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COLUMBUS, Ohio — After months of speculation about the quarterback competition, Luke McCaffrey began his 2020 season by taking a handoff.
By the end of Saturday afternoon, the possibilities for McCaffrey the rest of the fall seemed limited only by the imagination of the Nebraska offense.
McCaffrey took that handoff from junior Adrian Martinez on the game’s third play from scrimmage and busted down the left sideline for 47 yards, setting up a Martinez touchdown run on the next snap. McCaffrey attempted five passes. The redshirt freshman even caught one — a 5-yarder — early in the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s 52-17 loss to Ohio State.
For at least one day, Nebraska’s best skill player was the backup quarterback.
“I’ve been telling everyone that our two quarterbacks are two of our best players on our football team,” coach Scott Frost said. “That certainly played out today. I thought both played well.”
Even if Martinez settles into his third season as a starter, McCaffrey and the Huskers made clear the dynamic 19-year-old will have an impact in the offense. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound McCaffrey ran nine times overall — most as a sort of wildcat QB — for 87 yards. Four of his five passes landed safely in the hands of NU receivers for 55 yards. After his initial big run, Ohio State defenders paid extra attention to him the rest of the way.
“I think he brought a good spark,” senior right guard Matt Farniok said. “They’re both dynamic players and having two guys like that out on the field just gives you a lot more weapons to use.”
McCaffrey’s day was far from flawless. When Martinez left the field with an equipment issue on NU’s third drive, the Colorado native fumbled a snap that led to a punt. He also lost the ball at the end of nice up-the-middle run after directing a six-play, 45-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
Indeed, Frost and Farniok said, holding on to the ball is critical for a Nebraska offense that runs its quarterbacks more than anyone in the Big Ten. Martinez coughed up the ball on an option run in the third quarter; it went for an Ohio State touchdown and broke open the game at 38-17.
“I thought they executed the game plan well at times,” Frost said. “But we shot ourselves in the foot too much.”
Martinez, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 105 yards and ran 12 times for 77 yards, said the shared duties with McCaffrey were part of the game plan and will continue to be.
“Luke’s a really talented player and I think we’re going to continue to find ways to get him involved,” Martinez said. “I was sort of expecting that and I know Luke was prepared, as well. And he did a great job of executing when it was his turn to get in there.”
McCaffrey played all over the field for most of his high school career and redshirted last season, appearing in four games and seeing most of his action against Indiana and Maryland. The only 2019 hint he showed of Saturday’s versatility came against the Terps, when he occasionally lined up at receiver and caught a pass. Coaches have repeatedly insisted that McCaffrey is a quarterback but left the possibility open that he could contribute elsewhere.
That vision played out Saturday and gives opponents something extra to think about in the next eight regular-season games. Martinez said the new usage pattern with McCaffrey didn’t affect his rhythm, instead giving him another option and more confidence in how potent the offense can be.
“I felt good out there,” Martinez said. “I thought the coaches did a good job. I thought we had a solid game plan and Luke did good when he got in the game.”