Thursday, July 18, 2019

Green: Huskers’ fate lies primarily on Frost and Martinez

Photo Credit: Geno Green

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

CHICAGO- A year ago, the Nebraska Cornhuskers underwent a massive overhaul with Mike Riley being let go as they went back to the past as head coach Scott Frost was plucked away from the University of Central Florida to the same position.

An often comparison over the off-season has been the side-to-side struggles in the first season as UCF went 0-12 mark, compared to Nebraska’s 4-8. Despite the similarities of not making a bowl game, Frost looks toward brighter days in the 2019 edition of Nebraska, which was projected by the Big Ten media as the unofficial preseason Big Ten west champions on Wednesday.

“Well, we coached a lot of really good kids and really good players in Orlando. We've got a lot of really good kids and really good players in Lincoln,” Frost said at Thursday’s Big Ten media day. “Those two teams have nothing to do with one another, and I'm never going to make any comparisons. I love where I am. I'm the coach at Nebraska.”

The lofty preseason expectations have trickled down to position players— specifically quarterback Adrian Martinez.

While the highly touted sensation from California threw for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman, injuries to other key positions in the first six games railroaded the Cornhuskers as they finished out of the postseason for the second straight season— something fans in Lincoln could not come to grips with.

The silver lining proved to be a 4-2 finish, which carried over to high expectations going into the 2019 season with Martinez being the healthiest in the last two seasons, which is something the sophomore does not take for granted, especially with 18 starters returning.

“It is definitely a good thing and is something I do not take for granted,” Martinez said. “It is something to be thankful for and it is part of the game of football. I am excited for how this season will turn out.”

Martinez’s potential health stability, coupled with lofty preseason Heisman Trophy expectations has set a high bar, but knows there are other things he can improve on as the off-season begins to hit its crescendo.  

“Me being a smarter football player and just having a better general knowledge, we will be able to improve in those areas,” Martinez said.

While the Big Ten west divisional race will be the tightest since realignment in 2014 with the Cornhuskers, Iowa Hawkeyes and Wisconsin Badgers as the primary contenders, the physicality is something Frost does not take for granted and knows they cannot afford to slip up in any facets of the game.

“This is a big, physical league,” Frost said. “There's a lot of big, physical teams, a lot of really good teams, and regardless of your scheme on offense or defense, you can't get pushed around, you can't get outworked, and you can't get outsized. We made a lot of strides to catch up, and I think that will show up on the field.”

While the schedule features stiff tests at home with matchups against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa, Nebraska has the Sept. 7 game at Colorado circled on the calendar.

In what was a back and forth affair, Nebraska lost Adrian Martinez to a knee injury in the late stages of the fourth quarter, which allowed Colorado to score what would be the game-winning touchdown reception by Laviska Shenault Jr. to secure the 33-28 win on Sept. 8, 2018.

Martinez did not forget about having to be a non-factor in the final moments last season and looks forward to getting another shot at the old Big Eight rivals.

“Colorado will be a ton of fun and looking forward to playing them in Boulder,” Martinez said. “There should be a lot of Nebraska fans there too and it will be a great time.”

With a team primarily made of underclassman, Martinez’s continued growth could be the difference between the Rose Bowl and another holiday season on the couch.