LINCOLN — Mario Verduzco called Tristan Gebbia into his office on Saturday evening.
He told the redshirt freshman quarterback that Adrian Martinez was going to be the starter for the Huskers’ season opener.
Gebbia, according to Verduzco, took the news extremely well.
“He answered me when we talked on Saturday, in relationship to the information that I gave him, like the champion and the great teammate that I thought he was,” Verduzco said. “When I talked to Tristan on Saturday, he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to work as hard as I ever have and when my number is called I’ll be ready to go. And I’ll be one of Adrian’s biggest supporters.’ And he thanked me for how we handled it and that he didn’t have to hear it on the Internet.”
And then something changed. Verduzco isn’t sure what.
On Sunday, after the depth chart was released and news spread that Martinez was the starter, Gebbia called Verduzco. He was leaving the program.
“He just had a different tone in his voice,” Verduzco said. “There was no indication to me whatsoever that any of this was going to take place. And if there was any indication to me, it would have been incumbent upon me to say, ‘Hey, Coach Frost, I think this might take place. We gotta have some forward thinking about it and a plan.'”
Instead Nebraska is faced with a conundrum. It has a true freshman starter and two walk-ons as backups.
Still, Verduzco is happy with the guys he has. Particularly Martinez, who really began to win the starting job one week before they told him, Verduzco said.
“Once he started getting his stroke back, particularly within the last two weeks, once he got that cranked up, he was ripping the ball really well and that maybe was the deciding factor in relationship to his athleticism and all that sort of business that goes along with that,” Verduzco said.
Martinez will be the first true freshman in Nebraska history to start the season opener. That news hasn’t changed him. Verduzco said if he sensed a change in Martinez’s demeanor, he’d “cut his frickin’ head off.”
The absence of Gebbia, though, will change the game plan. Verduzco said Nebraska might be a bit more “judicious” with designed quarterback runs now that there isn’t as much depth behind Martinez.
Andrew Bunch is now the backup. He’s a junior college transfer and walk-on. Verduzco has been high on Bunch since arriving on campus and still likes him as his backup.
“He’s got a good gun, he’s athletic, he’s intelligent,” Verduzco said.
Ideally, Bunch will run the offense for a few series on Saturday against Akron, but that will be Frost’s call, Verduzco said.
Behind Bunch will be Matt Masker, a true freshman walk-on from Kearney. Masker will be practicing less with the scout team, Verduzco said, and will take over more responsibilities.
Noah Vedral, the Wahoo native who transferred from Central Florida, will run scout team.
Frost said Monday this quarterback situation is far from ideal. Verduzco agrees.
“If I can remember correctly, this is the first time this has happened in this sort of way,” Verduzco said. “It was interesting to say the least.”
Andrew Bunch embraces chance to play; Huskers will have deep running back rotation
Andrew Bunch’s preparation never changed, but his circumstances have.
He’s now Nebraska’s backup quarterback following the departure of Tristan Gebbia.
A sophomore walk-on, Bunch didn’t know Gebbia was planning to leave the program. He entered Monday’s practice expecting to run the scout team offense and emulate Akron. Change of plans. He’s preparing for Akron’s defense in case starter Adrian Martinez gets hurt or the Huskers have so much success that Bunch gets in for mop-up duty.
“I’m happy with the way I’m performing,” Bunch said. “Every day I’m going in trying to be the best I can be, preparing for every day.”
Bunch talked as teammates walked back to the locker room. Behind the pack of reporters — the largest Bunch has ever faced after practice — Bunch’s buddies lobbed jokes at him. Bunch cracked a smile a few times, but he’s otherwise “locked in” for Saturday’s game.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for ever since I got to this school — to play on Saturday,” Bunch said. “I’m definitely excited, focused.”
» Held said Nebraska will rotate running backs based on what the offense wants to get done on a given series. Some of that is pre-planned. Some has to occur on the fly.
And whoever is in, there’s always someone “on deck” if necessary.
“I know within the concepts that we have in our game plan which guy really does it the best,” Held said. “Now, I can’t marry it up perfect because in the flow of the series he might call something that maybe another guy’s better, but it’s a tempo and we can’t change personnel. So that’s why we’ve gotta have guys that can do it all if we can.”
» True freshman Miles Jones dinged his shoulder early in camp and missed some time, Held said, but he’s continued to make plays as his practice reps increased at NU’s receiver/running back hybrid position.
“I expect for him to contribute this fall. We’ll take it game by game and see,” Held said. “… He’s a guy that can break loose and go 80 (yards). So he might be a guy that could lead the team in rushing because he might have two carries for 150 yards. You never know. But he’s a guy that can help us.”
» Losing weight over summer was the biggest factor in Devine Ozigbo’s move to the top of the depth chart, said offensive coordinator Troy Walters.
“He’s in shape, can run well, he’s Mr. Reliable,” Walters said. “When he’s out there, you know he’s going to know what to do pass-protection wise … He’s one of those guys he’s going to get four yards. He may not bust a 50-yarder, 60-yarder, but he’s consistent.”
» Walters said freshman running back Maurice Washington is “special.”
“When he gets the ball in his hands, you’ll notice,” Walters said.
» Akron’s defense, Walters said, returns “eight, nine starters” — including the entire secondary — and will try to get “eight, nine guys in the box and play man (coverage) on the outside and force you to make plays.”
» Pay little attention to the wide receiver depth chart, Walters said. That’s what he told receivers. He plans to play “five, six, seven receivers” in an attempt to wear out defenses.
» Walters said true freshman cornerback Cam Taylor would probably be Nebraska’s fourth-string quarterback if necessary. True freshman Adrian Martinez, Bunch and true freshman walk-on Matt Masker are the only three QBs currently available.
» Nebraska is continuing to pursue a potential NCAA waiver for Central Florida transfer quarterback Noah Vedral. But until that becomes official, Walters said, the Wahoo Neumann grad will work with the scout team and not take any snaps with the offense.
“Right now, until we hear otherwise, he’s ineligible,” Walters said. “So we’re trying to get the guys that are eligible, guys that have an opportunity to play on Saturday, we gotta get those guys the reps.”
» Senior safety Antonio Reed said he’s particularly excited to see junior cornerback Lamar Jackson play under the lights.
“His focus and his attitude (are different),” Reed said. “I feel like once he got on top of that, it made him a better player. So I’m really looking forward to that.”
» Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said he isn’t worried about Martinez’s lack of recent playing experience. Martinez missed his entire senior season with a shoulder injury and hasn’t played in a live game in almost two years — besides the Under Armour All-America Game.
“I think he’ll be like a duck in water,” Verduzco said.
» The true freshman has to earn his leadership role. Verduzco said Martinez knows he has a sort of “moral authority” to lead as the starting quarterback. But beyond that, Martinez has to earn his place.
“He understands his role as the quarterback at the University of Nebraska, but at the same time he understands his ‘place’ in the pecking order,” Verduzco said. “And he knows, as all the quarterbacks that have played for us, their leadership is going to be based on their performance from sideline to sideline, goal line to goal line.”
Akron at Nebraska
When: 7 p.m. Saturday (2 p.m. Pregame)
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln
Radio: 103.1 FM