LINCOLN — Heading into the 2019 college football season, expectations for both Nebraska and quarterback Adrian Martinez were lofty.
However, the year that most Cornhusker fans envisioned never materialized. With a 27-24 home loss to Iowa on Friday, Nebraska finished the season 5-7 and will miss becoming bowl-eligible for a third consecutive season.
Following the loss, Martinez said he wasn’t quite ready to analyze exactly what went wrong.
“My mind really isn’t too far off of tonight,” Martinez said. “For right now, I’m still feeling for the seniors and the tough game we lost here today. Obviously, we need to move forward and need to continue to progress and continue to work on our brand of football.”
Indeed, the regular season that wrapped up on a dreary day at Memorial Stadium was a disappointment for the Huskers, who several media types touted as the trendy pick to win the Big Ten Conference’s West Division. And after a standout freshman season, much was expected of Martinez, who missed two games due to injuries.
Martinez completed 149 of 251 pass attempts (59.4 percent) for 1,956 yards and 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound sophomore from Fresno, California, was second on the team in rushing with 626 yards and seven TDs.
By comparison, Martinez completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,617 yards and 17 TDs with eight interceptions and rushed for 629 yards and eight scores as a freshman. That performance landed Martinez on the preseason watch lists for the Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award and Manning Award.
On paper, Nebraska coach Scott Frost said Martinez still had a good season.
“He’s doing a lot of good things,” Frost said. “Adrian has been hurt this year — been nicked up — (and) that certainly affected it. We need to find more people that can be open for him more consistently so he can trust that.
“We’ve got to protect him better. I’m not defending anybody on the team, we all need to get better, but there’s a lot of things that need to happen a lot better around whoever’s playing quarterback.”
Martinez has admitted on several occasions that his sophomore season has been a challenging one.
“Well, there was definitely times of ups and downs,” Martinez said. “It was a learning curve and it didn’t necessarily go the way we planned as a team. I said this earlier and I’ll say it again: I wouldn’t change any of it. I think it’s a part of God’s plan, truly.”
Although Nebraska bettered its record just one game from 4-8 in 2018 to 5-7 this season, Martinez said he sees improvement in the program.
“I think it’s tough to see from the outside in because of the one-win difference, but on the inside, we can tell the difference,” Martinez said. “We can tell how far we’ve come and just how close we are to breaking through and truly being a good, solid football team.
“Obviously, 5-7 is not where we want to be as a program — I don’t think anyone wants to be that — but we are close. We have progressed.”
Nebraska’s offense struggled in Friday’s loss to Iowa, managing just 284 total yards. Martinez was 10 of 18 passing for 50 yards with an interception and he rushed 21 times for 44 yards, but has looked indecisive and tentative at times, especially running the ball.
In the first half alone, the Huskers’ offense suffered five negative plays. All of them were on first down, leaving Nebraska playing behind the chains.
“That falls on my shoulders,” Martinez said. “Part of it is getting good plays on first down. I think it put Coach Frost in a tough spot and it puts our offense in general in a tough spot when you don’t get positive plays to start a drive against a really solid defensive team.”
Martinez said he thinks it’s important to take some “time to breathe” before dissecting the 2019 season. However, when the time comes to start working for 2020, Martinez said he’ll be ready — and he wants to remain at Nebraska.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here,” Martinez said. “I love this state. I love this program and this staff.
“We want to be great. I want to be great for this team and that’s what I’m going to do moving forward.”