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Steven M. Sipple: Frost's strong defense of Martinez indirectly points up offense's issues
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Steven M. Sipple: Frost's strong defense of Martinez indirectly points up offense's issues

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Defend Adrian Martinez's performance? Really?

Does the Nebraska sophomore quarterback really need someone to rush to his defense in the wake of the Huskers' 48-7 loss Saturday to fifth-ranked Ohio State?

That was NU second-year head coach Scott Frost's general reaction to a line of questioning Monday during the team's weekly media luncheon at Memorial Stadium.

"If you know football and watch that game, there are a lot of things that need to be fixed," Frost told reporters, referring to the offense in general.

Frost, a former Nebraska quarterback who absorbed stinging criticism during his playing days, understands fan criticism of Martinez to an extent. After all, head coaches and quarterbacks receive ample praise when a team is going strong, and get the lion's share of the blame during times of struggle.

But when Frost was asked Monday about Martinez's "struggles" Saturday, the coach pushed back against the word "struggles."

"If you look at the tape, he got flushed a bunch and was trying to make things happen," he said.

Martinez finished 8-for-17 passing for 47 yards, with three first-half interceptions. He rushed 15 times for 81 yards, highlighted by a 56-yard sprint in the third quarter with his team trailing 48-0.

Watching video of the game, Frost said he saw the offensive line do "a pretty good job" of opening holes in the run game.

However, "We didn't protect very well," the coach said. "We need to keep improving on those things. We need to keep getting a little more movement in the run game and get Adrian a little more time so he feels comfortable in the pocket."

Martinez seldom experienced comfort against Ohio State, which recorded four sacks and harassed the QB all game long.

"One thing we talked about (Monday) and will talk about all week is making sure Adrian is dealing with things that he's expecting, and not a bunch of uncertainties," Frost said. "That means receivers being in the exact right spots and protection being a little better and snaps being better.

"We're putting a lot on Adrian anyway. But when he's worried about where the snap is, worried about who's coming unblocked, worried about if his receiver's going to be in the right place — that's too much to put on a quarterback. We'll continue to dial all those things in. I think as some of our young players on offense get some more reps and some more experience, that will continue to get better."

Only a couple of seniors are playing meaningful minutes on offense — receivers Kanawai Noa (five catches on the season) and Mike Williams (two). Senior walk-on Wyatt Mazour has seen some spot duty at running back. That's it. It's a young group.

Redshirt freshman center Cameron Jurgens continues to struggle with snaps, which can throw off the offense's timing.

Bottom line, Nebraska's offense has multiple issues that clearly affect quarterback play, and Ohio State exposed basically all the issues. Did Martinez struggle some on his own? Of course he did. His third interception sailed 10 feet over the head of the intended receiver. But Frost's message regarding his QB was on-target: He needs help from teammates. All quarterbacks, to a certain extent, are only as good as the players around them.

There's something else to consider in the Martinez discussion. After his sparkling freshman season, fans expected even more from him this season. Expectations became out of control. But it's pretty clear he misses Stanley Morgan as a downfield threat. The line's play has been up and down. What's more, defensive coaches have a better idea how to push him out of his comfort zone.

His main issue has been turnovers. There's no getting around that part. He's got to clean it up. He's fumbled six times and lost four. He's thrown for seven touchdowns, but has five interceptions after throwing eight all last season.

His completion percentage has dipped from 64.6 last season to 59.5. His yards per carry has gone from 4.5 to 4.1 

Even so, I believe that if Martinez were viewed in the context of only this season, most NU fans would say they have a hell of a quarterback.

"He's doing well," Frost said. "He played tough Saturday. He got us some yards when there wasn't anything there. He was dealing with a lot of pass rush with very little time to make decisions. (The Buckeyes) have a really good team."

Good enough that Frost has Ohio State ranked No. 1 on his ballot for the coaches' poll.

"The season will play out, but where it sits now, that's as good of a team as I've seen, and he was dealing with a lot of that," the coach said. "I think he did pretty well under the circumstances."

Martinez doesn't get rattled easily.

"We just need to communicate with him what we're going to do to adjust and fix things," Frost said. "But I'm not for a second going to paint it as 'Adrian's struggles.' He fought and made some really good plays for us. He's going to make some incredible plays for us going forward. That's just the ups and downs of the game. Adrian's going to be just fine."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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