Scott Frost Press Conference 11.22

Coach Scott Frost speaks on the upcoming game against Iowa during a press conference at Memorial Stadium on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Scott Frost buried the lede on Monday.

In his weekly media availability ahead of the Huskers’ final regular season game against No. 17 Iowa, Nebraska’s head coach waited nearly two-and-a-half minutes to deliver what just might be the final nail in the coffin of the worst Nebraska football season in decades.

For not only the first time in the 2021 season, but also for the first time against Iowa, the Huskers will be without junior quarterback Adrian Martinez due to a shoulder injury he suffered against Wisconsin. Martinez, despite missing time with injury in his four-year Nebraska career, had yet to miss a contest against the Huskers’ bordering rival.

Frost said at Monday’s press conference that Martinez injured his shoulder in the first half against the Badgers and was “surprised,” that he wanted to play in the second half. Martinez did throw two interceptions in the second half against Wisconsin, but also threw for nearly 200 yards and almost willed Nebraska to a historic road upset victory.

“He was rolling right and threw one, and kinda got hit as he was throwing,” Frost said at Monday’s press conference. “We didn’t know the severity of it at halftime until we came back in and examined everything, but he had told us he had some clicking in his shoulder and didn’t know if he could throw with the same velocity that he usually throws with.” 

Freshmen quarterbacks Heinrich Haarberg and Logan Smothers have both received reps in practice this week, according to Frost, but Nebraska’s head coach noted that the more experienced Smothers has “earned the right to be the guy” against the Hawkeyes on Friday. Still, replacing a player and leader of Martinez’s caliber will be no easy task — especially in a rivalry Nebraska hasn’t won since 2014.

Frost spoke last on Monday, meaning other Husker players and coaches weren’t able to speak fully about Nebraska’s quarterback in a complete light. However, Martinez’s teammates spoke extremely highly of the fight and leadership he showed through 11 regular-season games. 

“Adrian is a warrior, it’s coming out about how he’s battling through stuff,” junior tight end Austin Allen said at Monday’s press conference. “I can’t say enough good things about him, he’s the leader of this team.”

In each of the last three seasons, Martinez has missed time due to either injury or inefficiency. Nebraska’s central concern ahead of Friday’s game is that Martinez has, for better or worse, played in every game so far this season. Smothers has yet to make a start and has no experience in high-pressure situations, and Haarberg’s only appearance in a Nebraska uniform came during the 2021 Red/White Scrimmage last spring. 

Iowa, which ranks No. 9 nationally in scoring defense and forces an average of 2.4 turnovers per game, is suddenly in line for a much more favorable matchup against a Nebraska offense led by an unproven commodity under center. 

The Hawkeyes’ secondary, in particular, is an extremely formidable unit. Iowa ranks No. 37 nationally allowing just over 211 passing yards per game, but ranks No. 5 nationally allowing opponents to complete just 54.1% of their passes. In addition, Iowa has grabbed a staggering 21 interceptions as a team.

“I think they play really well together,” Nebraska senior wide receiver Levi Falck said on Monday about Iowa’s secondary. “They’re cohesive and they’ve played a lot of games as a unit.”

Falck noted that, on the other hand, the Huskers moved the ball seemingly at-will against a stout Wisconsin secondary last weekend, but that was with Martinez at the helm. Without him, replicating that performance will be an extremely difficult task.

However, the prospects of playing a heated rival vying for a Big Ten West title and an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game on Senior Day should be enough motivation for a beaten-down Nebraska squad. On Friday, the Huskers will honor a group that has “seen it all,” according to Allen, and the Huskers will no-doubt be eager to send the players honored on Friday off on the right note while providing a valuable stepping stone for the future. 

With no postseason aspirations attached to the Huskers entering Friday’s game, finding external motivators like that could prove beneficial for Nebraska.

“Beating Iowa in anything is a great feeling for Nebraska fans,” Allen said. “We need to get that one done for the fans, this university, this program and it would set it on a good step for what this program is going to become. It would put us on a good trajectory leading into this off-season.”

As for which players Nebraska will honor before the Iowa game, that’s yet to be seen. Extra years of eligibility granted by COVID-19 threw an interesting wrench in player eligibility, meaning players stemming from sixth-year seniors to fourth-year juniors are capable of being honored on Friday.

Defensive coordinator Eric Chinander, in a rare Monday press conference appearance noted that senior day festivities are typically accompanied by mixed emotions for a coaching staff. He also attached an expectation, ever so slightly, to the players that are honored on Friday — perhaps a clue as to what current fourth-year juniors like Martinez and Allen will do.

“I do not anticipate many guys will walk on Senior Day that are going to come back, if that makes sense,” Chinander said at Monday’s press conference. “There may be a couple of guys who aren’t 100% sure. But I think most guys at this juncture are either walking and leaving or not walking and coming back.”

Perhaps most importantly, the last week of the regular season for the Huskers kick starts a monumental offseason. Following the Iowa game, Frost and athletic director Trev Alberts will be tasked with replacing multiple coaches, but also potentially overhauling certain positions.

The one thing that’s certain for Nebraska at the moment, especially after Monday, is that change is on the horizon.

“Yeah, there is going to be a lot of change, I don’t really want to think about that until after we get through this game,” Frost said. “[Iowa is] a good team, but that is where our focus is right now and after the game there is going to be a lot of work to do.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com