Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez entered the 2o19 season as a dark horse competitor for the Heisman Trophy, but head coach Scott Frost thinks one of the reasons he ended up struggling is because he was able to put his play on “cruise control,” for much of the season. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald talked to Frost on Tuesday about why Martinez didn’t live up to expectations in 2019, and why he thinks the quarterback will be better in 2020.
The coach pointed to a lack of competition for Martinez when Nebraska’s fall camp ended last year. In 2018, Martinez’s first season with the Cornhuskers, he was engaged in a position battle that went down to the last few days of the team’s preseason. Last year, he entered the season as the obvious starter and Frost thinks it affected Martinez’s point of view.
“It’s his mindset and his approach,” Frost said. “He came in his first year and had to compete for that spot, and he looked like a competitor every single day in practice. Year two, I think because of the situation, he was able to put it in cruise control a little, and I think that showed up on the field a little more.”
Frost was careful to say that not everything that went wrong was on Martinez. The coaching staff talked often during the season about a lack of supporting cast. Nebraska also replaced its offensive coordinator this offseason, firing Troy Walters and bringing in Matt Lubick. The team also signed a large class of wide receivers in the most recent recruiting cycle to try and beef up the offensive attack.
This summer and fall, Frost said Martinez has more competition from redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey. McCaffrey came into 2019 not having played a down of college football. When injuries allowed him to get into games later in the season, his performance stood out. The then-true-freshman completed nine of 12 pass attempts for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried the ball 24 times for 166 yards and a touchdown. He even caught a pass for 12 yards.
Frost said McCaffrey showing he was a legitimate contender for the starting quarterback slot has Martinez preparing like he was before the season in 2018. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco echoed Frost’s assessment, saying Martinez is in a much better place both physically and mentally than he was at any time during last season.
In addition to alleged mental struggles, Nebraska’s starting quarterback also spent a good portion of the season injured. Frost announced soon after the season ended that Martinez had needed surgery on an undisclosed injury that the coach said had bothered the quarterback for most of 2019.