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Mailbag: Biggest Week for Nebraska Since. . .?

September 25, 2019

This week features a rather lengthy mailbag. It’s best if we just get to the questions.

Hello, first time, long time. What is everyone’s favorite Rick Ross song? (@GregSmithHV) 

Jacob Padilla: He’s the one who sings that Hustlin’ song, right? 

Brandon Vogel: I’m choosing “Monster” because he featured on that. 

Greg Smith: I don’t know what the rules are for answering your own question but here we are. “I’m Not a Star” is my favorite Rick Ross song. “Idols Become Rivals” is a sneaky good diss track and “Live Fast, Die Young” is a lot of fun. 

Mike Babcock: Had to look up who he was. Enough said. 

Derek Peterson: Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye, never gonna tell a lie and hurt you. 

This is the biggest week for Husker football since… ? (@marcus_scheer) 

BV: The second week of October, 2010, though the circumstances were reversed. Nebraska went into that game ranked No. 5 in the AP poll and it had an unranked Texas team, the real foil of the Big 12 years, coming to Lincoln. This was on the heels of the 2009 season, where a dominant defense led everyone to believe—national folks included—that Bo Pelini was poised to bring Nebraska back to the big time. While the scenario is the opposite for this week—the Huskers were the top-five team at home then—the feeling is similar for me. This is a “you want to take the next step?” game. It’s a tougher game than that Texas game in 2010 was, but the stakes are similar. 

MB: Difficult, if not impossible, to compare because of the social media influence now compared to just a few years ago. That’s always my explanation when comparing to the past. But it’s valid. GameDay’s presence magnifies the situation for Husker fans, distorts it. Were Nebraska to be 4-0 instead of the loss at Colorado, the dynamic would be different even minus GameDay. Brandon’s logic is sound, however. 

DP: I don’t remember a regular-season game in my years of paying attention to college football (so, we’re talking, like, the last 15 or so years) that had bigger stakes for Nebraska. This program has been deemed irrelevant by national standards and this is an incredibly large stage for Nebraska to prove it once again belongs. If the Buckeyes come in and blow Nebraska out of the water, it could be a very long time before the program can recover from a perception standpoint. If Nebraska wins, there are far-reaching effects; we’re talking national perception, recruiting, confidence for the rest of the season within the team, validation for Frost and his coaching staff. Everything. UCF, in my eyes, has a dog in this fight, too. Winning this kind of game validates what those guys accomplished. 

If given the opportunity, what plays from Saturday's game against Illinois would you send to the league for review? Why is that kickoff rule actually a rule? It punishes the kickoff team. (@Corn_Huskers) 

JP: As for the first question, I’d like to hear the explanation for the hold called against Brenden Jaimes. As for the second, I don't believe the rule is designed to be exploited in the specific way we saw on Saturday, but it does make sense if you think about it. If you’re standing out of bounds when you catch a ball as a receiver, it’s incomplete because you’re out of bounds, right? So if you’re out of bounds when you touch a ball on a kickoff, the play’s dead because it’s out of bounds, and sending a kickoff out of bounds is a penalty. If the kicking team doesn’t want to be penalized, don’t kick that close to the sideline. 

DP: I’d ask about the “fumble” called when Adrian Martinez was trying to throw the ball. The play was whistled dead, or at least that’s what Nebraska players thought, so I want an explanation on the recovery as well. 

Is Wisconsin underrated in the polls right now? (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: I don’t think so, particularly when you factor in conventional poll logic. Based on that, Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma aren’t falling behind the Badgers, who started out much lower. Of the other teams ranked ahead of Wisconsin, Auburn has two better wins, LSU has one and Georgia has one. I think it’s the right mix of heavy preseason favorites and second-tier teams with good wins ahead of the Badgers right now. 

MB: Agree with Brandon, plus Wisconsin isn’t in the SEC. Just saying . . .  

Over/under on commits this weekend. Number’s at two. If you had to select one current player to host the most important recruit of all time, who is it? Last time GameDay was in Lincoln was ‘07. How excited would Derek get if he were in Jacob’s top 8 on MySpace today? (@3rdLargestCity) 

GS: What an incredible mix of questions. I’m going to say under only because you said “this weekend.” I do think multiple players from the weekend could end up in the class. The current player question is tough because there are several good candidates. My choice is Cam Taylor-Britt. Derek would play it cool but be very excited internally.  

JP: What does “top 8” mean? Does MySpace even still exist?   

MB: Cam Taylor-Britt was apparently influential in getting Wan’Dale Robinson here, and what he said about having Robinson’s back even if he had gone to Kentucky was impressive. So Taylor-Britt. 

DP: What is MySpace? 

Is Rick Ross being a guest picker possible since he is already in Lincoln? Are all fans allowed in the "pit?" (@Go_Big_Red) 

MB: The ESPN release says “students” will be admitted to the “Pit” beginning at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday and are subject to strict rules about signs, no food, and clear bags. It doesn’t mention general fans. But then it says “fans” who don’t want to watch from the “Pit” will have plenty of room beyond it to watch. So I’m not sure what to make of that. It doesn’t say anything about student IDs. 

Erin Sorensen: I don’t think it’s impossible for Rick Ross to be the guest picker, but I don’t have any reason to believe he will be. I think Gabrielle Union is your front runner, and maybe her husband Dwyane Wade joins her. 

Can we get an analysis of the penalties the Huskers have committed? Would most of them be considered mental mistakes, players still adjusting to the offense, or something else? (@brooks_layne) 

JP: I counted 29 total penalties (included three that were declined) by Nebraska through four games. Here’s the breakdown: 

  • False Start: 5 
  • Personal Foul: 4 
  • Holding: 3 
  • Illegal Formation: 3 
  • Offside: 3 (1 declined) 
  • Substitution Infraction: 2 (1 declined) 
  • Delay of Game: 2 
  • Illegal Block: 2 
  • Pass Interference: 1 
  • Illegal Formation: 1 
  • Intentional Grounding: 1 
  • Facemask: 1 
  • Roughing the Kicker: 1(declined) 

The play-by-play doesn’t list the player responsible for every penalty, but I counted at least 13 different players who have committed penalties. A couple of those personal fouls (Lamar Jackson, Deontai Williams) were a bit questionable. Each of the tackles have at least one hold and one false start charged against them. Darrion Daniels’ facemask against Illinois might have saved a touchdown. Most of the formation penalties and delays of game simply have to get cleaned up, and those are on both the players and coaches. One PI call in four games is pretty good, but then again, it should be at least two because Illinois’ last pass was definitely interfered with. 

Are there any recruits we could see commit before or shortly after the OSU game? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: Sure. Getting this many high priority targets around other commits in this atmosphere will have a big impact. I don’t have a particular guy I think is close. I’m curious about Chandler Durham, Rodney Groce and Kaden Johnson though. Could home run visits get them to shut it down? We’ll see. 

Do you think we see Jahkeem Green play this weekend? Might be nice/necessary to get some “SEC” quality pass rush against OSU. (@Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: If the coaches haven’t felt comfortable playing him in any of the first four games I doubt they’d suddenly throw him out against the best team on Nebraska’s schedule. Discipline and defensive execution are going to be key in this game because the Huskers aren’t going to be able to out-talent the Buckeyes at nearly any position on the field. 

BV: I’m with Jacob. The fact that they’re trying to redshirt Green is an indication of Nebraska’s depth, yes, but also that they like his potential. If he was so good right now that he could be a difference-maker against Ohio State, he would’ve been playing since the first week. 

MB: Jacob and Brandon have said it all. No Green on Saturday. 

How can the offense get more consistent? Just time and reps? More scripted/designed plays to JD, Maurice, and Wan’Dale? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: Right now, Nebraska is fourth in the Big Ten in yards per game and fifth in the conference in points per game. That’s considering some teams have run up gaudy numbers on bad teams. I think they just need more time and reps. This offense is rounding into shape in my opinion.  

JP: I don’t think they need to go to Spielman, Washington and Robinson more; that group’s already responsible for most of Nebraska’s offensive production. I think they either need to find a way to get the tight ends involved more consistently as receivers or they need another receiver or two to emerge. Force the defense to respect everyone on the field and those primarily playmakers become even more difficult to defend. Beyond that, I agree with Greg on the time and reps thing. 

BV: The answer to this question might require a recalibration of what “consistent” means. Based on success rate—a measure of how often an offense gains 50% of the yards to go on first down, 70% on second down and 100% on third or fourth down—Nebraska is above average. The Huskers’ offensive success rate is 45.3% this year against a national average of 43.3%. Think about that for a second. If you watch a game where your team runs 70 plays, about 40 of them should fail to hit those thresholds above. They’re 3-yard gains on first down, 5-yard gains on second-and-10. The average offense in college football runs unsuccessful plays the majority of the time. The best offenses might get slightly above 50%. But even then, almost half of the offensive plays in a game are, by this measure, unsuccessful. We don’t really watch games that way, however. When you run for 2 yards on first down (failure by the success rate thresholds), throw for 6 yards on second down (success), rush for 1 yard on third down (failure) and then go for it on fourth down and pick up 2 yards (success) that’s a 50% success rate, which would rank among the best in the country. Most plays in college football don’t “work,” but when you live and die on every play it’s hard to see that. Could Nebraska’s offense be more consistent? Sure. It has a higher ceiling, in my opinion, but right now it’s more consistent than the average offense. 

Why does it feel like NU fumbles at the absolute worst possible times and position of the field? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: Probably because they’ve done it so much that some of them are bound to be in terrible spots. Nebraska’s fumbled near its own end zone, it’s fumbled in the opposite red zone and it’s fumbled in the middle of the field. Nebraska is an equal opportunity fumbler at this point. 

BV: Unless a team is going to fumble between the 45-yard lines, there’s really no good place to do it. Fumble inside your own 40 and you’re giving the opponent a short field (which Illinois lived on last week). Fumble inside the opponents’ 40 and you’re blowing a scoring opportunity. Fumbles can strike at any time and they are almost always brutal. 

MB: Just about anywhere is a bad place to fumble. You’re closing in on the opponent’s goal line, and on your side of the field. 

When a player gets an "of the Week" award, do they get an actual, physical award, or is it more recognition? (@IBeLionsBeats) 

MB: Shamus in the SID office says they eventually get a certificate. The SID office has blank certificates and a template, provided by the Big Ten for the various weekly awards. 

How would you rate the Huskers’ utilization of all its skill players through four games? Robinson just broke out. How about tight ends & guys like Noa, Williams, Johnson. It almost seems like Adrian Martinez's trust must be earned, slowly. (@HuskerChocolate) 

BV: I think you’re on to something there. Trust does seem to be something that must be earned. Nebraska has some dangerous playmakers in Spielman, Washington and Robinson, the kind of guys you go out of your way to get the ball to, but we’ve also seen other examples of forced balls to those players when an easier option is available. That’s the biggest area of growth for this offense as the season progresses, in my opinion. Should you throw deep to Kanawai Noa between two defenders in hopes of a big play when a perfectly nice gain to the tight end right in front of you appears to be open? Nebraska is still working through that part of things. In terms of maximizing what this offense can provide, I’d give the Huskers a B- to this point. 

MB: I would include Jack Stoll in the utilization group as a potential playmaker. That one-handed catch was remarkable. I think Martinez has confidence in him.  

How much, if any, of the playbook has Frost kept under wraps in anticipation of Ohio State? Urban Meyer said the Huskers were hard to prepare last year because of their schemes. I have a feeling there's some Vanilla going on. (@HuskerChocolate) 

JP: Considering Nebraska lost one game and nearly lost another, I think it’d be pretty irresponsible of Frost to hold things back for this one specific game. However, as we head into week five of the season, might it be possible that Frost and his players are more comfortable with the offense, giving Frost the confidence to call some plays he hasn’t used yet? I think so. There also might be some plays in Frost’s playbook that he feels would work better against Ohio State’s defense than the defenses Nebraska’s played to this point.  

MB: Agree with Jacob. If some plays are Ohio State-specific, OK. But holding back plays when you lose one game and almost lose another? That’s not good coaching, not something Frost would do. 

DP: I think the better characterization would be that Frost is going to get to use stuff against Ohio State he hasn’t gotten to use yet against other teams, not that he’s been holding back.  

Frost Monday said that GameDay coming is special, and a sign that people recognize the program is moving in the right direction, but do you think a part of him is frustrated by it? It’s been pretty apparent Frost has been annoyed at times this year by the expectations presented by the media (see Big Ten media predicting Nebraska as Big Ten West champs and preseason ranking) before the team actually had a chance to earn it. Do you think some part of him wishes GameDay wasn’t coming, or are there too many positives in the exposure? (@SheepishJohn) 

GS: I don’t think any part of Frost wishes GameDay wasn’t coming. He wants this program to be in position to host the show many more times during his tenure. I think his frustration was about keeping his team in check. He also stated that there should be expectations at Nebraska because that’s how it was for a long time. 

JP: I’ll also push back on the “expectations presented by the media” part here. Frost himself fed into it with the way he spoke during the spring and fall. He only added fuel to the fire for the Adrian Martinez hype train, and that’s a lot of where the buzz around this program came from.  

MB: The program is being sold on expectations right now, certainly not results. That’s an important aspect of Frost’s being hired; Nebraska has gotten back into the national conversation without winning its way there because of what he did at UCF, and to a lesser degree, because he’s a former Husker who helped win a national championship. GameDay exposure is invaluable in something like this. If the Huskers don’t play well, GameDay’s presence will be diminished some. But even then, it came here and some folks will be more impressed with that than the game itself. It’s reality TV at its best. 

DP: I’ll disagree with Jacob in the sense I think Frost was selling his team, but when things were taken so far to the point of them actually being ranked, he was a little like, “OK, really?” He even said himself he didn’t include Nebraska in his coach’s ballot. As for whether or not he wants GameDay here? Frost does. Absolutely. It’s validation of the growth the program has made. But all the extra stuff that comes with that is probably wearing on him as the week has gone on. The extra access inside practice? I don’t think Frost likes that. The eventual appearance on-set Saturday morning? You could see Monday he wasn’t looking forward to that at all. Ultimately, as you said, the positives outweigh the negatives, but this week is not all sunshine and rainbows for the program hosting ESPN. Lots of logistical nightmares, lots of long days, lots of moving parts and people involved. Frost just wants to be able to coach without distractions.  

Who’s the most underrated player so far on offense and defense? (@SlicVic13) 
AND 
Who from the football team isn't getting enough love for their play right now? Similar for basketball, but who isn't being talked about enough that will contribute more than expected? (@thrasher3433) 

BV: I don’t know if I have a great answer on offense. The line, always the most underappreciated and hardest to recognize, hasn’t been consistent enough for me to nominate anyone there. Maybe Jack Stoll? He’s been good with limited opportunities. Defensively I’d go with Will Honas. He’s second on the team in tackles despite splitting time with Collin Miller, who is also playing pretty well. 

MB: There’s so much media passion for the Huskers, pretty much everyone gets acknowledged and interviewed—unless like Spielman, they don’t do interviews. It’s difficult for a Husker to be under the radar. Fans know everyone. Ruud has said lots of good things about Honas and wanting the three linebackers to get equal snaps. Reporters seem to enjoy talking to Stoll, who’s as available as a captain, more so, probably came close in the voting. 

JP: The basketball question is difficult to answer because the team is one giant unknown. Cam Mack and Jervay Green are the guys I think are probably talked about the most, and with good reason. Haanif Cheatham has emerged as the leader of the team. I think the guy who is often left out of that discussion is one of the two guys that were here last year – Dachon Burke. I think he can be a difference-maker on both ends and could play just as big a role as any of those first three. 

DP: I will die on the “Jack Stoll is really good and I wish he could be more involved” hill, though I admittedly don’t know how you get him more touches when you’re already trying to force-feed the ball to Robinson and Spielman and Washington. Too many mouths. 

Frost said, "Everyone was good to go today." Does that mean Maurice Washington is cleared after concussion protocol? And JD Spielman? Cleared after a Quad? (@uni_klaus) 

GS: Both appeared to practice today. I expect that we will see them both playing like normal to start the game on Saturday. 

JP: In fact, Spielman basically ran down the tunnel after practice, so I’m guessing he’s all right.  

MB: Spielman’s adrenaline was pumping because he didn’t want to say no—or anything—to the assembled reporters. 

Top five Huskers currently in the NFL, ranked by play quality not reputation. (@hotovy) 

JP: I don’t watch enough NFL to have a great feel for this, but I’ll toss out a few names. I think Lavonte David is certainly in that five. He’s in the prime of his career and the fact that he plays for a terrible franchise shouldn’t be held against him. Maliek Collins is really coming into his own for the Cowboys; he hasn’t posted big numbers but I think he is making a big difference. Sam Koch is 37 years old but is still getting it done for the Ravens. Prince Amukamara might not have lived up to his draft status in New York, but I think he’s settled in as a really solid corner for the Bears. Ndamukong Suh is 32 and while I think he’s still capable of spurts of greatness, I don’t think he’s plays at that level on a consistent basis. Quincy Enunwa was on the verge of a true breakout in the league but has basically been hurt ever since he got to that level, and Andy Janovich has yet to play this season because of injury. Rex Burkhead and Brett Maher are probably in the discussion for that top five. I don’t want to talk about Richie Incognito. 

MB: You can find the five in Jacob’s response. I’d have David for sure. 

What's ailing Barret Pickering, and is he likely to be back this year or will he take a redshirt year? (@Cty2CtyLyle) 

MB: I’d guess he’d be back if he were to get healthy. But the further into the season, the less likely. I heard something about his injury but might’ve been speculation on someone’s part, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying, if I could even remember what it was. If he could kick at full health for even half the season, I think that would be worth bringing him back. 

ES: Like Mike said, I don’t want to give specifics on what I’ve heard about his injury as it hasn’t been directly confirmed by Frost. With that said, what I’ve heard—if true—is something that could take some time to heal. So, he’ll play when he’s ready. He won’t a moment before then solely because you don’t need to injure him further. And so we wait to see what happens. 

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