Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Attitude, OL Adjustments, Vedral and More Huskers-Gophers Thoughts

October 14, 2019

I don’t have one, big overarching thought from Saturday’s game, as has been the case here with this piece the last several weeks. Instead, I have a handful of smaller, bite-sized things I want to touch on. So, here it is. Once again, a collection of good and bad, packaged as a Monday column, presented on a Sunday.

Two Competing Feelings

I don’t want to pile on. Every single person who watched or participated in Saturday’s game, if they have seen at least one other football game in their life, knows what happened. Minnesota was ready to play. Nebraska was not. The team knows that, and beating a dead horse accomplishes nothing. 

But with head coach Scott Frost sitting at a foldout table some five feet in front of me, fidgeting with a hand-warmer under the table so profusely I thought he might pop it at one point, and giving off some of the same non-verbal vibes I witnessed after 2018’s loss to Purdue (the game Frost was at his highest levels of fed up), he said something that caught me incredibly off guard and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. 

“Listen, I love this team, I love the guys, I love the attitude, but we’ve got to continue to get better day-by-day,” he said.

Attitude? Hmm.

Nebraska looked disinterested Saturday night at the point of attack, to a lot of surprise given the talk heading into the game. It simply seemed a freezing cold night game where one team wanted a win and the other wanted to just get to its bye week. 

That’s not the right attitude in a divisional game. 

I think Frost is looking at the bigger picture, and he’s probably right in that regard. Nebraska’s twice been in a situation where it could have been shut out for the first time in well over 20 years and both times it has mustered scoring drives because the team just gave a damn about preventing the shut out. That’s good. 

The group practices hard. They talk like their coach. They believe in what he’s selling. All those things are good. But the actions on the field are just as important and Saturday left an uncomfortably similar taste in the mouth to 2017. Frost was brought to town to make those feelings a thing of the distant past. 

Offensive Line in Need of a Shake-Up?

One video explains the game.

That was the last play of the evening for left guard Trent Hixson. He was replaced with Broc Bando in the second half — the only change the offensive line made in the game. Because Hixson was the only guy replaced, he’ll somewhat unfairly be the scapegoat for an evening in which no one on the offensive line consistently did their job.

“They got pressure on us once with a three-man rush and honestly I think we held and they didn’t call it,” Frost said. “We’ve got to give our quarterbacks more time.”

Nebraska has two quarterbacks carrying bruises right now because they have next to no time to work from the pocket. Nebraska averaged 5.1 yards per pass play against a Minnesota defense that came in allowing 6 a game and gave up four sacks to a group averaging two a game. 

“We as an o-line just need to be better,” said junior right tackle Matt Farniok. “I know we’re a physical group. Our failures come from technique.”

My question becomes this: at what point does Nebraska just try things out with freshman Bryce Benhart? At what point does Nebraska try out Will Farniok at guard? What’s the harm at this point?

We’ll probably need to see more of Bando before forming an opinion on his candidacy for that left guard spot. Jurgens was the only offensive lineman with a decent showing, so none of the other four guys should enter into the bye week with a secure job. 

This group is 109th in the country in stuff rate; 26.9% of Husker runs are stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. They’re 104th in allowed sack rate; 8.5% of pass plays end with a sack. On passing downs, that number jumps to 15.6% (121st). 

The Huskers had 13 runs for 10-plus yards against Illinois on Sept. 21. They have 11 in the three games since. They had 11 passes that gained at least 15 yards against Illinois and only have six such passes since. 

“This stretch is solely on us as players,” Farniok said. “We’ve got to find a way to make it work.”

And if this current five-man unit can’t, Nebraska needs to find a combination of lineman that can.

What Do We Even Make of Vedral?

“We started out pretty good on offense on three drives,” Frost said. “Moved it into their territory. I thought Noah Vedral played with some guts, played well and made plays.”

The third-year sophomore starting in place of the injured Adrian Martinez was responsible for each of Nebraska’s first 27 yards. Nothing explosive, but Vedral took what the defense gave him, made quick decisions with the football and got things moving in the right direction. Jack Stoll and Jaron Woodyard each had a catch on the opening drive. Woodyard didn’t have a catch all season to that point. 

Nebraska stalled out but I actually liked what I saw from Vedral. The problem is by the end of the third drive, there was really nothing more anyone was going to be able to glean from the game. The offense averaged 3.8 yards per play the rest of the way.

The only thing this game said about the perceived quarterback controversy Nebraska has is that neither guy, Martinez or Vedral, can do anything of significance if the offensive line is going to play the way it is. 

This only really definitively proved the issues during the first six weeks don’t fall as much on Martinez’s shoulders as some probably thought. 

With a bye week before Indiana, maybe Vedral doesn’t get another shot. Maybe Martinez is ready to go in two weeks. But we just saw a game’s worth of Vedral and it did nothing to answer whether he’s deserving of the spot or not. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Frost and quarterback coach Mario Verduzco handle this going forward. I suspect Martinez is the hand’s down guy if healthy, but I wonder if Vedral deserves a real shot.

Washington? Bueller?

Maurice Washington through the Huskers’ first four games: 417 yards of total offense and three scores on 43 touches (9.7 yards per play).

Maurice Washington through the Huskers’ last three games: 43 yards of total offense and no scores on 19 touches (2.3 yards per play).

Things I can only guess at: the sophomore running back isn’t 100% healthy, but he also doesn’t look 100% invested. Frost said Monday the talented tailback needs to be more reliable. This is an offense running low on proven playmakers, so it needs the guys it has available to step up in key moments. Washington has largely faded to the background for three straight weeks. 

Things I know: with another one-half suspension last week against Northwestern and another court date upcoming this week, Washington needs to get himself in order. Fast. Nebraska’s run game needs his production.

The Talent Discussion. . . Again

Because Nebraska lost, and every Nebraska loss requires we argue about whether this team has enough talent to win, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see the talent discussion raging online throughout the day Sunday. 

College football teams always need more talent. Nebraska’s no exception. It needs a major infusion of top-end talent on the offensive line. But, come on. 

Minnesota’s 2019 recruiting class ranked 45th by 247Sports. The 2018 class was 38th. The 2017 class was 59th. The 2016 class was 46th. The 2015 class was 63rd. Nebraska hasn’t been outside the top 30 in that span. 

It’s one thing to talk about Nebraska’s recruiting woes when compared to blue-chip goldmines like Ohio State and Michigan, but against Minnesota? I said before the game I thought Nebraska had the more talented football team and, when healthy, nothing I saw Saturday night has me changing that opinion anytime soon. 

Minnesota wanted it more and it out-executed Nebraska to death. It’s easy to say the coaching staff needs to recruit better players. It’s easy to say the assistants are the problem. At some point, though, there has to come a time where the onus falls on the guys on the field. 

Northwestern has a worse five-year average in the 247Sports Composite than Minnesota and the Wildcats won the West last season. 

Needing a Bye in the Worst of Ways

Nebraska’s list of injured/nicked up/recovering Huskers includes:

  • Quarterback Adrian Martinez
  • Quarterback Noah Vedral
  • Running back Maurice Washington
  • Wideout Wan’Dale Robinson
  • Wideout JD Spielman
  • Wideout Kade Warner
  • Corner/safety Cam Taylor-Britt
  • Safety Deontai Williams
  • Safety Marquel Dismuke
  • Kicker Barret Pickering

Frost said after the game Vedral was dealing with something. Taylor-Britt left the game with another shoulder issue. At multiple times Saturday night, Dismuke appeared to tweak or aggravate something in his feet/ankle/lower leg area. 

This is an off-week that couldn’t come at a more needed time for the Huskers. There’s work to be done during, but some rest and recovery are going to be hugely important.

Kade Warner Sighting

Warner, a sophomore wideout and son of NFL legend Kurt Warner, was finally able to make something good happen on the field. During the week leading to the game, offensive coordinator Troy Walters said the quarterbacks trust Warner to be where he’s supposed to and do what he’s supposed to. 

On Nebraska’s only touchdown drive of the game against Minnesota, Warner saw three targets, caught all three balls, and supplied 38 yards, including a 26-yarder over the middle on the second play of the drive. 

Nebraska has been waiting on Warner to return from a fractured foot in the offseason, so getting him back on the field and seeing some chemistry between he and Vedral was probably a welcome sight on a terrible night. Assuming good health going forward, expect to see a lot more of the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder. Nebraska needs a bigger guy to throw the ball too on the perimeter.

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