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Steven M. Sipple: Projecting positive energy, McCaffrey says he's 'thankful' to be in game plan

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Indiana vs. Nebraska, 10.26

Nebraska quarterback Luke McCaffrey (7) is pressured by Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden (47) on Oct. 26, 2019, at Memorial Stadium.

Listening to Luke McCaffrey's projection of positive energy, you almost have to remind yourself that he recently lost a battle for Nebraska's starting quarterback job.

The way Husker coaches described the preseason QB battle, it genuinely seemed like a tight one. 

Watching McCaffrey operate with poise during Saturday's 52-17 season-opening loss at Ohio State, it was very believable that he pushed Adrian Martinez for the job in practices leading to the game. 

McCaffrey, though, now pushes forward with a team-oriented approach, seemingly pleased with a role that has him run the ball out of the backfield, split out wide and catch passes and even play some snaps at quarterback.

"It's a blessing to be on the field at all, especially in that circumstance," the redshirt freshman said Tuesday during a news conference with reporters. "I'm super thankful for coach (Scott) Frost, coach (Matt) Lubick, coach (Mario) Verduzco, Adrian — everyone who kind of had a part in it. 

"Just to be part of the game plan in general, I'm thankful." 

Martinez, a junior who has started 22 games at Nebraska, prevailed in the preseason race for the starting job. During the season opener, both Martinez and McCaffrey played well, with Martinez handling the vast majority of QB repetitions. 

However, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound McCaffrey bolted 47 yards during the first series on a counter play that had him motion into the backfield from a wing set. He finished the game with a team-high 87 rushing yards (on nine carries). He also was 4-for-5 passing for 55 yards, and even caught a pass for a 5-yard gain.

"It's fun to be on the field in general, in any way possible," he said. 

Frost, the third-year Nebraska head coach, has said McCaffrey and Martinez's strong relationship helps make the situation work well. No doubt, McCaffrey clearly admires Martinez, who's one of five team captains. 

"I could go on a list for days about what I appreciate about him," McCaffrey said. "One of the things I talked about last week is how, when I first got here, he took me in. He saw it as competition, but then he also understands what our team needs to do to win. He has that balance so well-knit that everyone on our team can see it. 

The grades: Ohio State 52, Nebraska 17

"Everyone can see the competitiveness in him, in how he really will do anything needed to win games, and that's probably what I'm saying is most appreciated."

McCaffrey noted that he played receiver and ran the ball as a sophomore at Valor Christian (Colorado) High School when his brother Dylan McCaffrey was the starting quarterback. Luke McCaffrey described it as a "unique and special experience." 

"Now that I'm here at Nebraska, as good a guy as Adrian is, and as appreciative as I am of Coach Frost and Coach Verduzco, it's another unique situation, and I'm very thankful that I have those guys on my team and in my corner," McCaffrey said. "And a big reason I played receiver in high school at all was because my brother was the quarterback. And now a big reason I'm playing it is because I have those two coaches and Adrian also by my side. 

"To have those people in my corner, on my team, I'll fight for them." 

If you're a Nebraska fan, the situation with Martinez and McCaffrey — particularly how amicable it is — seems almost too good to be true. You naturally wonder how long it can last, especially considering Martinez will be a junior again next season (while McCaffrey will remain a redshirt freshman). Bottom line, the best approach for all involved is to live in the moment. There's no reason to think ahead to next season. That can wait. 

It's best to just think toward Saturday's home game against ninth-ranked Wisconsin, when McCaffrey will look for improvement from the offense. 

"We did a lot of things well as a team," he said of the Ohio State game. "We were driving the ball most every drive. The main thing that killed us was our disappointing turnovers. Me personally, I had a fumbled snap and another fumble later in the game. That can't happen. That's the No. 1 cause to lose games, is losing the turnover battle. So that's something we're cleaning up.

"Now we just have to go out and win games, because that's the most important thing." 

It helps when players are as team-oriented as McCaffrey and Martinez. 


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