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5 Questions with Corn Nation: How dangerous is Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez?

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Nebraska Cornhuskers head to “The Woodshed” for a date under the lights with the Michigan State Spartans. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. (Eastern Time) at Spartan Stadium and will be broadcast on FS1.

With that in mind, we spoke to Andy Ketterson of Corn Nation — SB Nation’s awesome website for all things Cornhuskers — about what to expect from this 2021 Nebraska team.

Andy discusses Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez’s impact, how Cornhuskers fans really feel about head coach Scott Frost and more.

1. Quarterback Adrian Martinez has been with the program for several years now. What does he bring as a leader for the Cornhuskers? As a dual-threat with his arm and legs, what is the best way for the Michigan State defense to contain Martinez?

Andy: Adrian has earned the respect of his teammates and is personally a guy I’ve been hoping would find some sustained success simply because of the human being he is. He’s involved in the community. He earned his bachelor’s degree in only three years and every time a quarterback does this, I just wonder when they find the time to sleep given the amount of study the position requires along with the extra classwork.

Most importantly, he’s a fantastic teammate and never quits. When Luke McCaffrey took over the starting job for two games in 2020, by all accounts Martinez never complained, continued to help Luke with reads and the playbook and doubled down on getting the job back. By comparison, when Luke lost it back, he basically checked out, refused requests to return to a Kordell “Slash” Stewart type role, hit the portal to Louisville, then left that program for Rice when the starting job wasn’t guaranteed.

Martinez is big, quick and elusive on the run, and probably can’t ever be completely contained. Eventually, he’s going to break coverage and get away for a few big runs. The best strategy is to keep pressure on him and break down on the rush and stay in gaps instead of flying in for the kill shot. In the past, this has caused him to force things that just aren’t there and turnovers ensue. That being said, he’s been playing his most mistake-free ball since the opening game at Illinois, and the Oklahoma game saw no forced throws or out-of-control runs (his lone pick was an amazing one-handed grab on a fourth-and-19 on the Oklahoma 24-yard-line that put the Sooners on their own two-year-line. No complaints.) Can it continue? We’re starting to hope, but the four turnovers you took from Miami last week have me tempering that hope somewhat.

2. Outside of Martinez, who are the players to watch on Nebraska’s offense? How about on defense?

Andy: On offense, it would be the receiver corps which — “potentially” being the key word — has five guys who have NFL talent, something previously foreign to the program. Samari Toure is Montana transfer, then projected as a sixth-or-seventh rounder, who wanted to try and show what he could do in the Power Five to boost his stock, and appears as good as advertised. Omar Manning is a 2020 junior college transfer who’s the total package and is starting to flash big-time ability after overcoming mental health issues. Xaiver Betts, a local former Rivals top-75 recruit is doing the same. Tight ends Austin Allen and Travis Vokolec are two huge guys with both blocking skills and big play ability who Scott Frost will often have out there together.

Defensively, it’s hard to pick just one. This an experienced mix of young and old who have really come together so far this season holding Oklahoma to its lowest point total since Lincoln Riley took over. Look for Jojo Domann, a 230-pound senior hybrid outside linebacker who will both get in the backfield and cover a slot receiver on a deep route.

3. The Nebraska defense has been tough through four games, allowing just 15.75 points per game and just 190 passing yards per game. The rushing defense is also respectable, allowing 156.3 yards per game. What makes the unit so good, and do you think the Cornhuskers will be able to contain the NCAA’s leading rusher in Kenneth Walker III, or shut down Payton Thorne and Michigan State’s passing game?

Andy: As good as Kennedy Brooks was for Oklahoma, Walker is going to be their toughest test so far. The rushing defense numbers look good on the surface, however their yards per carry given up is not great, and the Cornhuskers lead the Big Ten in most rushes of 20 yards or more given up. The pass defense has been stellar, but if they find themselves having to load up to stop him, Thorne and Jayden Reed may throw a few bags of big play poo into those stats. I think Nebraska’s ability to contain Walker without sacrificing too much in the pass defense will be the key to the game.

4. Head coach Scott Frost was tasked with turning the Nebraska program back into a national power, but the Cornhuskers have struggled throughout his tenure. What are the general feelings from the Nebraska fan base regarding Frost and his staff?

Andy: It’s basically settled into three camps from where I sit, and I have no idea of the statistical breakdown.

A. The group made up of folks that never wanted him here in the first place, folks who really believed Mike Riley was getting it done, and people who wanted Frost fired after the first or second season after it didn’t turn immediately. These are the ones who never had a good thing to say, are constantly pushing fairly awful internet rumors about him and would rather see him gone than have him experience any success.

B. The middle groups. Some who simply had it after three more losing seasons and if they weren’t done then, the Illinois loss all but slammed that door. And the group who is decidedly unhappy but understands decent coaching candidates won’t be lining up to take over in this madhouse, so are just in a state of helpless frustration and have stopped being emotionally involved.

C. The folks who are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, believe in sticking with Frost but are definitely fueling the state’s liquor economy with every missed extra point, fumbled punt or fumble scoop and score (Chug, curse, GBR Editor’s Note: “GBR” means “G0 Big Red”).

5. With two losses already before the heart of the Big Ten schedule gets underway, how do you see the Cornhuskers finishing the season (record, bowl game, etc.)?

Welp, being somewhat of the “Jiminy Cricket” around here (I actually did believe Nebraska could play with Oklahoma contingent on limiting mistakes), I have seen gains in talent and strength and conditioning, which haven’t translated into wins. The last two-and-a-half years, the worm has turned from being blown off the field by any team with a heartbeat to matching up with better teams then pissing games away with brain farts and special teams gaffes. I won’t go game-by-game, but right now, I see this finishing 7-5 with some sort of “Gillette Trojan Progressive Kum ‘n’ Go Louisiana Beagle Bowl” in their future.

Bonus: Score prediction?

We’ve had decent luck there over the years and while I don’t see red takeover in East Lansing, I still think we’ll piss Mel Tucker off a little by putting more than the allotted 2,500 people in the seats (at least given the price of tickets on StubHub yesterday). I think it’s gonna be a battle with a score closer to ours last week than yours. I’ll say 27-23, Nebraska, but only because that score doesn’t require a game-winning FG from us (chug, chug, curse, pray, GBR).

A huge thank you to Andy for answering my questions and providing his thoughts and analysis about the Cornhuskers. To keep up with all things Nebraska, give Corn Nation a follow.

To read my responses to Andy’s questions, check out our conversation on Corn Nation.