IOWA CITY — Adrian Martinez has the attention of the Iowa football team.
Nebraska’s freshman quarterback is at the controls of the Big Ten’s second-most productive offense, piling up an average of 461.3 yards per game heading into Friday’s 11 a.m. Heroes Game at Kinnick Stadium.
“He can do a lot of things with the football,’’ Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert said. “He doesn’t look like a freshman.’’
Martinez is 90 yards from becoming the first Nebraska freshman and just the seventh player in the program’s history to accumulate 3,000 yards of offense in a season, mixing a strong arm with the ability to carry the football.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Fresno, California, native has completed 64.1 percent of his 309 passes, throwing for 2,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has been intercepted just seven times.
“He makes good decisions with the football,’’ Iowa free safety Jake Gervase said. “And, they have good players around him, good receivers, good running backs. It seems like we’ve been running up against a good dual-threat quarterback every week and he’s another one of them.’’
A pair of veteran receivers, senior Stanley Morgan and sophomore JD Spielman, have combined for 129 receptions to lead the Nebraska passing attack.
Martinez has carried the ball 123 times and is the Cornhuskers’ second-leading rusher and his average of 55.3 yards per game complements the 93.8 rushing Devine Ozigbo accumulates per game on the ground.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said there are parallels between what Martinez brings to the Nebraska attack and what Trace McSorley provides Penn State.
“He’s really a very threatening guy, running the football, throwing the football,’’ Ferentz said. “They’ve got designed runs, designed options, those types of things, and then he’ll also pull it down and go. You really have to respect that part of it.’’
Ferentz said first-year coach Scott Frost hasn’t hesitated to test opposing defenses.
“They’ll take chances. They’ll push the envelope,’’ he said. “They’ll go for it fourth down, those types of things and they just do a really good job of keeping pressure on you in all areas.’’
Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa said the Hawkeyes will again need to play assignment-sound football.
He sees the comparison to McSorley as he watches Martinez work.
“The decisions he makes, the times when he pulls the ball down and takes off with it, there are similarities there,’’ Epenesa said. “We’re going to need to be on top of our game.’’
That hasn’t been an issue for an Iowa defense which has grown throughout the season.
The Hawkeyes now rank second in the Big Ten in scoring defense, rushing defense, pass defense and total defense.
With 15 interceptions in its last seven games, Iowa has 17 picks on the year and is one interception away from leading the nation in that category for a second straight year.
With only two picks through four games, Iowa found game-changing success once it shifted Amani Hooker to the hybrid linebacker position. It essentially gives the Hawkeyes an additional defensive back to counter spread offensive attacks.
“It gives us a chance to keep our two-high shell,’’ Gervase said. “We don’t have to put a safety in the box near as much, because we can put Hooker man-to-man a little more than we would an outside backer, which gives a better chance to eliminate big plays in the run game.’’
It’s a look that has been good to Iowa throughout the heart of the Big Ten season.
“We feel like front end, back end, we’re playing our best football right now and we’re going to need for that to continue,’’ defensive end Anthony Nelson said. “Martinez is a good quarterback and we can’t let him get too comfortable. We need to bring our best.’’