Adrian Martinez may no longer be the sure thing as the Huskers' starting quarterback
As the Nebraska Cornhuskers prepare for their third season under Scott Frost, mere hype isn't tolerated. Fans don't want to hear about anyone winning the Heisman or other accolades. All due respect to everyone involved, they want results. Facts are facts: Frost is among the nation's 20 highest-paid coaches, and Husker Nation is ready to see the product he helped create as Oregon's offensive coordinator and the success he produced as UCF's head coach.
Frost will get time to produce. But members of the fan base do have admittedly legitimate concerns. Nothing may ever come of them, but they are worth entertaining for even a moment. Here are the three most pressing.
Adrian Martinez Shouldn't Be The Starting Quarterback
Some might attribute this idea to the old adage of the backup quarterback being the most popular player on the team. It's no lie that after seeing Luke McCaffrey in action, several Big Red backers became enamored with what could be if No. 7 was under center on a permanent basis. Let's put a pin in that and examine what we know about Martinez thus far.
His 2018 season has been well-documented. Despite Nebraska's 0-6 start, Martinez had a solid go as a true freshman and led the Huskers to their 4-2 second-half record. This is where all the now-infamous Heisman talk started leading into 2019. But that’s where we see cracks starting to form.
One of the more interesting QBR pass charts I've come across: Adrian Martinez was good at deep balls, lovely up the seam, and absolutely horrid throwing toward the sidelines.https://t.co/BIt9c87Yzz pic.twitter.com/iW4OSFduxE— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) April 16, 2020
We can take a couple of things from the numbers submitted by ESPN's Bill Connelly. Martinez is solid with the deep ball and can deliver over the middle. However, it appears that once defensive coordinators adjust to take away his short-to-intermediate throws, he struggles to adapt.
What's also less than ideal is what appears to be trouble connecting behind the line of scrimmage. This only limits Frost’s offense further by taking away what speedsters can do as blocking lanes form.
But what does any of this have to do with McCaffrey? In four contests last season — two of which he played significant minutes in — he went 9-of-12 passing for 142 yards and two touchdowns with 24 carries for 166 yards and one score on the ground. It's not much to go off of, but we saw definite confidence in McCaffrey on every snap that came and went with Martinez.
The premise is simple: Some want the chance to see if McCaffrey can become The Man with a healthy starting lineup. Noah Vedral isn't in the conversation anymore, as he's entered the transfer portal, and by the time you're reading this may have already found a new home. Logan Smothers might see time in four games to get experience, but it's highly unlikely he starts in 2020. If he does, that probably means something sub-optimal happened.
Is this to say that Martinez isn't allowed a sophomore slump? Absolutely not. He may rebound in a huge way as a junior to shut all the doubters up. But if he struggles early and Nebraska takes a loss versus Purdue or any of their first few games, is there any legitimate possibility McCaffrey will be throwing passes versus potentially catching them?
Scott Frost Will Be On The Hot Seat if Nebraska Doesn't Make a Bowl Game
This truly depends on where you're located in the college football world. From a national perspective, if Nebraska won, let's say, five games this season, giving Frost a 14-22 record in three years at the Power 5 level with no postseason bids? Modern-day logic within the sport dictates he's going to feel some heat.
But that's not how things work in Lincoln right now. Athletic director Bill Moos just gave Frost a multi-year extension that helps reinforce the idea that the program's undergoing a complete rebuild. Also, let's say Moos did fire Frost. How many coaches out there would be able to come to Lincoln and immediately turn things around?
All of those hypotheticals aside, the Huskers have even more working against them. The current global situation puts the original timeline of their massive athletic complex plans in flux. Obviously, Frost and his staff were always going to use it as a major selling point for recruits. Some level of normalcy may return soon and plans move forward as anticipated, but uncertainty is a pain.
The 2020 season itself does the Big Red no favors. The schedule isn't kind for any long stretch, and the back end is a slog. We'll get to this in a moment. Considering what’s been seen on the field over the past two years, reaching a bowl would be a step in the right direction. But even if the Huskers don't, no one should anticipate any changes at the head of the table.
Erik Chinander Won’t Be in Lincoln Much Longer
Let's get back to that schedule. The final five games feature road contests against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa, amid home tilts versus Penn State and Minnesota. All five of those teams played in late December or early January bowl games, two were the Big Ten Championship Game representatives, and one of those was in the College Football Playoff.
This means Nebraska can afford exactly one loss in its first seven games — where several potential pitfalls lie — and still be eligible for the postseason if they tank and go 0-for during this run.
Chinander runs a defense that endeavors to generate turnovers so Frost's offense can light up the scoreboard. However, the Huskers have a combined minus-two turnover margin since he's taken over Blackshirt operations. The good news is Nebraska's secondary should be solid from start to finish in 2020. If they perform anywhere near as well as UCF's did in terms of interceptions, the Huskers' offense will have plenty of opportunities to work its magic.
But that's reliant on stopping the run in a conference known to provide quality backs week in and week out. If Chinander's retooled front seven can’t do that, the need to test his secondary goes out the window. And when they are actually challenged, we can only imagine how fatigued they'll be from not only defending the skies but aiding in stifling ground games. That's a great deal to ask of any single unit.
Keep in mind that Frost has seemed to favor staff loyalty during his days as a head coach. That notion was tested this past offseason when he let offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Troy Walters go in favor of Matt Lubick. Stopping the offenses littering this year's calendar will be difficult. Defending the final quintet will be a tremendous challenge.
If this version of the Blackshirts isn't up for it, does Nebraska point to the rocky road coupled with inexperience and suggest better things in 2021 or move on from Chinander as they did Walters?
Notice that all of these are somewhat interconnected. If the Huskers' signal-caller can't excel, Frost's offense won’t hum. Even if it gets the ball back thanks to improved defensive performances, this means nothing if they can't advance down the field. This combination likely equates to multiple losses, and this year is one in which the Big Red simply cannot afford to miss those extra practices.
Of course, this is all purely speculation and, quite frankly, nothing any Nebraska fans want to entertain until it becomes reality — if it ever does. But considering what we have to analyze — and yes, the sample size is small, but it's what we've got — it's hard to say any of it would be especially surprising if it played out.