LINCOLN, Neb. — If you think freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez is Nebraska’s “guy,” you would be right. If you think he’s Nebraska’s only “guy,” you would be wrong.
That’s because as far as Huskers quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco is concerned, every quarterback in his room is “our guy.”
That includes sophomore walk-on Andrew Bunch, sophomore transfer Noah Vedral and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia. For Verduzco, the only quarterback who isn’t able to start in 2018 is Vedral, who has to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Even then, Vedral is evaluated just the same as Martinez, Bunch and Gebbia.
As for who “the guy” will be come fall? Patience is a virtue. Coach Scott Frost has made it clear that evaluations will continue through fall camp, which is just fine with Verduzco.
“I think there’s an assumption that there is an advantage [to naming a starting quarterback now], but I think for us in this situation, [waiting is] the right thing to do,” Verduzco told Land of 10.
Until the decision is official, Verduzco will keep evaluating each quarterback. He prides himself in treating his players fairly and objectively, although he admits there is some subjectivity involved. The quarterbacks appreciate Verduzco’s approach because when the decision is made, they will know exactly where they rank on the depth chart and why.
Verduzco recently evaluated the quarterbacks’ spring game performances to be shared in individual meetings. While those evaluations between coach and player are private, Verduzco pulled back the curtain to share with Land of 10 what he saw from his quarterbacks last Saturday.
What did Verduzco see from each quarterback on one of their more memorable plays from the spring game? Let’s take a look.
The play: Bunch’s 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kurt Rafdal
The breakdown: At the snap, Rafdal took off up the left sideline as Bunch dropped back to throw. Bunch received some pressure from defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun through the left B gap, but was able to make the throw to Rafdal over cornerback Ethan Cox. Rafdal spun around and grabbed the ball over Cox for the touchdown.
The evaluation: Verduzco finds little wrong with Bunch’s performance on this play. The only minor critique would be his footwork. As Bunch drops back to pass, he does a quick double skip. His stance is a little wide, but his stance arrow (the direction in which his feet are pointed) and his rhythm are correct.
Another positive about Bunch’s performance? Nebraska is running four vertical routes and Bunch has a press corner, but he’s judging the play and his best scenario as it happens.
“You can see off the top of his eyebrow that he knows that safety is moving to the middle,” Verduzco said. “That means that guy is 1-on-1. Now, if the safety stays on the hash, he better not do [what he did].”
Verduzco’s verdict: “That is freaking good. That’s good right there, man. It doesn’t get much better than that minus the minor details like [skipping his feet].”
The play: Gebbia’s early option play
The breakdown: During the Red team’s first drive of the game, Gebbia opted to keep the ball on an option call. He cut upfield for an 8-yard gain. While it wasn’t his flashiest play, it highlighted his ability to run the football when needed.
The evaluation: Gebbia was supposed to hand off but made the decision to keep the ball and run. He made the decision based on what he saw evolving in front of him. However, it could have cost him.
“He should have never pulled this ball, because [the safety] is going to get you,” Verduzco said. “I see what he saw, because [players in front of him] didn’t do [their] job, which is fine. What I tell these guys is to do your job first and if something comes up, great. Because if we pull this thing and we get tackled, the head ball coach is going to say, ‘Mario, what are we doing?’
“What he did do a good job with is that he ran his ass off, so that’s good.”
On the reverse, Verduzco noted that the safety’s angle is not correct in relationship to his responsibility. Frost has spent the spring teaching the defenders to run through offensive players in regard to their responsibility. In this case, the safety should have attacked Gebbia’s outside hip.
“You have to remember, the defense is pissed off [at the safety],” Verduzco said. “He should have made that tackle.”
Verduzco’s verdict: “It’s a hell of a job on [Gebbia’s] part, but what I put on his evaluation? I put, ‘Future would be handoff. We have the E gap. We’re going to get tackled.'”
The play: Martinez’s 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaevon McQuitty
The breakdown: After looking left to begin the play, Martinez checked back across the middle of the field to find McQuitty open. Martinez’s 25-yard pass to McQuitty was the Red team’s first touchdown of the day through the air.
The evaluation: Martinez’s success on this play was a big credit to his patience and his follow-through on check progressions. After looking left he was able to find a wide-open McQuitty as his eyes progressed across the field.
Martinez did create some unnecessary pressure for himself by staying so far back after the ball was snapped. Verduzco noted that the tackle is hyperaware that the set line is based on where the quarterback should be. By being removed even 1 yard, Martinez put more pressure on the tackle than necessary.
“The pressure on the left side should have been nonexistent,” Verduzco said. “[Martinez] should have been stepping up to take the pressure off our tackles.”
Regardless, Martinez’s arm stroke is one of his finer points. His arm is still a little high when he pulls it back, but Frost and Verduzco are working on correcting that with him, Gebbia and Bunch.
Verduzco’s verdict: “Is he a little bit late with his feet? I’d say yes, but it was good otherwise. We’ll get [the feet] cleaned up.”
The play: Vedral’s pass that was intercepted by outside linebacker Alex Davis
The breakdown: Late in the second quarter, Vedral dropped back to pass but made a late throw to the flat. Davis stepped in front of the pass, picked it off and returned it 21 yards to the 9-yard line.
The evaluation: It may not have been the prettiest of plays, but Verduzco saw a lot of good things from Vedral despite the interception. As Vedral prepared to snap the ball, he saw pressure coming from the left and addressed it.
“He got his protection taken care of. He got that right,” Verduzco said. “He saw the tilt and that the pressure is coming from the left so he went up and said, ‘Hey, I want you guys working to that cat.’ He got that part of it right.”
Verduzco doesn’t think Vedral was panicked during this play. It may appear that way, but he was hit while trying to reset his feet to throw the ball.
As for areas of improvement, there were three main points from Verduzco’s perspective:
- The set line for the offensive lineman needs to be a little thinner to keep the defensive player off of Vedral.
- Don’t throw the ball late without assurance: “He knows better.”
- Don’t throw the ball off-balance while getting hit.
Verduzco’s verdict: “He does a good job with his stance and how he moves his feet. His feet are beautiful. I think what happened is that he was trying to burn it, but when he got hit the ball flew on him.”