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Nebraska Football: In Defense of Adrian Martinez’s 2019 Season

There are many factors which go into success or failure. In 2019, Adrian Martinez had many different things going against him.

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

It is tough being the quarterback at Nebraska. If there was a better example of a “double-edged sword” then I’d like to know. If you are successful, then you are a part of history. If you are unsuccessful, Nebraska fans attempt to push you to the side to be forgotten. Or at least they try to forget you.

After being hired at Nebraska, Scott Frost’s made it an immediate priority to see Adrian Martinez. Of all of the high school quarterbacks in the country that recruiting cycle it was Adrian Martinez that Coach Frost and Mario Verduzco wanted the most.

Fast forward and true freshman Adrian Martinez beats out Tristan Gebbia and Patrick O’Brien for the opening day starting spot at quarterback against Akron. While the Akron game ended up getting cancelled because of weather, Martinez put up an extremely successful freshman campaign.

He was a freshman all-american and an all-conference honorable mention selection. Martinez received praise from both local and national media. The expectations ratcheted up. He was a pre-season Heisman finalist for the 2019 season.

Then the games started.

Looking at the stats does not tell the whole story. There were games where Martinez looked completely inept. He missed throws that he needed to make. He would not run when it looked like he had a field of grass in front of him. There were needless interceptions. Fans, rightfully in my opinion, started wondering if the offense would be better with one of the other two quarterbacks manning the reigns of the offense.

The season ended without a bowl-berth. Again. This should be the last time of the Coach Frost era that Nebraska does not make a bowl. The standards have changed to some extent.

So what about the quarterback position going forward? I believe there will be and should be an open-competition in the spring and going into the fall. Let Noah Vedral, Martinez, Luke McCaffrey and Logan Smothers battle it out.

Let the best man win. I believe, and I think we should hope, that Martinez will win that competition and have a much better year in 2020.

However, that is looking forward. I want to take a moment and look backwards to 2019.

Why is it that Martinez played so poorly? Was it on him? Or on everybody else? The answer is both. However, I do want to take this time and defend the play of Adrian Martinez

So lets begin where it all started against South Alabama.

One: Center-Quarterback Exchange

There were numerous things that went against Martinez in 2019, but the first was the mental issues with the snaps.

After doing a pre-game radio show for the South Alabama game I was driving back home and turned on the radio on to Greg Sharpe and Matt Davison. They kept mentioning the snaps.

This couldn’t be good. Well it wasn’t.

We are reminded that the kid playing center has never played center before in his life in an actual game. It took about half the season for the snapping issue to be resolved.

It was obvious to even the casual observer that it had gotten to Martinez mentally. Like why is he jumping when the snap it at his chest? As Coach Verduzco mentioned, there are so many things that the quarterback has to keep track of both pre and post snap. So when the actual snap is added then it makes it difficult to worry about the quarterback’s reads.

Unfortunately the snaps appeared to be an omen for Martinez as the season progressed.

Two: Offensive Line Blocking Problems

Outside of the snaps the actual blocking of the offensive line was not good. At least for the first half of the season. It was much improved the second half. It doesn’t help that Cameron Jurgens, as stated above, had never played the position before and was on the hook for communicating line calls.

That would make things difficult.

The Nebraska offense was one of the worst on first down because of so many negative plays. This was a direct result of the offensive line. Also the perimeter blocking, but that is another subject. We knew there would be growing pains.

In the game against Wisconsin, we started to see the growth of the offensive line and it continued for the rest of the season. That group gives me faith going forward into next year. It actually makes me excited.

Three: Shoulder and Knee Injuries...Maybe More?

This wasn’t a secret. Even though Frost did his best to make it so. Martinez throughout the year looked like part machine - part human.

It was obvious he was injured and when it comes to throwing the ball, it is hard to be accurate if you are attempting to compensate for something else at the same time. He was much more accurate in 2018.

And faster.

Martinez had a knee brace and something on his shoulder. So something was up. I think if it was possible to get away from a knee brace on a dynamic athlete’s knee who is playing a skill position then you do so. It appeared to not be the case with Martinez.

I think the injuries were the biggest culprit for his down season

Scott Frost’s “No Comment on Injuries” Rule

I have said this a few times on this site, but I think Coach Frost’s “No Talkie ‘Bout Injuries” rule hurt Martinez. I don’t know if I am in the minority on this, but I do know there are many who disagree.

They have said, “why give the other team a competitive advantage when you don’t have to?”

I’m not talking about explaining the ins and outs of his injuries. Don’t go around informing the public that he has a torn labrum or a bruised thigh bone. That would be giving the team an advantage.

What I am saying is that I would go and defend my quarterback out in the public by saying something like the following - “Martinez has been battling through some injuries this season. Even with the injuries, we still believe he gives us the best chance to succeed at that position.”

What advantage would he have given Iowa in that circumstance? None. What it would have done is likely cool down chatter around town about whether he’s any good at all and whether he is actually the future at the position.

Remember, that Martinez actually has to go to class and go out in the public. Help the kid out.

We learned after this 2019 season that he ended up having surgery. At the press conference he said the following:

“All I’ll tell you, is I think the kid is a trooper for battling through what he battled through this year. He’s not alone. Several other things were gutting things out and fighting for the team,” Frost said. “That’s football. I’ve had seven surgeries as a football player. You come back better and healthier every time you get one. And I think a lot of those guys’ play will improve when they’re healthier.”

He’s a trooper. No doubt. Good to know now.

Four: Unrealistic Preseason Expectations

I would like to remind those on the outside that those potential championship level expectations about Nebraska football did not come from Nebraska fans. Most of those comments came from the national media.

This excuse is kind of a cop-out. There are teams all over the country with unrealistic preseason expectations. Most of them are in the SEC and Creighton.

It would be nice, at times, to be like Iowa. To go into every single season with reasonable expectations, which is to hang another Holiday Bowl banner.

Nah, I’ll stick with how we do things on this side of the river. Which is to have hopeful expectations. That is different from what happened last year. There was no reason to even mention the possibility of Nebraska contending for a college football playoff spot.

Yet it happened.

There was no reason to expect Nebraska to compete for a conference championship after only winning four games. Yet, those expectations persisted.

Do you think Frost, Martinez and Co. thought they were going to be contending for a college football playoff spot? I doubt it. I assume they could see the writing on the wall. It was going to be a hard season.

This “excuse” is nothing by itself, but when it is paired with everything else then I think it does have negative consequences.

Five: The Running Back Room

I remember on the Husker Extra podcast after the academic clearance of Dedrick Mills, that Journal Star Resident-Hero Steven M. Sipple said that addition of Mill could be the difference between a seven win season and a nine win season. Or it was something like that. Little did he know how right he might be, except he got the numbers wrong.

Mills might have been the difference between a three win season and a five win season. That my friends, is a depressing sentence.

The Maurice Washington fiasco merely took a bad situation and made it worse for the football team. After the walk-off win against Northwestern, I was told that when the team was dog piling on Lane McCallum after his game-winning field goal, that Mo Washington merely walked off the field.

That was when we knew things weren’t right in the running back room.

In the meantime we were trying to red-shirt Rhamir Johnson (who I am excited for) so we relied on the running back combination of Dedrick Mills and Wyatt Mazour to finish out the season.

Mills and Mazour both looked better as the season progressed. This is likely a result of the improved offensive line play.

You know who would have benefit from a competent run game? Adrian “a trooper” Martinez.

Six: Wide Receiver Problems

This is number two in my “reasons why Martinez struggled” power rankings.

Frost said that when they arrived on campus that there were only four scholarship wide receivers on the roster. They usually like having ten or 11. Nebraska signed multiple wide receivers in their first two classes.

From the 2018 class, out of five additions only two remain - Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard. From the 2019 class, out of four additions - only Kanawai Noa was a contributor. You could throw Wan’Dale Robinson in that mix, but he’s kind of a guy on his own.

If you want to know how things were at the wide receiver position, Nebraska played Chris Hickman (a converted true freshman TE) as well as Luke McCaffrey (a converted true freshman QB) to play at points at the end of the season.

Thank goodness for JD Spielman because other than him, there was not much else for Martinez to work with at times. I don’t know if it is a trust issue or a talent issue.

Just another thing to add to the pot.

Seven: Luke’s Last Name is McCaffrey

This is just kind of silly, but do we think Luke would have gotten so much praise from the media and fan base if his last name was Skywalker instead?

Just wondering.

Eight: Added Too Much Weight?

I cannot be alone in wondering if Martinez added too much weight in the off-season. I think it was intentional by the nutritional and coaching staff. According to, he was listed as 220 lbs as a freshman and 225 lbs as a sophomore. I expect that was not accurate.

Let me know if you have heard of different numbers.

To me it looks like he put on 20 lbs. Like I said, it was probably intentional for him to put on more muscle in order to deal with the physical punishment of playing quarterback for Scott Frost.

Truthfully he looked slower and less explosive. Could that of been because of the knee injury? Of course. Maybe it is a combination of the two.

Nine: Year of Film

Another cop-out excuse. Regardless it is true that 2019 was the the second time these Big Ten coaches got to see Adrian Martinez. It matters. Again, in isolation it is a bull crap excuse, but when you add it to all of the other contributing factors — it surely adds up to a lot.

To Conclude...

Adrian Martinez is a gamer and while he did not perform up to his own standards in 2019, there were numerous factors which contributed to his relatively poor play. The poor snaps in the beginning, young offensive line, injuries, unrealistic preseason expectations, running back and wide receiver supporting cast issues, Christian McCaffrey’s brother, added weight and a year of film for opposing coaches all were material factors in his performance.

To be clear Adrian Martinez was injured (assuming shoulder and knee) and started the season not knowing where the snap was coming. Then add that to the fact that his offensive line played poor in the beginning and the wide receivers and running backs did nothing to help the situation.

Excuse me, but could you blame the kid for having a “poor” season after all of that? His true freshman season showed us exactly what we should expect, and more, from the play of Adrian Martinez.

Now with all of that said, all of these excuses are null and void if he has a repeat performance in 2020. The offensive line jelled beautifully at the end of the season, the running back room should be restocked and the wide receiver room got some key additions. He should be healthy coming into next year.

The entire offense is returning (JD Spielman might change that), so the excuses should cease in 2020. There will be so much going for Martinez in 2020, that I really hope he excels.

If he doesn’t, then Christian McCaffrey’s brother is waiting in the wings.