CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When a quarterback is a veteran four-year starter and a team captain, his teammates, coaches and fanbase expect him to play like one.
Adrian Martinez entered Memorial Stadium Saturday morning with confidence and high hopes. After all, the Nebraska signal-caller was looking forward to changing the narrative of his legacy. However, all it took was one critical turnover to remind the College football world why he’s 12-17 as the Huskers’ starter.
The game was tied with under 40 seconds left in the first half, when the California native pulled the unthinkable. Martinez took a big hit, fumbled the ball and an Illinois defender returned it 41 yards to the house and gave his team a 16-9 lead. It was deja vu’ for Big Red Nation and Martinez couldn’t stop the avalanche that followed.
“The mental mistakes in Big Ten football you just can’t make,” Martinez said. “It’s very frustrating, but luckily this isn’t a one game season.”
The 30-22 loss was the Huskers’ fourth in their last six games overall. The program seems like it just can’t catch a break. Being investigated by the NCAA and losing the season opener can’t help the morale of the athletic department. Now it’s back to the drawing board for Nebraska’s offense. The unit outgained Illinois in yardage and ran more plays, but still lost the game.
Once again the Huskers failed to show mental toughness with the way they responded to adversity. Some fans think it’s a reflection on the quarterback. And Martinez feels his inconsistency is part of the problem. A great quarterback is supposed to make others around him better. Regardless, a passer is only as good as the targets he’s throwing the ball to.
The six-foot-two, 212-pound Martinez completed 16 of his 32 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He overthrew a receiver in the red zone, that should’ve been six points. He also held onto the ball too long in the pocket, which resulted in five sacks.
“I feel like I had moments and I need to be a helluva lot better,” the 21-year old said. “There were times I was in rhythm and times I think I wasn’t, and that spread out throughout the game.”
It didn’t help Martinez that center Cameron Jurgens struggled snapping the ball at times and the rest of the offensive line failed to get a consistent push. Martinez did show his athleticism on a 75-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, but that was pretty much the end of his highlights.
The Huskers played from behind the entire second half and couldn’t make the clutch plays when the team needed it the most. It didn’t help that Connor Culp missed two extra point attempts. Martinez was outplayed by Illinois backup quarterback Artur Sitkowski, as he stole the spotlight Saturday. Now Nebraska is left with more questions than answers approaching a week of practice for FCS foe Fordham.
Still, Martinez is not ready to give up on the season and believes the Huskers have a lot to play for.
“This team still has a lot to prove, our backs are against the wall and we know some of those mistakes we have to get corrected,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on them during this offseason and that work will pay off.”