When Nebraska’s offense really put the pedal to the metal last fall, it could reel off plays really quickly. On an opening scoring drive against Minnesota, quarterback Adrian Martinez had the offense back at the line of scrimmage and ready to go in 12 seconds.
Everything in the Huskers’ quarterback room involves some science, and for quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco, those precious seconds between snaps are no different.
For example, Verduzco says his signal-callers can handle up to seven “chunks” of information between plays.
“That’s basically the research that’s been done in cognitive psychology,” Verduzco said. “You start getting beyond seven chunks, man, you’ve got problems. There’s too many things going on. For us, it just depends on the type of play, whether it’s RPO (run-pass option), a run-run option or a pass play.”
The following charts don’t follow Verduzco’s “chunks” perfectly — there’s significant variance depending on play type, defense, game situation, etc. — but still provide a general guide to the processing that happens in as little as 12 seconds.
1. Find the ball, find Frost.
As soon as a play is blown dead and the ball is spotted, Martinez’s job is to locate the ball and start moving toward it. At the same time, he’ll turn toward the sideline and find head coach Scott Frost, the play-caller. That way, Martinez wastes no time getting the signal but also doesn’t end up too far from the line of scrimmage. If Frost has a quick play call, NU goes right away.
2. Get the play call.
Otherwise, the play is signaled in by hand signals and posters from the sideline. Each unit can get the information it needs without any lag time. High above the field in the coaches' box, offensive coordinator Troy Walters is feeding information and insight to Frost in real time.
“Once (Martinez) has got the signal, the key — the absolute critical key — is you want to limit stupid interceptions and near-misses,” Verduzco said. “If we’re just talking about the pass game, the key to doing that is making sure his (Martinez's) initial response is as fast as possible.”
3. Apply it to game situation.
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This is where Martinez will survey the defense. That initial response — a presnap read, basically — might be to throw to a certain player, to read off a certain defender, to hand off the ball or any other number of options. But it’s not cluttered. Verduzco says that, even though the Huskers’ playbook is nearly limitless, every passing play is broken up into six safety-dependent or independent categories. Time, score, down and distance all matter, too.
“All we’re doing with the categorization and all the stuff we’re doing is coding his memory, so he has a small bit of information related to that play to understand how he has to make his decision,” Verduzco said. “That’s the key.”
4. Get your side lined up.
Players have to be lined up for at least a second except for a potential motion man. Perhaps moving a back out wide or bringing a receiver in motion gives Martinez an extra piece of data on what coverage the defense is playing or helps him identify a matchup.
5. Make any adjustments.
Last chance. If the protection lines up, the coaches haven’t called for a “check with me” situation and Martinez has identified his initial response, then the Huskers are all set.
6. Let it rip.
Just 12 seconds have passed, but the action is back on and a whole new wave of information is being processed. Verduzco likes to point out that playing quarterback is “the most open environment skill in all of sports,” meaning the targets are all moving, defenders are moving and the quarterback has to navigate all of it mentally and physically.
Just another day at the office for NU’s sophomore signal-caller.
“It’s probably a lot of information, but when you do it so often in practice and they make you do it at a fast pace, it’s nothing new,” Martinez said.