LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Scott Frost called it his quarterback’s best throw of the game.
Adrian Martinez didn’t love his 30-yard dart to Wan’Dale Robinson quite as much, even if it was a key throw during NU’s 39-second touchdown drive just before halftime of a 44-8 win over Northern Illinois.
“It was a little off the mark,” Martinez said. “I think Wan’Dale made a good catch there.”
Robinson did twist his body a few inches to catch the pass, but Martinez fit the ball into a tiny window of 5 yards between four Husky players. It was the more aggressive decision, too, as outside receiver Kanawai Noa had broken wide open on a backside dig route 10 yards short of where Robinson caught the ball.
Aggressive is how Frost wants Martinez to stay.
“You forget that he’s a true sophomore,” Frost said. “He’s played well enough for us to win in every game. I think he’s gotten better in every game. The one thing we keep talking about: When he’s decisive with his decisions, lets the ball rip or makes a decision and runs, he’s really good. We need to get him in positions where he feels good about what we’re doing.”
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Illinois’ defense — once primarily a Cover 2 operation, now more varied — will provide Martinez plenty of chances to push the ball downfield in the passing game. In a 34-31 win over the Illini, Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass averaged 13.7 yards per completion and hit passes for 54, 31, 26 and 23 yards.
The Illini have already allowed 12 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Martinez has hit 13 such plays already this season and five that were 30 yards or longer. Martinez is also averaging a whopping 16.1 yards per completion.
Two of Martinez’s big plays have come on quick throws to tight end Jack Stoll. A few have come on busted coverages. And several have been similar to the throw to Robinson, in which Martinez waits until a receiver flashes open in a zone and fires the ball to a spot.
“I wouldn’t say something changes in my mind, but I have to be focused and dialed in,” Martinez said of throwing against zone defenses. “When teams play zone there are certain windows you have to fit it into, and that’s part of our offense and part of my game. It’s something that I’ll be honing in on this week.”
Frost wants Martinez loose and looking for plays downfield. Even NU’s offensive performance against NIU left Frost a little unsatisfied.
“We left some points on the table,” Frost said. “We got better again, but we still have room for improvement.”