For the first 10 games of the year, Nebraska had a clear-cut group of three quarterbacks at the top of the depth chart.
Casey Thompson was the starter, and Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers competed for the top backup spot. Heading into the matchup against Minnesota without Thompson, offensive coordinator Mark Whipple expressed that he didn’t have as much confidence in anyone behind those three.
Now, playing the No. 4 quarterback on the depth chart is a real possibility on Saturday against Wisconsin. The coaching staff feels more confident about Thompson’s chances to play than the last two weeks, but his availability remains a question. Purdy started against Michigan, but exited with a high ankle sprain in the second quarter that will require surgery.
If Thompson can’t go, the starter will likely be Smothers. Behind him, redshirt freshman Jarrett Synek will be the top backup. He and Matt Masker made the trip to Michigan along with Purdy and Smothers.
Joseph confirmed Synek as the next man up behind Smothers at yesterday’s press conference, praising his athleticism.
“If you have to go to a third guy you want him to be athletic,” Joseph said yesterday. “You do not want them all to be the same, so he can go in there and give you some run game and throw it a little bit so that is where we are at right now.”
Synek played at Hastings High School and passed for 2,903 yards and 33 touchdowns in his senior season. He also found success as a runner, amassing 583 yards on the ground on 6.1 yards per carry.
He did see action on the final drive against Michigan with the game far out of reach. He didn’t throw a pass, just handing it off three consecutive plays, but the game reps were still worthwhile, Whipple said at Wednesday’s press conference.
The offensive coordinator referenced Synek’s success in some of the spring scrimmages. The quarterback played two drives down the stretch of the Red-White Spring Game and came up with a 16-yard rushing touchdown and 42-yard pass for a score. Along with that, he’s shown his willingness to play.
“When I asked the quarterbacks who wanted to go live in a scrimmage, he was the first one that said ‘I do,'” Whipple said. “So that to me is important.”
Whipple said he hasn’t watched too much of Synek’s film from practice, but his son, offensive quality control coach Austin Whipple, has. He and some of the defensive coaches told Mark Whipple of Synek’s progress, and the decision was made that he’d be the next line behind Thompson, Purdy and Smothers.
To prepare the young quarterback, Whipple had the three quarterbacks ahead of him, all who have spent more time in college, give Synek advice. Whipple passed down one of his numerous stories about Ben Roethlisberger, the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who Whipple served as a position coach for. He told Synek about how one of Roethlisberger’s first passes in both the NFL and college was intercepted.
“I said, ‘Jarrett, don’t do that. Doesn’t mean you’re going to be a Hall of Famer, but just relax and play,'” Whipple said. “So even just getting out there could help him.”
There’s a chance that Synek doesn’t see the field again in the team’s final two games, especially if Thompson comes back against Wisconsin. However, Whipple is confident in him anyways.
“He’s done a really good job, good kid, works hard, does a really good job in class, just does all things right,” Whipple said. “And as I said, you put it on tape and he’s put it on tape when he’s gotten the opportunity.”