LINCOLN — Mario Verduzco knows it sounds crazy. But in the heat of battle Saturday, the quarterbacks coach really just felt like Adrian Martinez was doing his job.
The QB's final numbers — 25 of 29 for 276 yards and three touchdowns along with 125 rushing yards and a score, which led to a co-Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week honor — say otherwise, of course. But Verduzco said he won't ease up on Martinez.
"I'll challenge him again to see if it was luck or a freak of nature, that sort of thing," Verduzco said. "Just to keep him grounded."
The coach pointed to two areas from Saturday he wants Martinez to improve. One is general footwork. Yes, his ball placement was stellar, but his body posture could lend itself to some low throws in the future.
The other was a second-and-17 spot in the third quarter, when Martinez settled for a 5-yard curl route to a double-covered Devine Ozigbo instead of throwing deeper to any of four other receivers. NU eventually punted and Minnesota later scored to draw as close as it would the rest of the game at 28-22.
"We expect him to perform like a senior," Verduzco said. "And I'm hard on him. I am, in my own little goofy way, I'm hard on him about everything. ... I drive him nuts."
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Nose guard ready to go
Mick Stoltenberg is back. Only a few weeks ago, the co-captain wasn’t so sure he would ever get the chance again.
When the senior defensive tackle felt his knee lock up multiple times against Michigan, he knew its wasn’t the chronic knee pain that has accompanied much of his college career. He missed five games since then, walking with crutches and rehabbing on a recovery timetable of roughly one month.
The Gretna graduate returned to practice Tuesday and was full-go Wednesday. He expects to contribute Saturday against Bethune-Cookman.
“I might not go out there and play 45 to 50 snaps,” the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Stoltenberg said, “but I’ll play what they give me and I’ll do what I can to help.”
Stoltenberg has seen football through “a different lens” the past few weeks. He’s helped Carlos and Khalil Davis settle in at nose tackle. He’s observed Frost and his staff with a new appreciation for how they interact with players and each other.
Now he’s ready to finish this season. He can lay the foundation for Nebraska’s future and maybe help spark an NFL career, too. He’s played in 36 career games, starting 24, with 63 tackles.
“At the end of the day, I know I’m getting opportunities here at the end and I’m blessed for that,” Stoltenberg said. “I’m blessed it wasn’t a season-ender. I’m blessed that I really haven’t missed too much time in my career despite all the injuries that I’ve had.”
Block makes coach smile
The junior college transfer has struggled blocking on the perimeter. It’s one of the main reasons he was stripped of his starting spot and replaced by walk-on Kade Warner.
On Saturday, Williams took a Minnesota safety completely out of a play. That opened up a hole for Ozigbo, who ran 59 yards to the house.
And that brought a smile to Walters’ face.
“We run a lot of perimeter screens where he’s gotta block the corner and if you can’t do that, it’s hard for me to put you out on the field,” Walters said. “So he’s improved, he’s gotten better as the year’s gone on and a lot of it is just want to and attitude.”
Frost said on Monday the first sign of a good team is wide receiver blocking. Walters agreed, and said it’s only getting better on the outside.
“To me blocking is all about being selfless and being a team guy and team player, and whenever you have an opportunity to help a teammate out, our guys relish that opportunity and cherish it and want to be the block that springs a big run,” Walters said.
» Verduzco said Andrew Bunch and Noah Vedral continue to split second-team reps in practice. The coach said he expects Bunch would be the next man in for starter Adrian Martinez but added the final call there goes to Frost. Nebraska wants to get game reps at some point this year for Vedral, the UCF transfer who received an NCAA eligibility waiver two weeks ago.
» Running backs coach Ryan Held said his wife, Katie, is due to give birth to the couple's second child sometime in the next week. It's one of the few times the avid recruiter is happy to be staying close to home.
"I was kind of always on call too, making sure, 'Hey, hurry your butt back,'" Held said. "But I've been off (the road) for a little bit but I'll be back on once my son's born."
» Ozigbo, a senior, and freshman Maurice Washington have handled all of the carries by Nebraska running backs each of the past three weeks since Greg Bell left the program. Held called the duo "a nice 1-2 punch right now," but said others will ideally get carries down the stretch.
"There's other guys in the program," Held said. "Wyatt (Mazour) has done a good job and (Mikale) Wilbon and some of the other guys. So we'll continue to have them ready on Alert Five and when their name's called, they gotta be ready to go. The standard doesn't change."
» Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin was certain NU’s line didn’t earn its highest grades for the Huskers’ 53-28 win over Minnesota. But he was equally certain it was the line’s cleanest game of the year.
Fewer penalties. No snap infractions. No drive-killer moments.
“This game was a great reflection of ‘you play a clean game, look what happens,'” Austin said. Nebraska’s linemen are continuing to work on hand and foot placement and positioning so holding penalties are less likely to be called.
“We’re constantly talking about those things because that’s hidden yardage,” Austin said.
» Austin plans to take five scholarship offensive linemen in the 2019 class. He’d take “15” if he could, but NU’s current numbers seem to call for five. The Huskers have three — high school tackles Michael Lynn and Matthew Anderson and junior college tackle/guard Desmond Bland — committed to the program currently.
» Nebraska tight ends coach Sean Beckton said he’s a good friend of Bethune-Cookman head coach Terry Sims, who’d often bring his staff to Central Florida when Beckton coached there. UCF and BCU would work clinics together.
Beckton said he grew up near BCU, located in Daytona Beach, Florida, and coached high school football in the mid-1990s near BCU’s campus.
» Nebraska, finally, had a large lead against Minnesota. That meant Walters and Frost could have a little more fun with the offense. Two Statue of Liberty play calls and a halfback pass stood out.
Part of that had to do with conservative play calling earlier in the year. Against Minnesota, Walters said, they wanted to take some shots.
“Even (Stanley Morgan)’s second touchdown we were up 21 or 15 or something and (we) could have easily just ran the ball run the clock but they gave us a look we wanted and we took a shot,” Walters said. “And so the guys know that we’re gonna be aggressive, we’re going to play to win, we’re going to attack.”