LINCOLN — Luke McCaffrey didn’t waste time.
When Noah Vedral, who had replaced an injured Adrian Martinez, lost his helmet during the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s victory against Northwestern, McCaffrey hustled onto the field.
“If you know Luke at all, he’s that kind of a cat,” said Husker quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco.
McCaffrey kept for 3 yards before Vedral returned.
“I think when I talked to him on the (sideline) phone, he said he was hoping we’d call a pass play so he could’ve scrambled around for about 80 yards,” Verduzco said.
“But that’s Luke.”
The 3-yard keeper was the true freshman’s first play as a Husker. And it won’t necessarily be his last this season, although the plan is to redshirt him. “If at all possible, that would be absolutely ideal,” said Verduzco. “The kid’s going to be just an outstanding player.
“So yeah, that’d be great if we could.”
Verduzco was reiterating what Scott Frost said during Monday’s news conference.
“We definitely want to save his (four) years, so we have to be smart,” Frost said. “I would love to see him out there doing something. But we have to be smart in which games we play him.”
NCAA rules allow McCaffrey to play in three more without forfeiting a redshirt this season.
Even though he’s redshirting, Husker fans are familiar with McCaffrey, a highly regarded recruit who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice after leading Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., to the 2018 Class 5A state championship.
McCaffrey is third on the depth chart. Junior Andrew Bunch, though not listed, would be fourth. All four traveled to Minnesota, as they have for previous games at Colorado and Illinois.
Barring something unforeseen, it’s unlikely either will play on Saturday night.
Redshirt or not, McCaffrey has continued to prepare as if he’ll play. “Every week’s a game week, no matter who’s playing,” he said. “Everybody’s got to be ready for game day.”
The week of the Ohio State game, he practiced with the scout team for the first time.
“Other weeks I’ve been watching, getting a lot of mental reps and just doing anything, personally, I can do to get better,” said McCaffrey, who enjoyed the scout-team experience.
“It was a blast. Scout team’s always a blast because those are the guys that get to go in and just play football in its purest form. There’s no stress. There’s no pressure. And you get to have fun. So to be able to play with some of those guys was a blast,” he said.
“Any opportunity a player can get to go against the first-team defense is special. So that’s a big time to improve and master your craft.”
He knew he’d have only the one play against Northwestern. But even if he had gone into a game knowing he’d get significant time, “I’d feel very prepared,” McCaffrey said. “That’s what our whole team does every week at practice. We prepare for game day, and that’s what our coaches do such a good job of doing, day in and day out, is getting us prepared for game day.
“So props to Coach Verduzco, Coach Frost.”
Just before Vedral lost his helmet, Verduzco, who had been talking with “Bunchy” (Bunch) about the possibility, called down from the press box to ask Frost who would be next in if Vedral had to leave the game: “Frosty, what do you want to do?”
“I said ‘Luke’ without thinking about it,” said Frost. “I didn’t expect it to happen on the next play.”
Verduzco said his “eyeballs” were somewhere else during the play on which Vedral lost his helmet, “not on him, and the next thing I know, he’s jogging off the field.
“I must’ve breathed it into existence or something like that. But it was surprising.”
McCaffrey was standing with Bunch when he heard his name called.
“I got all juiced and ran out there,” McCaffrey said.
Mike Babcock is a long-time Husker beat reporter and editor for Hail Varsity Magazine.