Love or Hate: Hats Everywhere
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Love or Hate: Hats Everywhere, Believe in Devine and Swing the Bats

April 26, 2019

I’ve noticed sort of an uptick in this weekly feature’s page views recently so thought I’d begin with a little more context instead of just telling you what day of the week it is and what that in turn means. ESPN’s Zach Lowe is probably one of my favorite writers in sports right now and each Friday he puts out a “10 Things” column with … 10 things, you guessed it, happening in professional basketball that he either likes or doesn’t like. 

That’s what this is. Except five things. And they’re about Husker sports, not NBA basketball. I’m not going to flat out write “I like this” or “I don’t like this,” but context and language choice should give that away. 

On that note, it’s Friday, so let’s get to it.

Hats from Coast to Coast

Tony Tuioti has a thing, and I can really appreciate the simplicity and uniqueness of it. Ryan Held has The Point and you don’t infringe on that territory, but I would imagine it takes some thought to individualize a picture that tells people where you are. But Nebraska’s defensive line coach is out here dropping his hat in front of the sign of high schools he’s attending and it’s awesome.

This was on Tuesday, in Connecticut. 

This was on Wednesday, in Missouri.

And then on Thursday, in California.

Coast to coast in three days. Tuioti is doing it all. Which probably deserves its own shoutout here, but the more interesting thing is in the offers that came from these visits.

Jah Joyner, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound weakside defensive end in the 2020 class from Danbury, Connecticut, got one. Then Wilfredo Aybar, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound weakside defensive end in the 2022 class, got one. Then Lamar Goods, a 4-star, 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle and Kentucky commit in the 2020 class, got one. 

Scott Frost wants size on that defensive line, I’d say these guys are accomplishing that.

When the Doubting Stops

Greg Smith made a really good point on Friday’s Varsity Club Podcast.

At what point, he asked, does Devine Ozigbo stop needing to prove himself as a running back?

Ozigbo told Hail Varsity on Wednesday there’s a chip on his shoulder but not from the lack of an NFL Combine invite or something of the like, but because of the notion his standout senior year was more fluke than breakthrough. 

“I think people think I’m a one-season guy who came out of nowhere,” he said. “I’m going out to prove that one season was just basically the season that it kind of broke, but that’s who I am as a player all the time and who I will continue to be.”

His senior season was spectacular. Among all the draft-eligible running backs, Ozigbo was third in yards after contact per carry. He led that same group in first down/touchdown percentage, with 34 percent of his runs either hitting the line to gain or crossing the goal line. 

And that’s after a season in which we all said he didn’t show enough vision or quickness to be effective in Frost’s offense. 

Which came after two seasons up inconsistent usage and production that didn’t necessarily merit that. 

I’m guilty of this, too. I’m in the contingent who watched 2017 and said Nebraska needed something else at running back, but Ozigbo became that something else in 2018. He wasn’t the same runner he was the year before. He showed patience at the line of scrimmage, an awareness to find the open field and then a burst to make it out into that open field. 

He doubled his yardage year-over-year while carrying the ball only 26 more times. His season should be the start of the story. If he slips past the fifth round of the draft I’ll be surprised and a little disappointed. 

I think he needs someone to believe in him. Whoever that team is will reap the benefits of that belief.

Outside Linebackers, Anyone?

If you have any eligibility remaining, Nebraska would probably like to use you as an outside linebacker. 

That room lost two scholarship players in 24 hours. First, it was redshirt sophomore Breon Dixon leaving the team, then it was junior Quayshon Alexander. Neither has produced on the field for Nebraska in-season — Dixon played in only four games in 2018, his first, and did so primarily on special teams and Alexander had yet to appear in a game in three years in Lincoln — so from a production standpoint, the loss isn’t as big as, say, someone like Tyrin Ferguson. But the room is now dangerously thin. 

The remaining scholarship players:

  • Senior Tyrin Ferguson: 44 career tackles
  • Senior Alex Davis: 24 career tackles
  • Junior JoJo Domann: 28 career tackles
  • Junior Pernell Jefferson: 0 career tackles
  • Sophomore Caleb Tannor: 10 career tackles
  • Redshirt freshman David Alston
  • True freshman Garrett Nelson
  • True freshman Jamin Graham

Inside linebacker Mo Barry had more tackles in 2018 than the outside linebacker room currently has total heading into the new season. Ferguson’s ability to make it through an entire season healthy is a question, Davis’ emergence is something of a mystery still after years of minimal impact up to this point, Domann has dealt with three major injuries in three years, Tannor is a true sophomore and the rest are completely green. 

If Domann and Davis are great in 2019, and there’s a good chance they might be, Nebraska will be in fine shape. Nebraska can manage Ferguson and Tannor can slowly come along. But if even one of those four guys finds himself on the shelf for any lengthy period of time, Nebraska is in serious trouble at one of the most important spots on the defense. 

Get Hot

After a three-game sweep of Purdue that same the Husker bats produce 39 total runs in three days, Nebraska has gone cold. 

They’re averaging less than four runs a game in the nine since. Five of those have resulted in losses. There’s a 10-2 loss to Creighton in that stretch, a 5-0 loss to Kansas State and the most recent 2-1 loss to Creighton in the rubber match. 

Nebraska is wasting good pitching right now. 

For the entire season, Nebraska is 64th in the country in combined ERA. Matt Waldron is second in the Big Ten and tied for 35th nationally in individual ERA (1.84 in 58 innings). Nate Fisher is in the top 15 in the Big Ten and top 150 nationally (2.81 in 48 innings). 

The Huskers are 176th on the season in batting average. Ten times they’ve been held to two runs or less and they’ve had a shot in all but two of those. Nebraska has a legitimate chance to do something special in the Big Ten this season, but the bats have to get going to help out the pitching.

Nebraska Fire

The creative media team inside the Husker athletic department deserves a raise for the NFL videos this week. With it being draft time and the Huskers feeling good about two main guys, the video department cooked up short narrative-based videos about both Stanley Morgan Jr. and Ozigbo. 

Ziggy’s came Wednesday.

And Morgan’s came Thursday. 

The skinny “N” is back. 

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