Nebraska seeks to finish strong starting with Purdue
Nebraska has not had the season many national prognosticators or Cornhusker fans had envisioned in the preseason.
The Huskers are 4-4 after dropping back-to-back games while quarterback Adrian Martinez has been sidelined.
But while the offense has struggled without its leader, the defense has not done much to help ease the burden.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has seen his unit allow a combined 72 points to Minnesota and Indiana, respectively, over the last two weeks. This Saturday, the Huskers travel to take on a depleted Purdue squad, and it’s a game they should be able to win.
But will the defense perform any better?
Of course, the pressure on the ‘D’ will be alleviated once the offense gets back in sync with the return of Adrian Martinez, who has been out with a knee injury since the October 5 contest against Northwestern. The signal-caller left that game and Nebraska survived with a 13-10 victory. The team has gone winless since.
The Huskers have dropped their last two contests and are desperate to get their talented leader back in the lineup. It appears that will be the case against the Boilers on Saturday.
Martinez said this week that he is physically ready and expects to start at Purdue. He has continued to wear a brace on his left leg but appears ready to go, which is huge for a team that has been exhausting its quarterback depth this season.
Sophomore Noah Vedral and freshman Luke McCaffrey have both filled in for Martinez while he has been sidelined, but both have been banged-up as well. Vedral suffered an ankle injury against Minnesota on October 12 and re-aggravated it against IU last week. McCaffrey also played against the Hoosiers but he was felled by a left knee injury of his own. Late in the game, Martinez was ready to come back and step in for McCaffrey. But Vedral re-entered the game and drove the offense to the Indiana 34, where the drive stalled. The Hoosiers eventually ran out the clock.
So the Huskers enter November at .500 but appear to at least be healthier at the QB position. That’s great news for quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco, who said this week that Martinez “looks like his old self.”
While Martinez has been sorely missed, Vedral and McCaffrey did perform well against IU, completing 19 of 22 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown while adding 97 rushing yards and two scores on the ground. So the loss to the Hoosiers was really one in which the Huskers could have used a better effort from the defense.
While Martinez had issues with turnovers before getting hurt, he is clearly Nebraska’s best option under center because of his ability both as a passer and a runner. On the season, he has completed a shade over 60 percent of his passes for 1,245 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He added 341 yards and three scores on the ground. He remains a big play waiting to happen despite still only scratching the surface of what he can become by the time his Huskers career is over.
Even if Nebraska isn’t able to right the ship defensively, it certainly will help the team’s pursuit of a victory if Martinez is back in the lineup. Based on the comments coming out of Lincoln this week, it appears to be the case. Life should be a little easier for Verduzco and the offensive staff in West Lafayette after essentially dealing with three banged-up quarterbacks last week.
Could we be looking at a shootout in West Lafayette? Given the struggles of Nebraska’s defense this season, it wouldn’t be surprising. But if the defense is leaky, at least the offense will have its dynamic leader back.