Adrian Martinez may be just a sophomore, but he’s got broad shoulders within the Nebraska football program.
The Husker quarterback on Monday reiterated his Saturday assertion that he didn’t play well enough in a 35-21 win over South Alabama during which the offense looked lethargic and largely out of rhythm.
“I think it starts with me there, and I don’t think I did my job well enough last week. That’s on me,” Martinez said. “I have to hold people to that standard. Like I said, I’ll take that responsibility because my teammates deserve better out of me, and I have to be able to bring it at a higher level.”
Martinez completed 13-of-22 passes (59.1%) for 178 yards and an interception and ran 13 times for six yards, marking the the third time in 12 career starts he's been held without a touchdown.
If there’s any doubt about how much the coaching staff puts on Martinez's shoulders — a sure sign of respect — consider head coach Scott Frost’s explanation for how a couple of early week practices can go awry.
“It starts with our quarterback. He’s got to be the hardest working guy at practice,” Frost said. “I love the kid, he’s an unbelievable player and he’s going to have a great year. He didn’t have his best week of practice. It’s the same with several other leaders on offense. I’ll ride with these guys; I know what kind of players they are and what kind of players they’ll be, but I don’t know if it was us feeling ourselves a little bit or school starting and us being distracted.”
This is the other side of the coin when a program is trying to transition to being more player-led, as the Huskers are and have been hailed for. It’s not a knock on Martinez, only a reminder of what is asked of the talented young quarterback on a daily and hourly basis.
Frost was quick to point out that Saturday's struggles were not just about Martinez. He said he and the offensive staff got too “schemey” based on South Alabama’s tendencies from 2018, and the Jaguars presented different looks. He said he didn’t do a good job of adjusting on the fly to USA loading the box full of defenders. He acknowledged that the spate of high snaps from redshirt freshman Cameron Jurgens in the first half would be enough to knock any quarterback out of rhythm.
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"Offensively, that game is either going to be a harbinger of things to come this season, or we are going to look back on it as the best thing that ever happened to us because it was a learning experience," Frost said. "We have to practice and coach in a way to make it the latter.”
He also said that Martinez heard from both him and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco at the very least.
“Anytime there is a message to get one of the players, they’re probably going to get it twice: They’re probably going to get it from me and the position coach. Maybe the coordinator too,” Frost said. “I’ll ride with Adrian any time. My opinion of him hasn’t changed. My opinion of how great a football player he is hasn’t changed. We just need to make sure we’re prepared and we need to take advantage of opportunities by executing at a fast pace and consistent rate. I don’t think the entire offense did it Saturday, him included.”
Frost added that he didn’t think anybody actually had to say anything to Martinez and that he looked and practiced “determined” on Monday.
“He responded today. He operated faster, cleaner. When he takes off, I want him to be an I-Back in a quarterback’s uniform,” Frost said. “That’s what he can be and what he should be. I saw that today.
“We put him in some bad spots schematically on Saturday and that’s our fault as coaches. We put him in some bad spots not being able to get his eyes where they should have been because he was jumping for a bunch of snaps. Those are things we can get fixed. If we give him a good environment, I think you’ll see the Adrian we all know and expect.”
Anybody that was asked on Monday said flatly that they expect nothing but a swift return to form from the sophomore captain.
“He’s the leader on our team, and I still think he’s the best quarterback in the country, in my opinion,” freshman wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson said. “I think he’ll bounce back really, really well and I think we’ll capitalize on a lot of opportunities at Colorado.”