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Steven M. Sipple: Martinez gets a good sign from Frost; and the coach weighs in on 'fishbowl'
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Steven M. Sipple: Martinez gets a good sign from Frost; and the coach weighs in on 'fishbowl'

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Things I know, and things I think I know:  

You perhaps thought Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez's future at the school was bleak in early November. You might have even thought he was washed up. 

He was benched at Northwestern. His mechanics looked awry. He looked a little lost in general.  

We know better now. How many of us overreacted?

The California kid clearly caught a second wind during the final four games of the 2020 season, as he completed 71 of 105 passes (67.6%) for an average of 195.5 yards per game. He threw four touchdown passes and just one interception. In the final two games, he rushed 38 times for 253 yards (6.7 per carry) and three touchdowns. Granted, he turned the ball over four times against Rutgers in the season finale. But when he wasn't turning it over, he was downright electric. 

His coach, Scott Frost, watched it all — the good and bad — but locked in hard on the good parts. In fact, the fourth-year Nebraska head coach said Friday that he plans to "work a little more with Adrian this year," going beyond the coaching Martinez receives from quarterbacks guru Mario Verduzco. Frost's revelation amounts to excellent news for Martinez. It's typically a good sign when the boss decides to devote more time to you. Frost clearly believes in Martinez. That's the message here. 

"In that game (at Rutgers), he played like a player of the year minus a few plays," Frost says. 

It sort of feels like the Martinez story at Nebraska is starting all over again. You wonder if we'll ever again see the Martinez who dazzled in 2018 to the tune of 295.1 yards of total offense per game, the most ever by a true freshman at a Power Five school. He completed 64.6% of his passes in 2018, but slid to 59.4% in 2019, when he threw 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. But you look at those final four games of 2020, especially the ones at Iowa (18-for-20 passing), Purdue (23-for-30) and Rutgers (24-for-28, plus 157 rushing yards), and it's hard to rule out a rise. 

Cue the skeptics. I get it. The turnovers have to stop. Turnovers have held back Frost's program. They've held back Martinez. But Frost says he plans to coach up Martinez on specific situations that can reduce mistakes. Verduzco excels in preparing quarterbacks for battle, Frost says. But Frost hopes to help with the "more instinctual things, the things Adrian's going to encounter during the game." 

Frost also makes it clear that redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey remains a prominent part of the quarterback picture, although McCaffrey threw one touchdown pass against six picks in 2020 and there has been a lot of speculation about his future with the program. He was 1-1 as the starter in 2020. Make no mistake, Frost adores McCaffrey and believes in his game. Same goes for freshman Logan Smothers.

But Martinez once again will be the favorite in the quarterback race, although he is only 11-16 as a starter at Nebraska. That's not the record anybody imagined for Martinez when Frost recruited him to lead the program's resurgence. But the California kid is still standing. I'm sure he knows there are no guarantees. Of course he knows that by now. 

"It's a competition," Frost says. "That's the same at every position. I hope (Cameron) Jurgens doesn't feel like he's not getting pushed at center, and I hope Deontai (Williams) feels like he has to show up and play well to keep his spot at safety. Adrian's no different than anybody else. I certainly feel like he has the talent to be as good as there is in our league. If we get some mistakes taken care of, he's got a chance to be special." 

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Yes, sir, Martinez still has that chance. Frost will do his best to help make it happen. 

* It always intrigued me when former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini used to insist the "fishbowl" phenomenon and rumor mill at NU were much more intense than what he experienced at LSU or Oklahoma. Really? Much more intense than those places?

No doubt, Pelini said. 

Frost shed some light on the matter Friday when our Parker Gabriel asked him if there was anything that has surprised him as he's gone forward in his role at NU.

"You're always learning," the coach said. "If you're not always learning, I think you're foolish and you think you know everything. Maybe what's surprised me is the difference in being the head coach here compared to the other place (UCF) I was. Nebraska is a fish bowl. There's a rumor mill, there's distractions for the players. I've been through it now as a player and a head coach. 

"Maybe what's surprised me is just the depth and amount of things that have to be dealt with here compared to other places. Nebraska is unique from that standpoint. We try to handle it the best we can and we adjust to all that, but there's a lot of demands on time and energy at Nebraska that might not exist at other places. I was certainly expecting that, but was maybe surprised by the amount of that." 

Neither Pelini nor Frost use it as an excuse. It's impossible to quantify what sort of impact, if any, it has on wins and losses. 

But it would take some imagination to explain how it helps matters.

* Frost's quote Friday that will stick with me throughout the offseason occurred as he discussed his frustration with his team's turnovers and mental mistakes at Rutgers.

"Nebraska fans are tired of watching it, you (media) guys are probably tired of watching it," he said.

Yeah, I lose my patience sometimes, for sure.

Our favorite staff images from the 2020 Nebraska football season


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