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Looking for a bright spot? Start with freshman quarterback Martinez

October 11, 2018

LINCOLN — Upon further review, Adrian Martinez doesn’t feel as bad about his performance against Wisconsin now as he did in the bowels of Camp Randall Stadium moments after Saturday’s loss.

But the true freshman quarterback said Monday that he’s going to keep being hard on himself. And that’s the way it should be.

The progress of the former four-star prospect and jewel of Scott Frost’s first recruiting class has become Exhibit A in the case for optimism amid an 0-5 season. Martinez showed the most extended preview yet of his long-term potential — and perhaps short-term upside — by throwing for a career-high 384 yards against Wisconsin. He extended plays with his feet and eventually finished with 441 yards of total offense, good for fourth best in program history.

“I knew what I was capable of,” Martinez said. “And I still don’t think I’ve reached my capabilities. I don’t think I’m anywhere near as good as I think I can be in the future.”

Martinez said he missed at least 10 opportunities for completions after watching game film. He’s aware of the three or four passes that should have been intercepted by the Badgers. He needs to be smarter about when he runs the ball and fix ball-security issues, including two fumbles (one lost) in the third quarter.

That final point, he said, is a result of trying to do too much in the moment when he should have fallen to the turf. Walking the line between making a play and doing too much comes with experience and situational awareness. At the same time, he wants to keep his “stinger” — quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco’s term for playmaking ability — the way he’s done in second halves against Purdue and Wisconsin. He’s been the operator behind explosive games from the likes of JD Spielman, Maurice Washington and Devine Ozigbo.

“He’s gonna be special,” Frost said of the solidly built playmaker who goes 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. “We knew we’d have to live through some of that, playing a freshman quarterback. That hasn’t really been what’s hurt us. He’s done enough for us to win. I think he’s just gonna keep getting better.”

Martinez ranks 21st nationally in total offense (292.3 yards per game), and his 441 number Saturday is the third highest by a freshman this fall. All this after missing his senior season of high school recovering from shoulder surgery and suffering a knee injury in the season opener against Colorado that caused him to miss a game.

That knee feels better know, Martinez said. His continued use of a knee brace is more of a precaution than anything else.

The Huskers don’t huddle in Frost’s offense, but offensive lineman Matt Farniok said Martinez would have a commanding presence there if they did. The sophomore right tackle called his QB a “calm-demeanor guy,” someone who doesn’t get down on himself when the bullets are flying. He’s become more vocal and confident in recent weeks.

“He’s an amazing player,” Farniok said. “He’s an 18-year-old kid that came in and took the reins of a good Big Ten offense. The only difference is he’s pretty mobile. He’s definitely a switch-up from a pocket passer, and it’s a little more exciting, especially when he decides to scramble.”

Martinez said the 41-yard run for his first career touchdown against Colorado last month was the moment he convinced himself he could compete at a high level in college. It was just him playing football like he always had growing up.

Now his reputation is growing. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said Saturday night that he expected Martinez to make things happen, and he did. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday called the Nebraska QB “a magician” for the same reason.

Another former quarterback — one who coached former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and once shared a locker room with Brett Favre — has a regular up-close view on Nebraska’s future in the making.

“He’s doing some things like quite a few of the special guys that I’ve been around,” Frost said. “There’s no way that I would have been ready to do what he’s doing right now as an 18-year-old. It says a lot about who he is as a person.”

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