marking the third year for the talented junior. But the head coach made it clear that, really, there are two first-stringers in Lincoln.
We’ve seen Frost speak his mind in front of microphones before, whether it was about wanting to play football when his own conference said it wasn’t; questioning some players’ toughness for wearing hoodies in pregame warmups for a night game at Minnesota in October; or saying Martinez probably didn’t prepare as much as he should’ve last season.
When listening to Frost’s comments about the quarterback battle, you start to wonder about a couple of things.
Is this a motivational tactic meant to light a fire under one or both of them? Is this Frost wanting to keep Ohio State in the dark as much as possible?
I can see both being true.
What I don’t see, however, is that comment being viewed as a negative toward Martinez, the one who has started 21 games for the Huskers. It’s certainly a positive for McCaffrey, a player whose talent and potential is easy to see.
Yes, Martinez is getting the first snap against Ohio State, but a case can be made for McCaffrey, as well.
Case for Martinez
The sophomore slump last season wasn’t all on Martinez.
The guy dealt with inaccurate snaps at times from a first-time center, and those kinds of mistakes are play-killers that can throw off timing and focus. He also didn’t have receivers who got enough separation or who were big and tall enough to go up and win balls. Maybe most importantly, he played through injuries that required offseason surgery.
Martinez is fully healthy now and most likely has a sizable chip on his shoulder. He heard the Memorial Stadium crown yelling “Luuuke” during the Iowa game last year.
With Nebraska’s entire offensive line returning, along with workhorse running back Dedrick Mills, the Husker rushing attack should be strong this season. That’s a quarterback’s best friend.
Martinez’s 2019 season won’t be forgotten. It’s hard to wipe your memory clean of the 10-touchdown, 9-interception performance and the uncertainty that came with it. And, yeah, the first bad decision he makes — whether that’s an interception or a throw into double coverage that should’ve been picked — will bring those recollections to the surface.
But let’s not forget the 2018 version of Martinez, either. The one who completed 64.6 percent of his passes and averaged 295.1 total yards per game, which was second in the B1G that season. The one who threw for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns against only 8 picks. The one who also rushed for 629 yards and 8 scores. The one who scored 3 touchdowns to lead a Nebraska team that hung with Ohio State at the Horseshoe, losing just 36-31.
Nebraska leads Ohio State at half. 👀
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 3, 2018
Case for McCaffrey
There’s a reason why McCaffrey heard the chants of “Luuuke” against the Hawkeyes — he’s a fan favorite who injected some life into an offense that needed it in a rivalry game.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 29, 2019
There’s a small sample size here, as McCaffrey has played in only four games, but from what we’ve seen, that’s what he can bring to the offense — excitement at quarterback. In that limited action, he completed 9 of 12 passes for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he showed his athleticism in the running game with 166 yards and 1 score on 24 carries.
When McCaffrey was thrown into the fire against Indiana, it was obvious Frost didn’t want him making too many difficult decisions. That made sense, as it was McCaffrey’s first real taste of college football as a freshman. So it was a lot of handoffs, zone reads, quarterback-designed runs and, at times, throws on the run for the Highlands Ranch, Colo., native.
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) October 26, 2019
Frost clearly likes what McCaffrey brings to the table. For the head coach to make the comment he did tells me that McCaffrey’s passing has quickly progressed over the offseason. That was always the area in which it was clear McCaffrey needed to grow.
If that much improvement in McCaffrey’s passing has really happened, it makes him a very intriguing player — one who might deserve to lead the opening drive at Ohio State.
Martinez got the nod. He’s the veteran in the quarterback room and one of the leaders and faces of the program.
After an injury-riddled sophomore campaign where some in the fanbase were questioning if he was the guy, Martinez deserves to be the one leading the opening drive of the season at Ohio State.
That’s not a knock on McCaffrey, who will have his time to shine in the future, or maybe even this season.
Frost has said he’d find ways to get the ultra-athletic McCaffrey on the field if Martinez wins the job. We’ve seen that before, as McCaffrey played a little receiver last year.