In this week's mailbag, Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson tackle your questions ranging from recruiting needs to competing narratives and basketball expectations.
Lots of people (Big Ten coaches, media) are saying this team could easily be 5-1 or 4-2 right now if not for the bad breaks, etc. If the Akron game had been played, and NU had won, do you think they'd be around that mark? Would the mental hurdle of winning a game been that impactful? (@Sal_Vasta3)
JP: It’s certainly possible that getting that first game in might have changed things slightly, but one extra game wasn’t suddenly going to eliminate all the coverage busts or penalties or scoring struggles that have contributed to that 0-6 record. Nebraska still would have been the same team it is now, but perhaps one or two results might have gone the other way.
BV: I think it could’ve made a difference, but it’s hard for me to go too far with it because Nebraska didn’t exactly make a huge jump from the Colorado game to the Troy game. Of course, Adrian Martinez’s injury had something to do with that, but these little turning-point moments are happening all over the country to most teams. They’re fun to think and talk about it, but it’s hard to know just how they’d change what’s already happened. If Nebraska plays Akron and wins, I’d say the Huskers are still around .500, which is basically how I’m viewing this team anyway in terms of overall ability right now.
DP: I was going to answer this. Then Brandon added in his take. Instead, I will say this: exactly what Brandon said.
We are talented enough to be ahead of Northwestern by 10 with five minutes left in the game, but after the loss the message seems to be "we don't have enough talent on this team yet." So what is it? Do we really lack that much talent? (We obviously do in the secondary.) (@thawildbunch)
JP: Funny you should mention that. Derek just wrote words about that topic on Monday. I posted my thoughts below the story but I’ll share them here as well:
Talent is certainly one of the issues. The fact is Nebraska needs better players; there's no denying that. Nebraska loses one-on-one match-ups, whether in the trenches or in the secondary, far too often. The Huskers were dominated physically by Michigan, and Wisconsin as well at times. Nebraska hasn't been able to cover the likes of Laviska Shenault or Flynn Nagel no matter what they tried.
That being said, there's much better talent on the team than 0-6 would indicate. The biggest problem is consistency. Nebraska can't get enough of its good players playing well for a long enough period at the same time to win games. Because even their best guys aren't consistent (save for a select few) or being put in the best position to maximize their ability because of what the team needs of them, that makes it easier for opponents to exploit the parts of Nebraska's team where there isn't as much talent.
DP: I have thoughts on this. The same team that people in the offseason said could get eight or nine wins now has no talent. Like you said, Nebraska beats Northwestern and we aren’t even having this discussion. I think the talent question is an overreaction right now to a poor start and an easy fallback for explaining it away. A “of course Nebraska is 0-6, the last coaches have left Scott Frost with nothing to work with” kind of thing. If the Huskers are going to compete for conference titles and playoff berths, then yes, they need more talent. That’s not really up for debate. You need more talent across the board on the offensive and defensive lines. Is that the question, though, or is it "does Nebraska have enough talent to win football games right now?" I wrote about that specific question, like Jacob said (I think some people thought I was writing on the first), and I firmly believe this team has plenty of talent as currently constructed to win football games this season. Don’t believe me? Explain the 28-14 lead over Northwestern on the road.
What is the biggest problem with our team right now besides penalties and special teams? (@_LilBigRed12_)
BV: I’d highlight what Jacob just mentioned above in response to the previous question –– consistent execution. The defense against Northwestern was solid for 3.5 quarters against Northwestern, but couldn’t maintain it on the final two drives. The offense, all season long really, has shown flashes of the quick-hitting, high-powered offense everyone eventually expects to see (as it did on the first drive against Northwestern). But then it disappears for long stretches. Consistency struggles are to be expected to some degree in a new scheme and system, but we’re at the midpoint of the season now and they don’t seem to be dwindling. That’s the most surprising part to me.
Should the Blackshirts be taken away? (HarlanCoLaker)
ES: I don’t know. Maybe? If it’s based on earning them, I guess there could be an argument to take them away from some players (and give them back all through the season, if earned). It doesn’t seem like that’s the plan for the staff right now though, even though the staff originally said it was all about earning them (both on and off the field). I’m of the belief you should give the starters (and maybe a couple of others because so much rotation happens now) their jerseys before the first game and they keep them as long as they start. But it doesn’t matter what I think at the end of the day. This staff is figuring out their own approach to the jerseys and I think even they’re still learning what’s best as far as the future of this tradition is concerned.
JP: I think, for the most part, Blackshirts are earned through hard work more so than talent or on-field success. How you play certainly matters, but the Blackshirts go to the guys that are doing the most for the defense, in the meeting rooms, on the practice field and in the games. The guys that have them now are, for the most part, the guys putting in the most work and playing the biggest roles. Aaron Williams is coming off of the worst game of his career, but should he have his Blackshirt pulled because of that despite the years of work he’s put into this program and all of the plays that he has made? I don’t believe so.
Border D1 coaches seem more active in going after the talent in the state offering football scholarships. Is this a product of the times of people being aware of kids that may not be rated or rated highly or is it historically normal? (@CoryHonold)
GS: I think this is a perception versus reality thing. The top players in the state last year were offered even though Bryson Williams was late. All the top talent this year is coming to Nebraska. The clear top player in 2020 wideout Zavier Betts has an offer. The guy triggering all of these questions lately is 2020 wideout Xavier Watts who just picked up offers from Northwestern and Wisconsin. He will be an interesting test case because he did not test well at FNL and doesn’t seem like a “fit” for the offense. However, he’s an outstanding football player. That was a long way of saying I think this is normal.
Have any thoughts on the "$5 Bits of Broken Trophy" Chair Trophy? I kinda dig the silliness of it, but enjoy the "chair"-ity aspects associated: Team Jack Foundation & UM Masonic Children's Hospital. (@Sal_Vasta3)
ES: I’ve always been a fan of the chair. It’s the one, for as silly as it is, that felt the most genuine out of all the new ones created since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. It was just created organically, as the best trophies always are. I wish the original still existed (although there’s rumor it does) but I like that some individuals brought it back and put a good cause behind it. If you’re interested in seeing the trophy (it does events!) or helping them raise money for good causes (as you mentioned in your question), their Twitter account has all the information you could need.
JP: I’m in favor of making college football fun and I’m also in favor of raising money for the less fortunate whenever possible. The Bits trophy checks both of those boxes so I’m a fan.
DP: While I think the Big Ten has entirely too many trophy games, I am perfectly alright with this one given the good it supports.
It seems lots of college football players have several tattoos. How can these guys afford it? I know I couldn’t when I was that age. (@IBeLionsBeats)
ES: I got all three of my tattoos in college and I didn’t have much money then. I had a part-time job and a couple of internships, but I just saved my money for each. I’m sure some of their scholarship stipends are used for things like that, and that’s really their call how that money is spent (because the stipends are intended for living costs and not dictated in how they’re spent). I’ll say this: Without naming names, one football player I knew in college ran out of gas on the way to school one day. When asked why he hadn’t just filled his tank up, he replied, “Because I really wanted the new pair of Jordans.” And so he learned that day that you can spend your stipend money how you please, but you should probably make sure you have gas in your car first.
DP: Depending on what Jordans he got, I would think that football player made the right call.
Moos said for Nebrasketball, "We need to come back and win 22 again this year. That's not necessarily a mandate. But we need to have that kind of year." Seems kinda passive-aggressive to me for the team and coaching staff. Is Moos setting it up for a coaching change? (@Sal_Vasta3)
JP: Moos’ message about the men’s basketball team has been pretty consistent ever since he arrived in Lincoln: Tim Miles has to show that he can put together a consistent winner as opposed to a loser with occasional flashes in the pan of success. The latter is what his program has been to this point, but there really isn’t any excuse (short of a season-ending injury to a key player or two) for Miles NOT to build off of last season and take the next step. If that happens, Miles will keep his job. If the team falls apart like it did after the 2014 NCAA Tournament run, then I don’t think Moos would have any qualms about moving on.
DP: I don’t necessarily think that comment signals Moos is preparing for a coaching change — I’m sure his ducks are in order should he need to go down that path — but it strikes me more as a boss reaffirming performance expectations.
If the amount of candy you received trick-or-treating was directly related to the costume you were wearing, which current AND former Husker player or coach would you dress up as? Bonus: What candy would you hope you got the most of? (@Corn_Huskers)
ES: Scott Frost because everyone would just hand me all of their candy and probably the keys to their house. And I would hope for all the Reese’s peanut butter cups.
BV: On the current team Adrian Martinez probably produces the greatest yield because everyone knows the QB and he’s pretty good. JD Spielman probably should be that guy on offense given the season he’s having, and I bet Mohamed Barry’s candy-producing numbers would be pretty good for the guys on defense. My hope would be that they yielded mostly Milk Duds and Starbursts. Is that weird? I get the sense people don’t like Milk Duds, but I do and I especially like the Halloween-sized version. Those little yellow boxes are such a crap shoot. Sometimes you might get four, other times one. It’s a game within a game.
DP: (Milk Duds are wonderful.) I would answer Mario Verduzco for current Husker because cigars. For former Huskers, I’m dressing up as Suh; Suh would get all the candy.
What are the most pressing recruiting needs for this coming season? I think o-line and a pass rusher… (@Sal_Vasta3)
GS: Offensive line, pass rusher, true cornerbacks and increase the overall team speed. I tackled this question a few weeks ago in my recruiting notebook when I changed my mind to the offensive line. It’s close between o-line and pass rusher, though.
DP: I don’t think it’s particularly close. Nebraska needs better top-end talent and depth on the offensive line. That unit needs some more speed and athleticism for this offense to run smoothly and Nebraska needs its next big-time center. I can’t remember the last great multi-year center the Huskers had. I’m high on Caleb Tannor and Ben Stille — as well as a couple of the defensive linemen currently committed — as future quarterback disruptors. You always need speed but rebuilding that offensive line is just so crucial, especially with three seniors making up half the six-man rotation right now.