Husker notes: Illinois boasts a disruptive pass rush; Adrian Martinez has improved each game

Mario Verduzco has seen improvement from Adrian Martinez in each game, he said. “He’s just so much smoother, so much more comfortable."

LINCOLN — Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco has seen improvement from Adrian Martinez each game, he said.

“He’s just so much smoother, so much more comfortable,” Verduzco said.

Once or twice against Northern Illinois, he wished Martinez tucked and ran straight rather than try to make a play on the edge.

“For the most part, yeah, it’s been pretty good but again you’d like to see him at times be a little more decisive,” Verduzco said.

Martinez’s most impressive stretch of the season might have been the two-minute drill at the end of the first half last Saturday. Martinez hit Kanawai Noa in the end zone with seconds left to help lift NU to a 30-5 halftime lead.

“He made some good throws, ran some good protections, guys ran good routes,” Verduzco said. “So it was all that sort of stuff we rehearse during the week, so it was good to have that come to life in a game.”

Vedral looked 'pretty smooth'

Backup quarterback Noah Vedral found some playing time against Northern Illinois, and Verduzco was pleased with Vedral’s work.

The sophomore led a scoring drive, completing 3 of 5 passes and running for a 3-yard score.

“It was good to see Noah play a little bit,” Verduzco said. “It was good to see him in there operate. Looked pretty smooth.”

The plan for third-string quarterback Luke McCaffrey is to redshirt. But should an opportunity arise, Verduzco said he would love to get the true freshman some playing time, too.

“I think Coach (Scott) Frost, if we’re fortunate enough as we move forward, that we can get him in the game, certainly, I think that’s part of coach Frost’s plan,” Verduzco said.

Illini have formidable pass rush

Illinois’ defense wants to be disruptive with their pass rush — twists, stunts and more movement — while simultaneously rushing just four linemen.

That’s the challenge, offensive coordinator Troy Walters said, facing Nebraska’s offense when the Huskers travel to play the Illini on Saturday night.

“We’ve got to get the ball out quick,” Walters said Wednesday after NU’s practice. “Make sure that Adrian (Martinez) has a clean pocket at times. Just change it up in terms of what they’re going to see from us.”

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NU’s offensive line has worked on the different stunts and pressures, Walters said. Nebraska’s seen plenty of its own defensive line, too, offensive line coach Greg Austin said. The Huskers’ pass rush is plenty challenging itself, Austin said.

In a 34-31 win over Illinois, Eastern Michigan’s offense, Walters said, “made big plays” and was able to “stay ahead of the chains” on its drives.

“We’ve got to eliminate negative-type plays,” Walters said. “If we do that and stay on schedule, we’ll be in good shape.”

The Illini have one of the nation’s top pass rushers through three weeks — USC transfer Oluwole Betiku — and linebacker Dele Harding is No. 2 in the Big Ten with 30 tackles.

“We’ve got to be able to slow them down by running the football,” Walters said.

Quick hits

» Tight ends continue to progress in the offense, ends coach Sean Beckton said. He said their detail work has continued to improve since a variety of missed opportunities at Colorado. Jack Stoll (two catches for 38 yards) and Kurt Rafdal (one for nine) each were involved against Northern Illinois while Austin Allen nearly recovered a blocked punt and made a tackle on a fake punt try.

"It showed up a little bit last week," Beckton said. "We're still not where we need to be, but obviously we continue to work at it."

» Running back Dedrick Mills broke out for his best game as a Husker on Saturday, totaling 118 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Position coach Ryan Held said he saw more patience, better footwork and north-south shoulders from the junior-college transfer. Mills even hit a backside cut or two and made a long run on a zone play that Held said he wouldn't have two weeks earlier.

"He probably would have gotten tackled," Held said. "So it's progress with him and all of our guys."

» Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco arrived at Memorial Stadium far ahead of schedule Saturday. The reason? He thought the recruiting breakfast was that day instead of Sunday.

"I got here early for no reason," Verduzco said, shaking his head. "So I went to the office and got some work done and away I went."​

» Walters plans to continue using more wide receivers, even if he has to rotate receivers out of the game after three plays.

» Austin praised the play of true freshman right tackle Bryce Benhart, who played in his first career game against Northern Illinois.

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email:

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