For the last two games, Nebraska football has been without star sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez due to an undisclosed lower-body injury suffered against Northwestern on Oct. 5.
That may change this Saturday, as Martinez said he feels ready and expects to be able to start Saturday against Purdue.
“I'm not happy about sitting out and you know, being hurt but you know, I think there's something to gain from it,” he said at Tuesday’s media availability. “It's allowed my body to recover, it's allowed me to recover, you know, and I'm back ready to go. I feel like my arm’s juiced up and everything's recuperating.”
With Martinez out, sophomore Noah Vedral and freshman Luke McCaffrey stepped up and led the charge at quarterback against Minnesota and Indiana. Against the Gophers and Hoosiers, Vedral went 28-39 for 336 yards, along with 22 rushes for 70 yards and two touchdowns. McCaffrey came in against Indiana after Vedral got hurt, and played well, going 5-6 for 71 yards and a touchdown along with 12 rushes for 76 yards.
Despite falling short on the scoreboard in both games, Martinez was happy with their performances.
“I loved their play,” he said. “I thought they played great. You know, real props to Noah and Luke for just preparing and you could see it in practice, you knew it was going to come in the game and when Luke got in there and I heard the ‘Luke’ chants, that was so cool.”
On the other side of the ball, the Nebraska defense has some work to do heading into its matchup against Purdue this Saturday. The Blackshirts gave up 455 yards of total offense to the Hoosiers, including 351 through the air.
“It was a little bit of everything,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “There were some times where we didn't get a very good pass rush and we were rushing four. Sometimes we had some coverage errors, some alignment errors, but one time we have a guy double teamed and he catches the ball, I mean that stuff can't happen. So there's a multitude and it was not one group, not one player, it was a lot of guys.”
Chinander also stressed that the biggest problem defensively was the inability to get off the field on third down. Indiana went 7-14 on third down and 2-2 on fourth downs. The first of those fourth down conversions extended the Hoosiers’ opening drive, which ended in a field goal. The other was a conversion on fourth and seven in the final quarter that set up an Indiana touchdown to extend its lead to 14.
The Blackshirts also practiced poorly on the Wednesday leading up to the game, according to Chinander. He added that it was “hard to tell” why this was, but reiterated that every player on the team needs to be able to give their full effort at practice every day.
“I'm sure there's a lot of factors but everybody that walks out on that practice field, me included, we came here to Nebraska because Nebraska is about being tough,” Chinander said. “If you're not tough enough to practice on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, we need to find somebody else. Period.”
Nebraska’s pass defense will especially need to get things together before traveling to Purdue, as the Boilermakers tout a top-20 passing offense in the NCAA. Only three teams pass the ball more than Purdue does, so the Blackshirts will have to show better coverage to slow down the air raid.
Boilermaker sophomore receiver Rondale Moore is an explosive playmaker and had an electric freshman campaign, but has been out since Sept. 28 with a hamstring injury. He has a chance to return this week against Nebraska, but even if he doesn’t, Purdue has other weapons to prepare for.
“I don't know if Rondale Moore is going to play but you’ve got to be ready in case he is,” Chinander said. “David Bell's emerged as a big time receiver. Their tight end has become a really good blocker and really good target in the pass game. And the young quarterback can make a lot of throws, he's had some ups and downs too but he's done a really good job.”
With four games left on the schedule, Nebraska has to go 2-2 to make a bowl game. This game against Purdue would be a great start for that push, and players are motivated to get the job done.
“I think that's really what everyone's waiting for,” junior defensive lineman Ben Stille said. “It's the most immediate goal, most immediate attainable goal for us. That's what everyone's fighting for right now.”
Chinander’s unit will need to improve in order to meet that goal. Head coach Scott Frost voiced his trust in Chinander yesterday, saying he doesn’t question his coaches. Chinander expressed his appreciation, along with his dedication to improvement.
“I love football, I love Nebraska and I love these kids,” Chinander said. “I'm going to coach them as hard as I freakin’ can for as long as I'm here, and I hope that's for a really, really long time and this program is going to be really, really good. We have to find a way to get it better. There's no such thing as a quick fix. I know everybody wants it. I want it. The players want it. That's not realistic.”
Chinander went on to add more about how the rebuild will take time.
“We have to build this program to where coach Frost wants it,” he said. “If that happens for the next four games, great. If that happens next year, that's probably not good enough for everybody, but we're going to keep pushing until we do it. But there's not one person in this building that doesn't love Nebraska.”