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Nebraska Offensive Player to Watch: Quarterback Adrian Martinez

Martinez is an experienced QB, capable of big plays and equally big mistakes.

Can Martinez rediscover the magic that gave OSU a scare in 2018?
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Nebraska Cornhuskers host Ohio State this weekend, and oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once Tom Osborne hit a walkoff in 1998, this program cratered, right? Not as much as you might think… I certainly remember a return to Earth for the former gold standard of football in the Midwest (three National Championships from 1994-1997), but Nebraska didn’t just go away when their Hall of Fame coach hung up his whistle. Conversely, they had a few different coaches compile solid records, but those men were shown the door because nine or ten wins “just wasn’t up to standard”. Well, nine wins any time soon would be small miracle for the Huskers.

Bo Pelini was the king of the four-loss season. He rattled off six of them during his seven seasons, and likely would have gone 7/7 had he not been fired before the 2014 Holiday Bowl. He won nine or ten games each season during his tenure, but the school was not content with mediocre bowl appearances (Pelini also caught a lot of heat for his temper). Once Nebraska let go of the Youngstown, Ohio native, things only got worse. Mike Riley went 19-19 in his four seasons at the helm, before the school brought in former star QB Scott Frost prior to the 2018 season.

Frost was a beloved player for Nebraska during the mid-late nineties, and coached UCF to an unofficial national title in 2017 (13-0). He was a hot coaching commodity, and it seemed like fate had intervened when the opportunity opened up at his alma mater. Frost was going to recruit his tail off, bring back the power option, and restore the old glory in no time. About that…

Nebraska football has actually regressed since Frost took over, and the program is at its lowest point since the 1950’s. Frost, who was the quarterback of their last title team in 1997 (co-champ), owns a 15-26 record — good for a .365 winning percentage. His teams have been outcoached and outclassed, and they consistently shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers and mental mistakes. Despite these recent struggles, Nebraska still landed top-25 recruiting classes from 2018-2021! Now the grace period is over, and the Huskers are looking at a class that currently sits outside the top-75.

I would never place an entire program’s struggles at the feet of one player. Or a group of players… This has been a collective failure, and Frost is out in front. That being said, it’s fair to wonder if the coach’s seemingly undying commitment to his first big-time recruit is not at least a small part of the regression. Frost went after and flipped Adrian Martinez as part of his inaugural recruiting class, and the two have been tied together ever since.

Martinez, this week’s Offensive Player to Watch, has set a ton of school records and been a dynamic player at times. Unfortunately, he has also shown questionable decision making and committed frustrating turnovers. When the bad outweighs the good, Frost has been willing to hit the iceberg with Martinez, as opposed to steering away from it. Now the two might go down in infamy, as the duo who sunk Nebraska’s ship.

If you only look at honors, awards, and records, you might think that Martinez is one of the most accomplished, winning quarterbacks in the long history of Nebraska. He is a three-time captain, former Freshman All-American, Honorable Mention All-Big Ten recipient, Nebraska Offensive Player of the Year, Academic All-Big Ten honoree, the list goes on and on. He also holds program records for career completions, career 400-yard total offense games, and season completion percentage, among others. That’s a long list of accomplishments. Volume can be misleading…

2021 has been more of the same for the fourth-year quarterback. Martinez has put up his typical numbers: 2,268 yards passing on a 62.5 percent completion rate, 12 TD, 7 INT, 438 yards rushing, and 11 TD on the ground. Obviously he leads the team in passing, and his passer rating currently sits at a career high (152.5 for the season), but to also lead the team in rushing is legitimately impressive. Nebraska has seven players with more than 100 yards rushing, so you know they emphasize the run game. Martinez is a true dual-threat, and he has always been dangerous. The problem is, he can often be a danger to his own team’s success.

Nebraska’s school website does not list “unattractive” stats for Martinez. And why would they? He actually is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in program history, statistically speaking. But if you dig a little deeper, you will find the ugly truth about poor ball control and questionable (at best) decision making. Martinez entered the 2021 season with 27 career fumbles, 15 of which were lost. He has taken 77 sacks in his career, often as a result of holding onto the ball or failing to step up in the pocket. He has also thrown 26 career interceptions. The Husker QB is approaching 50 (!) turnovers and potentially north of 80 sacks taken in his complicated career. Martinez is the Russell Westbrook of college quarterbacks.

What makes matters worse, is that this guy, with all of his experience, makes some of his worst decisions and plays his worst ball in very winnable games for the Huskers. Examples? I’m glad you asked. Nebraska went to East Lansing to take on Michigan State for their fifth game of the season. Martinez threw for 251 yards, completing 71 percent of his passes. However, he took seven sacks and threw his lone interception in overtime, setting up an easy MSU victory in the extra period. This past weekend, Nebraska dropped a close one to Purdue, but only after Martinez threw four picks. A perfectly winnable game over a legitimate Big Ten West opponent, and the team could not overcome their quarterback’s mistakes. Nebraska lives and dies by Martinez, and he figuratively kills them every other week.

Adrian Martinez gets another shot at Ohio State this weekend, and what does he have to lose at this point? What does Scott Frost have to lose? Maybe they throw the kitchen sink at the Buckeyes. The duo did nearly pull off an upset during this first year together. Martinez was a true freshman in 2018, when the Huskers stormed into Columbus and took a 21/16 lead into halftime. They ultimately fell by a score of 36-31, but Martinez threw for 266 yards and rushed for 72 more, totaling three touchdowns. OSU has stomped Nebraska twice since then, but don’t think they’ve forgotten what Martinez is capable of.

The Huskers have an eclectic rushing attack and capable pass catchers. Martinez adds a skillset that Ohio State has not had to account for during most weeks of preparation. He can take advantage of his athleticism in space, and at the very least, he has experience. It will be interesting to see how the OSU defense has improved from the Oregon game. Anthony Brown has a similar skillset to that of Martinez, and he burned the Buckeyes on multiple occasions. I don’t believe that Martinez will have the same success, but he can make the game interesting. His whole career has been interesting, and Ohio State should be prepared for anything from this quarterback and his creative coach.