(Originally Published with Athlon Sports)
It’s been almost a full calendar year since the Nebraska Cornhuskers last won a football game. On Nov. 23, 2019, the Big Red trounced a Maryland team that appeared to flat-out quit during a 54-7 romp. Now with an 0-2 record in the wake of their 21-13 loss to Northwestern on Saturday and Penn State on the horizon, the Huskers are dangerously close to facing a full 365-plus days removed from a victory.
Not long removed from Saturday’s bout with the Wildcats, a clearly-dejected Scott Frost expressed his appreciation for all Adrian Martinez has done to be his starting quarterback. But he acknowledged that the team needed a spark when his offense continued to sputter well into the contest’s second half.
After Martinez looked confused, unsure of himself, and threw repeatedly off-target passes, Luke McCaffrey made his entrance. The Huskers’ head man felt he deserved a chance to light up the Wildcats’ defense if he was able.
Yes, he made a few mistakes that plenty of young quarterbacks before him have. Much like Martinez, McCaffrey has a great deal of natural ability. Unlike the long-time starter for Nebraska, he gives the impression of being far more confident in his decisions. His command of the offense is crisper.
Frost maintains he has faith in both signal-callers moving forward and will not address the position’s future at this time, but simply put: He fits.
In reviewing a game filled with self-inflicted wounds, poor fundamentals, and various other glaring errors, something needs to change for Nebraska to turns things around. Considering Erik Chinander’s defense stood out on a number of occasions and showing continued growth, we have to examine the opposite side of the ball before anything else.
Demoting Martinez would be a tremendously difficult trigger for Frost to pull.
The Fresno, California, native is arguably the first cornerstone he secured while the ink on his new contract in Lincoln was drying. Martinez was projected to be the player Nebraska’s resurgence was going to be built around.
Frost racked up the frequent flier miles while recruiting him, doing this while crisscrossing from Orlando to prepare UCF for a shot at a potential 13-0 record before tripping back to the Cornhusker State and continuing to set up shop.
The 2018 season was Martinez’s coming out party. He rallied the Huskers to 4-2 record following a historic six straight losses to open the year as a true freshman all too wet behind the ears.
Then came the Heisman hype followed by a forgettable sophomore campaign. No. 2’s career trajectory continued to be one of the biggest question marks surrounding the program as 2020 loomed. Would he rebound and excel or was last season a preview of things to come?
There was a moment when Nebraska’s offensive future went up against linebackers Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher, and the rest of Northwestern’s frustratingly rigid defense. McCaffrey connected with true freshmen Marcus Fleming (six catches for 75 yards) and Zavier Betts (two for 17).
Two redshirt freshmen had been plugged into the offensive line since kickoff (Ethan Piper and Bryce Benhart). The story of where the Huskers want to be once December arrives and beyond looks to be written with several of the roster’s newer names — if not the greenest of the bunch — as main characters
While some might brush 2020 off as an asterisk of a season due to its all-too-unpredictable nature, it’s anything but. The games still matter to those coaching and cracking pads. They’ll still be part of the record books and attached to Frost’s legacy. In a compacted season where no game week is guaranteed, wins are more valuable than ever.
The Huskers also are already setting the table for 2021 when time is scheduled to unpause, eligibility clocks tick again, and college football ideally sees some resemblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy.
Football is a blatantly honest sport. Either a player can consistently perform or they can’t. It may take a moment to figure out which end of the spectrum they sit on, but conclusions are inevitably reached. Considering the evidence Martinez has presented from late August 2019 to the current day, McCaffrey appears to be the one who can sooner rather than later.
Nebraska still needs a believable pitch to be legitimately featured and accepted in an off-season for the first time in the Frost era. Even in the upside-down world we find ourselves in where normal benchmarks are relaxed out of necessity.
Husker fans see a former No. 7 on the sidelines in Year Three trying to right the ship. It’s time to turn the page and see another one behind center doing the same on the field.