Following the conclusion of the Nebraska football season, The Daily Nebraskan will be examining the success of each position. This is the second part of this series, evaluating the quarterback position.
After a dynamic true freshman season, it was easy to get excited about Adrian Martinez heading into the new season. Arriving on campus along with first-year head coach Scott Frost, the California native threw for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns, adding another 629 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Visions of a big leap for Martinez in his sophomore season didn’t come to fruition as Nebraska’s starter had a disappointing second season with the team. His rushing numbers were nearly identical to a year ago, as he recorded 626 rushing yards on four fewer carries along with seven rushing scores.
However, the drop off came in the pass game. While Martinez had some early-season success, a stretch of poor games to end the year cast doubt on his spot as the team’s starter. In total, Martinez’s completion percentage dropped 5.2 points and he had seven fewer touchdowns than last year. Martinez also threw nine interceptions this season, compared to eight last year, despite having 96 fewer passing attempts.
While the end product was disappointing, Martinez began the year looking much like his promising freshman self. The team’s opening game against South Alabama was a warning sign of things to come, as Martinez threw for 178 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, adding just six rushing yards on 13 attempts.
In Nebraska’s next three games against Northern Illinois, Colorado and Illinois, there were few signs Nebraska would have a quarterback controversy by the end of the year. Martinez threw for 875 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception, adding another 228 yards and three scores on the ground.
From then on, Martinez’s season went downhill. A blowout loss to Ohio State in week five was a night to forget for the starter, as he completed just eight passes and threw three interceptions. Against Northwestern the following week, Martinez suffered a knee injury that would keep him out of the team’s next two games. Enter Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffrey.
Vedral had respectable showings as the team’s starter against Minnesota and Indiana, completing 28-39 passes for 336 yards while scoring two rushing touchdowns. In the loss to Indiana, McCaffrey got his first extended playing time of the season and immediately made an impression with 5-6 passing for 71 yards and a score, along with 76 yards on the ground which made for an impressive showing from McCaffrey.
Martinez returned to his starting role in the final four weeks of the season, but an up-and-down showing combined with continued flashes of brilliance from McCaffrey means the starting position is up in the air going into 2020. Martinez looked good against Wisconsin and Maryland, but struggled in losses to Purdue and Iowa, throwing four interceptions in his final four starts.
The knee injury played a factor in Martinez’s struggles, as he didn’t look as explosive as he did a year ago. However, McCaffrey closed out the Maryland game with a stellar drive and threw a touchdown pass against Iowa, something Martinez couldn’t manage to accomplish.
At the end of the year, McCaffrey had a better completion percentage, yards per attempt and yards per rush than Martinez, although he had nowhere near as many touches. McCaffrey even did better than Martinez at catching passes, as the true freshman caught one pass for 12 yards while Martinez dropped his only target of the season against Iowa.
Throughout the year, Frost continued to reaffirm his confidence in Martinez. While Martinez played one of his worst games against Iowa and McCaffrey impressed in his short cameo, benching him was hardly a consideration for Frost.
“Didn’t really consider it,” he said after the game. “We have three really good quarterbacks. I love all three of those kids. I didn’t think tied in the fourth quarter at 24 was the right time to do that.”
Heading into the 2019 season, Martinez looked like he had the starting job locked down for the rest of his Husker career. Heading into 2020, the future is uncertain. Perhaps Martinez will begin the year as starter once again, but McCaffrey is certainly knocking on the door.
There will be months of practice before a decision is made, and the topic will be debated ad nauseam until next August. Martinez or McCaffrey? The state will wait for Frost to decide.