Solving Nebraska's Adrian Martinez
This is a big game for Buffalo, folks. Can the Bulls figure out the Huskers' star QB?
When you think of the Nebraska offense, the first name to come to mind is obviously Samori Toure. Kidding! It’s Adrian Martinez, the talented QB whose name is already written in Sharpie into the Cornhuskers’ record books.
Entering the Buffalo game, Martinez is one of only three active FBS players with 6,000 career passing yards and 1,500 career rushing yards. He also ranks third among active quarterbacks with 1,920 career rushing yards. Among FBS players with at least 20 career starts, Martinez ranks seventh with an average of 267.8 yards of total offense per game. He also enters the Buffalo game ranked third in school history in passing yards and total offense.
In Nebraska’s 30-22 loss to Illinois to start the season, Martinez had more yards of offense (343) than the entire Illini team (326). In classic Martinez fashion, however, he also fumbled the ball with 21 seconds remaining in the first half, leading to a 41-yard Illinois TD return and a 16-9 deficit at halftime instead of a tie, at worst.
Then, again, in classic Martinez fashion, with his team down 30-9, he ran for a 75-yard TD and then tossed a 4-yard TD to bring the Huskers to the brink of a comeback...before throwing four straight incompletions on the final drive of the game to close out the loss.
The Duality of Adrian Martinez
So that’s the deal with Martinez: in four years as a starter, Martinez’s Cornhuskers are 13-21. You can argue that he’s been one of the lone bright spots, or one of the reasons why they keep screwing up. He’s the reason why they can smash FCS Fordham, 55-7, and also the reason why they’ve lost to a bad Illinois team two years in a row.
Nebraska has other weapons:
Former USC RB Markese Stepp has 111 rushing yards on 21 carries this season, and a TD, replacing both Wan’Dale Robinson, a transfer to Kentucky, and Dedrick Mills, who left for the NFL.
The aforementioned Samori Toure has 170 receiving yards on 11 catches.
WR Oliver Martin has six catches for 103 yards and a TD.
TE Austin Allen, with six catches in two games, may be a legit threat.
Still, Martinez is the straw that stirs the drink. If Buffalo wants to beat Nebraska—a team that desperately needs to win this weekend to keep the wolves away from head coach Scott Frost’s door—how do they slow down the dangerous Martinez?
The good, the bad, and the ugly of Adrian Martinez
The guys from Backseat Sports, total Nebraska nerds (and I mean that in the best way possible), recently released a power breakdown of Martinez’s tendencies. Based on Caleb and Josh’s amazing insights, here’s what the Bulls must keep in mind as they head into Lincoln this weekend.
Martinez is very, very good at making plays with his legs.
Since 2018, Martinez led Nebraska in rushing (this year, and 2020) or finished second (2018-19). The man can scramble. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the fifth-best running QB under pressure in 2020, and the 16th-ranked QB without a clean pocket. He’s actually more dangerous—with his legs, anyway—when you make him move around. Oddly, when he has a clean pocket, he was the 110th-ranked passer in 2020.
Martinez is also a great short passer.
Over a quarter of his throws were completed behind the line of scrimmage, which is kind of crazy. Last season, he completed over 90% of his passes under 10 yards. The man is the definition of methodical.
Martinez is a terrible downfield thrower.
In 2020, he was 114th in adjusted accuracy when throwing 20+ yards downfield. He was 132 of 133 QBs in deep ball passes (20+ yards) in total. Over 14% of the time, his deep throws were listed as “inaccurate” or a “liability,” meaning they were, or could have, resulted in a turnover.
His offensive line is not consistent.
Sean Callahan of HuskerOnline.com, reviewing the win over Fordham, noted “a total of 15 different offensive linemen played for Nebraska on Saturday. There were just three QB pressures allowed on the day and one penalty. Teddy Prochazka and Trent Hixon saw some work with the No. 1 offensive line for 10 snaps replacing Turner Corcoran and Cameron Jurgens.” Jurgens, a legit NFL prospect at center, graded out particularly well.
But against Illinois...Callahan reported “after 14 plays, Turner Corcoran replaced Brant Banks at left tackle after Banks gave up four pressures on nine total pass block plays. Bryce Benahrt had the best grade on the offensive line and he was still charged with three QB hurries. These grades reflect what we saw on the field. Nothing came easy for the Huskers on offense and it started with the play upfront on the offensive line.”
In 2020, Nebraska’s o-line stymied Ohio State. It was also rocked by Purdue. It really depends which group shows up. And again, for reasons unknown, when Martinez gets time to pass—a minimum of 2.5 seconds—his average completion is 2.4 yards. Huh?
The Buffalo Game Plan vs. Martinez
Image from UBBulls.com.
Play it close to the vest.
Spy this man! An LB or safety needs to have an eye on Martinez at all times, and the secondary needs to play the Nebraska receivers—who, in Toure and Miller, seem OK—tight.
Blitz? Nope. Martinez thrives when the pocket breaks down. Make him think, make him consider those downfield throws—his past history shows he can’t do it.
Stepp it up. The Bulls can’t let Markese Stepp take over this game. When Nebraska’s won over the past couple seasons—and it hasn’t been often—it’s often because other players, like the now-departed Robinson and recent Detroit Lions cut Dedrick Mills, got off in the running game. When Martinez is forced to do it all, it usually means an L for the Huskers.
Which Means These UB Bulls Will Be Critical:
Image from UBBulls.com.
The 6’0, 272 DL George Wolo, a violent force against Wagner, will face a much bigger and more experienced Nebraska offensive line. He needs to clog that middle along with 6’5, 295 NT Josh Rogers and 6’3, 285 Daymond Williams.
The LB corps of Kadofi Wright, Tim Terry, and James Patterson—a trio of experienced seniors with national eyes upon them—need to close holes like spackle and keep RBs Stepp, freshman standout Gabe Ervin, Jr., and Rahmir Johnson in check. And, of course, Martinez. Wright has run a 4.52 40-yard dash; he’ll need to show that speed on Saturday.
FS Marcus Fuqua had some violent, run-stopping hits against Wagner. It’ll be great to see that power again. Senior safeties E.J. Brown, Cory Gross, and Dylan Powell will need to keep TE Allen in check, who showed up as a true threat against Fordham.
CBs Mark Davis (6’2, 195), Ja’Marcus Ingram (6’2, 190), Isaiah King (5’10, 187), and Aapri Washington (5’9, 190) are facing a Husker WR corps of Samori Toure (6’3. 190), Oliver Martin (6’1, 200), Omar Manning (6’4, 220), and Alante Brown (5’10, 185).
This is it, man—these are the one-on-one battles that will decide the game. Martinez likes to throw short, and get rid of the ball fast—can those immediate, one-on-one tackles kill drives? Can the corners close when Martinez dumps off to his RBs? Martinez struggles on deep throws—can Buffalo take the ball away? The secondary may be where the war is won.
The Big Picture
The game is at 3:30 ET this Saturday at Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium. We can watch it on the Big Ten Network. The spread is now Buffalo +14, up a half-point from earlier in the week. It’s those cocky Nebraska bettors!
I’ll just mention that the Huskers are 78th in the country in rushing defense, giving up nearly four yards a carry and 148 yards a game, in games against the 65th-ranked Illinois rushing offense and FCS Fordham.
Buffalo, just throwing this out there, is 13th in rushing and was second in the country last season.
I’d also add that the Cornhusker wonks are Big 10 cocky but not exactly overconfident entering this game. From The Daily Nebraskan:
A running narrative so far this season has been centered on Nebraska head coach Scott Frost.
Of the least promising things about the Illinois game, one of the most significant came after it, in the Monday press conference, where Frost noted that Illinois’ odd defensive alignment forced him to throw out half the game plan.
Furthermore, the Huskers had a distinct chance to win their week zero matchup. The hammer blow to the team largely came in a dysfunctional second-to-last drive which, though it ended in a touchdown, burned a heinous amount of time off the clock. Nebraska was left with little time to complete the comeback, and Illinois was able to secure the victory.
In some sense, these two things helped fund the loss against the Fighting Illini more than anything else. But it appeared to get better against Fordham. It’s easy to forget, given the totality of the final score, but much of the first half was an even affair between the two teams.
While it’s incredibly difficult to say that the breakthrough was a direct result of Frost’s actions, perhaps it was some other factor or just luck in the end, his stewardship of the game eventually resulted in a positive end product.
With all this being said, Buffalo is a rather eclectic team with an articulated game plan and style. Facing up against Nebraska, this can go a few ways for Frost and his team.
Best case scenario for the Huskers, the right things go the right way and the equation rounds out to zero. The defensive line’s initial setup can hold and Nebraska gets far enough out in front that the game stops being a contest.
However, another distinct possibility is that not everything goes right immediately. In which case, the team is presented with two distinct possibilities. Adjust, or lose.
This is a big one, folks. Let’s see what happens.