Steven M. Sipple: Martinez stands tall as Big Ten welcomes impressive influx of young QBs
Things I know, and things I think I know:
Kirk Herbstreit played quarterback at Ohio State during the early 1990s when it was still rare for a true freshman QB to take over a major-college offense. The approach often was to ease a rookie into the fray and let him get accustomed to the college game’s speed. Heck, let him get used to being a college kid.
My heavens, how times have changed.
“These guys today, especially in Trevor Lawrence’s case, he started when he was 14 years old on his freshman team in Georgia, where football really matters — there was a lot of pressure on him as a ninth-grader and a 10th-grader and an 11th-grader,” Herbstreit said of Clemson’s true freshman starter. “He’s going to all these camps all over the country. He’s exposed to so much.”
That early exposure is why quarterbacks such as Lawrence, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and yes, Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez seem so accustomed to the big stage from the moment they land on it.
Lawrence was rated by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class. Tagovailoa, a sophomore, was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2017. They’ll lead their teams into the national championship game at 7 p.m. Monday night on ESPN.
Both quarterbacks seemingly were put on earth to play for big stakes. Same goes for Martinez, by the way.
“I think they come in and it’s just part of their DNA,” Herbstreit told ESPN radio of today’s highly rated college quarterbacks. “They’re not overwhelmed by the defenses that they see. They’re not overwhelmed by 100,000 people in the stadium and a big stage and playing on national TV.”
In the cases of many young quarterbacks, it seems like they play better on the big stage. Martinez’s approach seems to be, “This is what I’ve trained to do, so let’s go do it.” He never seemed nervous at all last season in becoming the main reason for optimism in Husker Nation.
Thing is, Nebraska in 2019 could square off against several young quarterbacks in the Big Ten who possess a similar mindset. It is presumed that 2018 West Division champion Northwestern will start Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit in the class of 2017. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder transferred from Clemson last summer and sat out this season to gear up for 2019.
Wisconsin fans are salivating over the arrival of 6-3, 205-pound Graham Mertz of Mission, Kansas, the No. 4-ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2019. He was the MVP of Saturday’s All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Then there’s Justin Fields, who announced Friday night he’s transferring from Georgia to Ohio State. The No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2018, Fields will petition the NCAA for immediate eligibility, citing how a Georgia baseball player directed a racial slur toward him this past season.
As for Monday night’s national championship game, watch how calmly Clemson’s true freshman QB handles the bright lights.
“It’s interesting listening to older players saying how much they respected his approach,” Herbstreit said of Lawrence. “He’s not a, ‘I’m the man’ kind of guy. He’s very humble, very respectful of the players who have been there from Day One. He hasn’t changed one bit.”
Herbstreit could well have been talking about Martinez. A captain as a second-year sophomore? It seems almost inevitable -- yes, like he was trained to be that guy.
* If I were a Nebraska football fan watching the Clemson-Alabama clash, much of my attention would be in the trenches. That’s where these teams hold a distinct advantage over most teams.
In terms of defensive line recruiting, Clemson and Alabama have the advantage of being in close proximity to the best interior line recruits in the nation. In perusing the 2014 through 2018 recruiting classes, you’ll note that the Crimson Tide recruited 13 defensive tackles in that span. All but one came from southern states, and 11 of the 13 arrived from southeastern states.
Clemson recruited nine defensive tackles during that span, and eight came from southeastern states — the exception being five-star recruit Christian Wilkins from Suffield, Connecticut.
In assessing Nebraska’s defense in 2018, the Huskers clearly have to make major improvement in the trenches. It has to be a priority. But it’s hard to pluck the best linemen from the southern reaches.
* A reader, Tim, chimes in via Twitter on Frank Solich being honored this week in Omaha: “It’s great to finally recognize and honor him. I always find it embarrassing at games when the big screen recognizes Devaney and Osborne but is silent on Solich.”
Good point. Solich was 58-19 as Nebraska’s head coach, a .753 winning percentage. For perspective, Mike Riley was 19-19.
Seems a bit haughty to not mention Frank.