Luke’s Locker: Adrian Martinez is the key to a potential conference title

Quarterback Adrian Martinez runs into the end zone to score a touchdown during the game against the University of Oklahoma on Saturday, Sept. 24th. (Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

Three games in, many thought the book was written on quarterback Adrian Martinez. The Nebraska transfer’s performance featured conservative play and missed opportunities. All seemed lost as the team appeared to have a weakness in the passing game that was holding them back. Then, the Oklahoma game happened.

As if stellar QB play against the Sooners has become a new school tradition, Martinez showed what he believed was his best performance of his career, he said in his post-game press conference. It displayed what he could do as the focal point of the offense. Many can look at his stats and point out why Martinez has proved doubters wrong, but it goes deeper than that. It’s not that he threw for 234 yards, a new high as a Wildcat. It’s not that he led the team with 148 rushing yards on the night. It wasn’t even that he scored all five touchdowns. The way Martinez proved his doubters wrong wasn’t through showing new talents, rather, it was showing a new mentality.

From the jump, his execution had no resemblance to his performances against South Dakota, Missouri or Tulane. Martinez seemed to be playing to win. This was shown through multiple passes down the seam to tight end Ben Sinnott, nicely placed over-the-shoulder throws to wide receiver Kade Warner and even a risky jump ball pass to wide receiver Malik Knowles. His aggressiveness even flowed through his running game where he ran for huge conversion plays. That was highlighted by his clutch third-and-16 run for 55 yards which basically put the game to rest. His willingness to put the ball in potential danger was nullified by bringing a new dimension of aggression to the offense. This could give the Wildcats an improved outlook on what the team can do going forward. 

Defeating the then-ranked No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners in an assertive fashion and earning a No. 25 ranking (keeping Kansas outside the top 25) brings new expectations to the team. It is no longer a year to be satisfied by just a good season. This belief is shared by the sportsbooks. The aftermath of the Tulane loss pushed the Wildcats’ odds to win the Big 12 all the way down to +2500 at one point. Those odds have now risen to +550, giving K-State the fifth best odds, with Oklahoma State and Baylor not far off in front at +330. 

A healthy mix of offense and defense could be the recipe to earning a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. The defense has already proven to be among the best in the conference. Their pass rushing ability, complemented by the takeaway machine from the secondary, makes any opposing offense susceptible to mistakes. Oklahoma, on the other hand, had zero turnovers, allowed only one sack and scored 34 points, but the defense still held strong in the second half when the offense slowed down. As the defense began to fade, the offense came back into form with persistence from Martinez; defense likely won’t struggle this season. For K-State to be an elite team, though, Martinez must have the ability to take control of the game if the defense falters.

Will this play continue or will it be a one-hit wonder? His ability to perform at a higher level has been proven, and against a great team at that. The defense and the running game have been established since week one, but this passing offense adds a new element to the team. Martinez will not be required to play up to that level every week and shouldn’t be expected to. Just attempting high-risk, high-reward plays more often will improve the team’s ceiling drastically. If that becomes a trend and not a one-off, look for the Wildcats to be near the top of the Big 12 during the holiday season, with the chance to play in the Big 12 title game for the first time since 2003 and since its reinstatement in 2017.