Nebraska’s Martinez set to play like he has nothing to lose

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Adrian Martinez has been through a lot of losing, his body has taken a beating and he has dealt with the frustration of not being able to recapture the form that made him one of the nation’s top freshman quarterbacks in 2018.

He goes into his fourth season as Nebraska’s starting quarterback planning to let it all hang out.

“For me personally, it’s been a heck of a journey,” he said. “Everything that I’ve been through on the football field and off it has led me to this point right here. And I truly do believe I have nothing left to lose. Just enjoy it and play at the very highest level I can.”

The Cornhuskers, 3-5 last season, will need Martinez healthy and at his best to navigate what’s rated as the toughest schedule in the Big Ten.

Martinez averaged 295 yards of total offense per game to lead all freshmen in 2018. Knee and shoulder injuries, struggles with downfield passing and fumbling problems have caused him to regress the last two years.

Martinez also has run more than what would be ideal in coach Scott Frost’s offense. He’s averaging 13.4 carries per game in his career, the highest for a Nebraska quarterback since the program moved on from the triple-option offense in 2004. His 23 carries against Rutgers last season were the most by a Power Five quarterback.

Frost said improved depth at running back should take pressure off Martinez, as will a group of receivers the fourth-year coach called the best since he arrived.

The 6-foot-2 Martinez entered preseason practice listed at 212 pounds, eight lighter than a year ago, and he said he feels as good as ever physically.

His personal goal: “Prove to myself and prove to my teammates that I can be every bit of the player that I aspired to be when I first got here,” he said.

Martinez is 12-16 as the starter with eight losses by five points or less.

“Honestly, we’ve left a lot out on the table,” Martinez said. “I think this year we have an opportunity to kind of gain that back.”

EXPERIENCED DEFENSE

The Huskers have eight players who started at least seven of the eight games last season and three others who were part-time starters.

LB JoJo Domann is back after averaging a team-best 7.5 tackles and is among five sixth-year seniors who returned on defense because of the extra year granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic.

Nebraska allowed averages of 169.5 rushing yards and 386.5 total yards, the lowest since 2016.

CLEAN UP MISTAKES

Reducing turnovers and penalties are points of emphasis. The Huskers ranked 123rd in turnover margin and in the bottom third of the FBS in penalties with an average of 6.8 for 61 yards per game. The Huskers had three games in which they were flagged nine times.

HARD TIMES

The Huskers are on their longest streak of losing seasons (four) since the six in a row from 1956-61. They haven’t been in the final Associated Press Top 25 since 2012.

Among the 16 coaches at Nebraska at least three years, only Bill Jennings had fewer wins than Frost’s 12 in his first three seasons (8 from 1957-59). Bill Glassford had 12 wins from 1949-51.

SELLOUT STREAK

Keep an eye on the Huskers’ NCAA-record sellout streak. The Huskers go into the season with 375 in a row, but officials have acknowledged the streak has been kept alive in recent years by boosters or local businesses buying remaining tickets a day or two before home games. There have been noticeable blocks of empty seats in recent years.

New athletic director Trev Alberts was non-committal on whether he would sign off on propping up the streak.

“I’m not really interested in perception. I’m interested in reality,” Alberts said. “Part of good organizations is having the courage to examine the blatant truths of your current reality.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Nebraska opens the season Aug. 28 at Illinois. The game originally was to be played in Ireland but was rescheduled for Champaign because of the pandemic. The Huskers lost to the Illini in Lincoln last year and have been vocal about the importance of winning this game to set a positive tone for a season that includes visits to Oklahoma, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

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