Following Nebraska's nail-biting 30-27 victory over Penn State, Scott Frost confirmed that he'd been wrestling with who'd start the day at quarterback. 'That decision was one of the hardest I've ever made." He could've understandably put Adrian Martinez behind center to get things going against the Nittany Lions but chose not to.
And in this moment, we see Frost has the ability to make the calls necessary to bring the Cornhuskers back to relevance.
"I think so much of who Adrian Martinez is as a football player and as a person. He certainly practiced well enough to play so it was a tough decision," he said. Sitting a third-year starter and team-chosen captain who has fought hard for his coach is anything but painless. But being able to follow through on doing what's best for a team's overall performance separates a winning program from decades of ineffectiveness.
Through two games, Martinez's stat line read far more like something out of his sophomore year versus anything he showed as a true freshman. Completing 24 of 42 passes for 230 yards and one interception while running for 187 yards and a lone touchdown over that span isn't going to translate to many victories.
Luke McCaffrey made mistakes one would expect a redshirt freshman to during the first start of his career, let alone on little sleep. He still connected on 13 of 21 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown while adding 67 yards and a score on the ground. McCaffrey didn't have much of a say in the final minutes following his biggest sin of the day: a pick courtesy of linebacker Brandon Smith.
But the fact remains Frost is undefeated with McCaffrey on top of the depth chart. He couldn't claim that with Martinez.
Yes, McCaffrey is far from a finished product but 2020 is the perfect time for baptism by fire. No game can be counted as an easy win for Nebraska moving forward. Especially if the Huskers continue to short-circuit on offense in the second half, resulting in being outscored a combined 69-6 through three games.
There will still be struggles. But if the Blackshirts continue to rise to the occasion as they did versus Penn State, these lessons won't come back to bite him with anywhere near as much ferocity.
Meanwhile, one of his biggest supporters standing on the sidelines — whooping and hollering as Nebraska was led to victory by a new No. 7 — was Martinez himself. No player is required to cheer on the one who took their spot in the lineup. But those who want to help the team's culture thrive set the example whether they are on the field or the sideline. The consummate teammate, his actions should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed his career since setting foot in Lincoln.
It takes guts and class to do what Frost and Martinez did on Saturday, respectively. While not fresh off a blowout win perhaps expected with a 27-6 halftime lead, Nebraska is back in the Big Ten West hunt. Even if only for the moment. McCaffrey's story as the face of Frost's offense officially has its first few paragraphs down in ink.
If the Huskers are going to chase down current division leader Northwestern with Wisconsin also looking strong after dealing with a prolonged COVID-19 outbreak, it'll be up to McCaffrey to lead the charge. What needed to happen for Frost to prove he's ready to set his program up for bigger things in 2021 and beyond did on Saturday afternoon most certainly did. Big Red backers should take a moment to savor it.
Now it's on to Illinois for a shot at 2-2.
(Top photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics)