Last Saturday while Kansas State enjoyed its bye week, I returned to my alma mater, Illinois, to see the Fighting Illini host Minnesota for their Homecoming contest at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
While roaming the sidelines before and during the game, I was able to converse with former Fighting Illini defensive players, that I covered in my time in Champaign, who are now contributing to NFL rosters in various capacities. They asked how I was doing, and what I was reporting on these days, which led to me sharing that I’m now fortunate enough to cover K-State football for Rivals.
A few of the players were familiar with Kansas State’s season and the fact that Adrian Martinez is now the starting quarterback for the Wildcats after spending the previous four seasons starting for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big Ten West where they played Illinois on an annual basis.
When they asked how Martinez was playing for K-State through the first half of the season, many of the players were surprised to learn that Martinez has played turnover-free football for K-State’s first six games of the 2022 campaign.
In reality, it shouldn’t be astonishing that former Big Ten defenders expected Martinez to struggle in the Big 12. His four seasons at Nebraska were marred by costly turnovers, 46 to be exact, including 30 interceptions and 16 lost fumbles.
The theme of Martinez’s Nebraska career went as so: Cornhuskers fall in one-score game after costly mistakes in the fourth quarter.
At Kansas State, no such theme exists for Martinez – or the Wildcats – through the first half of the season.
Instead, Kansas State is off to a 5-1start on the season, including a 3-0 start in Big 12 Conference competition, which has the Wildcats tied for first place with TCU atop the league’s standings. Martinez has quarterbacked the Kansas State offense well. He’s completing 62.3 percent of his passes for exactly 900 yards with four touchdown passes and a dumfounding 546 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Yet, most importantly, Martinez is responsible for a grand total of zero turnovers this season.
Altogether, Martinez is the highest-graded Big 12 quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 85.5, which ranks ahead of Baylor’s Blake Shapen (82.1), Kansas’ Jalon Daniels (82.0), TCU’s Max Duggan (82.0) and Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel (82.0).
Kansas State is the only team in the nation that hasn’t thrown an interception this season.
“It’s something we emphasize and something he’s conscious of to make sure – in tight ball games maybe there’s a turnover there that can flip the tide of a game and understanding that sometimes I’ve gotta check the ball down or I’ve gotta tuck it away and maybe punting isn’t a bad thing rather than forcing a throw,” Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman said of Martinez’s ball security. … “Part of it is his maturing and the fact that he’s played so much football. I think Coach [Collin] Klein has done a great job putting him in situations and calls to be successful and us trying to stay ahead of the chains and not being in a bunch of third and eight plus, where you might typically force the ball and being in a lot more third and shorts. It opens up the playbook more and he’s making good decisions.”
Coming into his career at Kansas State, Martinez was likely aware of the narrative that had been written about him by people in career fields similar to that of mine. Yet, he wasn’t deterred by the dark moments that mirrored his Nebraska career. But he’s also aware that during his K-State career, he’s improved more in limiting turnovers than any other aspect of the game.
“Looking at it statistically, I think, turnovers would be an easy thing to point to,” Martinez said of his improvement in 2022. “Something that I’ve wanted to continue to work on – that stems from preparation and Coach Klein.”
Kansas State could have opted to stick with
at quarterback after
departure to the NFL Draft following the 2021 season. Or they could have given Jake Rubley a chance to play quarterback. Heck, K-State could have targeted any of the transfer quarterbacks from the portal in the offseason. Yet, they found a match with Martinez despite the warts in his game from four calloused years with Nebraska.
“I don’t know what happened in the past,” Klieman said. “Everybody asks me about that. I wasn’t with him so I really don’t know what happened and don’t really care what happened. I’m just excited that he’s here and takes coaching from Coach Klein.”
Martinez’s maturity has made it easier for him to move past a missed read in the passing game or potentially overthrowing an open target downfield. And that’s made it “refreshing” to coach him in Klieman’s words.
“He understands it’s part of the game and his maturity allows him to handle the adversity that he does have,” he said. “If he makes a poor read and should give it and keeps it and gets tackled for a 3-yard loss, it doesn’t bother him. It’s, ‘OK, I made the wrong read. I’ve gotta go make the next play,’ and that’s the sign of a mature guy that’s played just a ton of football.”
Martinez has rewritten the theme about his play in six games at Kansas State. If he continues to rewrite the narrative, Kansas State’s 2022 book could end in a memorable fashion.