Nebraska football: It's time to see what McCaffrey can do as Huskers' starting quarterback
Was Nebraska’s ugly 21-13 loss to Northwestern on Saturday the tipping point, where fans officially want to move on from junior quarterback Adrian Martinez in favor of redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey?
It sure seemed like it. A 2nd straight game without scoring a touchdown in the 2nd half will do that to a fanbase. But is benching the 3-year starter the best move for the offense?
Martinez, who went 12-of-27 for 125 yards and 1 interception, looked uncertain and inaccurate on passing plays against the Wildcats. It looked like the same stuff we saw from him last year, when he was playing through injuries and didn’t have a great receiver group to throw to.
Those excuses don’t really fly anymore. To our knowledge, Martinez is fully healthy. His wideout room has gotten better, too — those highly-touted freshmen receivers just need to keep playing more than a handful of snaps.
The offense still moved down the field when Martinez was in — the Huskers finished with 442 total yards, and McCaffrey didn’t touch the ball until late in the 3rd quarter. Martinez ran well; he didn’t fumble, and he gained a team-high 102 rushing yards on 13 carries. But we know the problem with Martinez isn’t his mobility. It’s his arm and decision-making.
All those yards don’t really mean much when you can’t turn them into points. Nebraska entered Wildcats territory 8 times and managed only 1 touchdown and 2 field goals. It would’ve been 3, but Connor Culp missed a 38-yarder.
To be fair, this isn’t just a player problem. Coaching and play-calling have a lot to do with those red-zone fails, too. After the game, head coach Scott Frost owned up to the loss, saying, “To play like we played, and only have 13 points, that starts with me.”
Huskers fans everywhere were nodding when they heard that.
Martinez was rightly pulled after an awful throw into triple coverage resulted in an interception near the end of the 3rd quarter. It was clear his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be, and he simply didn’t have it on Saturday. As Frost said after the game, the Huskers needed a spark.
McCaffrey was that spark, but the Colorado native didn’t exactly light the world on fire when he was in, either. The interception he threw at the goal line looked like a poor throw that never had a chance to squeeze through all the helmets and hands at the line of scrimmage. His ball-handling at the mesh point of a play-action with running back Dedrick Mills resulted in a fumble and circus play that could’ve been an even bigger mess than it was. McCaffrey looked exactly like what he is on those plays — a redshirt freshman.
Yes, McCaffrey is maybe the best athlete on the roster, and the offense moved with him at the helm, but aside from some sideline throws against a Northwestern defense that was playing off coverage in a prevent situation late in the game — those were throws I believe Martinez would complete, too — McCaffrey is dangerous because of his running. Just like Martinez.
It’s important to remember that while many are calling for McCaffrey to start, we still don’t know if he’s that much better of an option. He very well could be, but we don’t know yet. We have yet to see him really throw downfield. We need to see more from the redshirt freshman.
But something needs to happen with this offense. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give McCaffrey a try as the starting quarterback and see what the kid can do. Martinez has shown he’s a mature dude on and off the field, and he would handle the demotion well.
The 2 quarterbacks knew this was a possibility coming into the season. Frost was adamant about it being a true competition in camp. And who knows — Martinez could still see the field this season if it’s obvious McCaffrey isn’t ready yet.
Saturday’s loss to Northwestern was a tipping point for Huskers fans, who sound like they’ve seen enough of Martinez. It’s time to see what McCaffrey can do as QB1.