Nebraska head coach Scott Frost on Monday did not categorically rule out the possibility of sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez playing Saturday night against Minnesota, a positive development in its own right for Martinez and the Huskers.
Martinez, though, was not a full participant in practice, meaning sophomore backup Noah Vedral took the vast majority of the repetitions with the No. 1 offense. Frost also said freshman Luke McCaffrey got a good number of turns, too.
“If it’s my time, I’ll be ready,” Vedral said.
It appears Martinez for the second consecutive year has avoided a serious knee injury, this time to his left knee after last year having his right knee twisted and injured against Colorado. As a freshman, he missed one game. As a sophomore, only time will tell, but Frost said Monday that the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder will have to do at least some work in practice this week in order to be in a position to play.
“He has had plenty of reps, so we will make those decisions down the road,” Frost said. “It kind of depends on when and if he is able to look efficient in practice.”
There are several other factors that could be in play for the Huskers. First, Saturday’s trip to Minneapolis represents a critical game as NU sits 2-1 in Big Ten play and the division-rival Gophers 3-0. Then, Nebraska is off next week. Does that make it any more tempting to try to get a win with Vedral at the helm and get an extra week off for Martinez?
“I don’t know if it does,” Frost said. “If Adrian is healthy, he will go. If he isn’t, then we feel great about where we are. But it is good timing for a bunch of guys, so it has been a long stretch here.
“We have a one-week season to play the best we can this week, so they can rest and get a lot of guys healthy.”
Vedral said he’ll proceed through the week like he normally does, referencing a quote from The Program founder and Frost's friend Eric Kapitulik, who has climbed Mount Everest, and his answer for anybody who asks what you do differently to prepare for the tallest mountain on the planet.
“Nothing,” Vedral recalled. “If you have to change something, you shouldn’t be climbing Mount Everest. That’s a quote that kind of goes for this week for the quarterback unit. We don’t need to do anything different. We prepare the same every week regardless of the team or who’s playing or whatever the situation may be.”
The Wahoo native played four fourth-quarter series against Northwestern, including a last-minute drive that got the Huskers in position for Lane McCallum’s game-winning, 24-yard field goal. Needless to say, his teammates and coaches have confidence that Vedral can help get Nebraska a win if needed.
“He has the most experience in this offense, and it is very evident,” junior right tackle Matt Farniok said. “He is very calm, collected and he is just ready to play football.”
“I don’t see Noah rattled very often,” Frost added.
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Quarterback Noah Vedral talks about the quarterbacks situation on Oct. 7, 2019.
McCaffrey is the wild card. When Frost first addressed Martinez’s injury, he said, “We feel comfortable if we have to go with Noah and Luke.”
McCaffrey made his debut against Northwestern, sprinting onto the field when Vedral’s helmet popped off and he had to come out of the game for a play.
“He is like the Energizer Bunny,” Farniok said. … “We were still getting Noah off the ground and I look around and was like, 'Luke’s here.' He embodies the 'Hey we’re ready. Next man up' (mentality) and he’s a young guy, but he knows what he’s doing. I mean, that’s part of the thing why he’s so quick and just ready is because he is here to play football, and he is really good at playing football.”
McCaffrey had one carry for 3 yards and then Vedral came back in.
Frost said he and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco had just had the conversation about what to do if Vedral’s helmet came off and Frost said he wanted McCaffrey, even though the plan is to play him in a maximum of four games in order to retain his redshirt. Sure enough, one play later, Vedral’s helmet came off.
Frost called the turn of events "unfortunate" on Monday and was adamant that McCaffrey won’t play in more than four games, so he has three left over the Huskers’ final six, plus whatever postseason play they might see.
In hindsight, Frost said he doesn’t know if he would have handled the situation differently — like putting in junior walk-on Andrew Bunch or redshirt freshman walk-on Matt Masker — for one snap.
“It is hard to say. Luke could have just as easily popped a run and won the game for us,” Frost said. “He is the next guy up on the depth chart right now, so he is the next guy in. We still have three more games to use him, so we’ll figure that out really soon.”
Might he be used in some packages along with Vedral if Martinez is out? That certainly seems a possibility, but one the Huskers would probably keep under wraps as long as possible. The consensus is that McCaffrey is one of the most dynamic athletes on the roster.
“Once everybody gets to see him run, that’ll be pretty exciting,” freshman back Wan’Dale Robinson said Monday.
Maybe that will happen Saturday. Maybe Vedral will start and play the whole game. Maybe Martinez will be healthy enough to play. Regardless, it sets up an interesting set of decisions for Frost and the Husker coaches.
Head football coach Scott Frost talks about the team's performance against Northwestern and upcoming opponent Minnesota on Oct. 7, 2019.