It’s the bye week, which means we have a lot of time to think about what could happen in Nebraska’s next seven regular season games. Fun, right? You bet it is. That’s not all that’s on our minds though. When the call for mailbag questions went out, it was a random assortment of responses. Needless to say, this week’s mailbag is basically a big ol’ bonanza of topics. Just the way we like it.
Brandon Vogel, Jacob Padilla, Jake Jensen and Erin Sorensen answer your questions in this week’s Hail Varsity mailbag.
Q: What are the chances that Indiana comes into the game close to full strength after playing Ohio State? – Z.H.
JJ: According to Statfox, Indiana currently has three players listed as questionable for the Ohio State game – Cole Gest, Jacob Robinson and Dan Feeney. Indiana is also missing Dimitric Camiel, its starting right tackle who underwent back surgery. If Indiana loses Camiel and its All-American guard Feeney for extended time, that could mean big trouble for the Hoosiers. Those two are good.
Q: Where is Lamar Jackson? – L.E.D., Irving, Tex.
JJ: He’s playing on the special team units and seeing about 10 snaps per game on defense. Considering that he is a true freshman playing out of position at cornerback, that’s not bad production. He’ll see a major jump in playing time and production next season when he can slide into the free safety position.
JP: I don’t agree with Jake that Jackson is moving back to safety next year. They said they were making him a boundary corner from day one and I really like his potential there, and Nebraska is about as deep at safety as they are at corner even with losing Nate Gerry.
Right now, the four starting defensive backs plus Aaron Williams at nickel are playing well enough to hold off Jackson as far as getting on the field on defense. He’ll still be very good and will still have a chance to make an impact moving forward; he’s just a true freshman with some good players ahead of him.
Q: What formations, schemes, “wrinkles,” if you will, do you think we may see from both sides of the ball coming up? – S.
JJ: One intriguing wrinkle that I saw Saturday was Nebraska splitting its tight end out into the slot, giving them a true spread look while still keeping a tight end in the game. This opened up several possibilities in the passing game while also opening up new angles for Nebraska’s zone read and QB draw schemes. I think the amount of times we see this wrinkle will depend on the health of Cethan Carter though, as neither Sam Cotton or Trey Foster are as good as Carter at playing in space.
Q: Most pleasant and unpleasant surprises through 5 weeks? The volleyball team getting worked by Ohio State doesn’t count. – 3.L.C.
JJ: Most pleasant surprise for me was the effectiveness of the offensive line. Other than the Wyoming game, this year’s offensive line has been able to consistently move their opponents off the line of scrimmage and wear them down throughout the game. Sam Hahn, Corey Whitaker and Cole Conrad have all stepped up when needed and kept the line running smoothly. Most disappointing aspect of the season so far is probably the lack of impact plays by the linebackers. Nebraska just seems a step slow at linebacker this year, which is disappointing considering all the excitement we had about the position coming into the season.
JP: Jake pretty much took the first things that came to mind for me on both ends of the spectrum. I’ll toss in Terrell Newby’s play as a pleasant surprise (see my post-Illinois column). On the disappointing side, I guess I’ll go with the tackling. All three levels have had their share of busts, but it seems like the linebackers are the biggest culprits right now, which goes back to what Jake highlighted.
BV: Don’t know that I have a disappointment at this point, other than what’s been mentioned, but the offensive blend has been a pleasant surprise. Nebraska can challenge teams a lot of different ways, Langsdorf is a slick play caller and it’s all coming together now that the quarterback run game is a more viable part of the offense.
Q: How would you rank: NU’s first 5 opponents, the next 7 opponents, and then the 12 collectively at this time? – G.M., Omaha, Neb.
JJ: I’ll just do the 12 all at once. 1. Ohio State – Best team in the nation not named Alabama, 2. Wisconsin – OK offense, great defense, 3. Iowa – Not as good as last year but Nebraska needs this win to truly be “back,” 4. Indiana – Road game against a team that can move the ball on anybody, 5. Oregon – They’re really screwing up the whole “big win” thing for the Huskers by getting smoked by Washington State, 6. Minnesota – The Gophers are always a pain in the rear to play, especially late in the season, 7. Northwestern – Basically the same thing as Minnesota, but with less talent, 8. Maryland – We’ll learn more about them after they play Penn State, 9. Illinois – The team will be good in a couple years if Lovie Smith sticks around, 10. Wyoming – Might be the most likely non-conference opponent to make a bowl game this year, 11. Fresno State – Chason Virgil looked good. The rest of the team? Not so much, 12. Purdue – Nebraska will be facing a 2-4 team that will likely be under an interim head coach by the time Oct. 22 rolls around.
ES: The next seven opponents ranked from toughest to easiest to win (in my opinion) – Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa, Purdue. Yes, I put Iowa below Maryland. I’m far more worried about the Terrapins than the Hawkeyes at this point. Sure, Nebraska will travel to Iowa City but I’m still not convinced this Iowa team can do much.
Q: If you could schedule a non-conference series with pac12 opponents — who would you choose for a home and home? – G.P., Seattle, Wash.
JJ: Arizona State. I feel that it would be a fun matchup between two schools that have some history (Nebraska opening up a can on them in ‘95, Arizona State shocking Nebraska the next year by shutting them out). I also think a night game in Tempe would be an awesome game day atmosphere.
BV: Nebraska has played so many games against the Pac-12 — the most against any conference of which the Huskers haven’t been a member — that it’s probably not my top choice. The SEC would be. But, sticking to the West Coast, give me Stanford. The 1941 Rose Bowl is the only meeting between the two schools and I want to see the Stanford band.
ES: I’d take Stanford too.
Q: What about the fullbacks? Any more fullback traps up their sleeves or not because we no longer have Jano? – C.C., Omaha, Neb.
JJ: They’re probably still in their back pocket, but this is a different offense than last season, which was built around outside zone and quarterback read plays as opposed to 21 personnel and inside power running. It’s not as fullback friendly of an offense, though we may see more of it appear in the cold weather months.
JP: I’m also not sure how comfortable Luke McNitt even is carrying the ball out of the backfield. He’s a converted H-back as it is and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen him run the ball even in practice. Even so, he’s been blocking very well and is a beast on special teams. Perhaps Nabity could get a carry at some point, I guess.
Q: If you’re a Nebraska prep coach and can get anyone you wish for a motivational speaker, who ya gonna call? – M.S., Cook/Tecumseh, Neb.
JJ: Bill Cowher. If anyone is my coaching idol, it’s that guy.
BV: Pete Carroll. He’s got a great story about his transformation as a coach and some interesting thoughts on philosophy.
ES: Ed Orgeron because he’s a gem of a human.
Q: Should our expectations for this season change with the amounting injuries, specifically the O-line? – F., Denver, Colo.
JJ: I mean you can if you want to. I’ll keep my expectations on the cautious side until I see Nebraska play at Camp Randall.
JP: If Nebraska suffers any more injuries along the line then it might be time to worry. The Huskers are already down to their eighth offensive lineman, and I’m not sure how much deeper they go before they have to start yanking redshirts.
Q: Can Nebraska go 11-1 this year (the loss being to Ohio State, of course)? – D., Colorado Springs, Colo.
JJ: Sure. The Big Ten is still pretty much a gumball rally outside of Michigan and Ohio State.
JP: The Iowa game looks a lot more winnable than it did at the beginning of the season, and they’ve already beaten Oregon, which looked like another losable game prior to the season. To go 11-1, Nebraska will have to beat a likely banged-up Wisconsin team and avoid any slip-ups against the likes of Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Maryland.
BV: That still seems like a stretch to me. Nebraska is solid, certainly better than last year, but it’s still a pretty small gap between the Huskers and the rest of the Big Ten. (There’s a gigantic gap between Michigan/Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten.) Minus Purdue, Nebraska could lose to any of the teams left on its schedule and it wouldn’t be a shock to me. Maryland and Minnesota were penciled in as wins before the season, but those both look like tough outs now. In my mind, Nebraska’s primary goal should be to go undefeated at home. It will be favored to do that. If that happens, the Huskers could possibly win the West by simply going 2-2 on the road, depending on tiebreakers and what happened elsewhere.
Q: How can the Huskers’ success in the fourth quarter translate to an entire game? – K.B., Omaha, Neb.
JJ: Bribe the scoreboard operator into keeping a ‘four’ by the quarter marker on the scoreboard the entire game.
BV: I don’t know that it’s possible to just import that fourth quarter success to all the other quarters because teams are playing differently over the final 15 minutes. Game plans have changed at that point, new measures and new countermeasures. And that’s a battle Nebraska is winning big right now. (Conditioning is also probably a factor.) I’m not sure there’s any way to just make that happen in the second quarter.
Q: Losing VV and MC exposing the LB play this year? The new guys are doing a good job, but those 2 were pro ready. – C.H.
JJ: I think the main thing I’m noticing from the linebackers this year is they simply aren’t as fast as they need to be in order to be impact players against spread-oriented teams. I would say the only linebacker that plays significant snaps that has that impact speed is Marcus Newby, but he seemed to barely see the field against Illinois. This linebacker corps is well suited for facing teams like Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota however, so let’s not condemn them quite yet.
JP: I don’t necessarily agree that it’s just a speed issue. Dedrick Young isn’t the swiftest of backers, but Rose-Ivey, Newby and Banderas all have good enough speed I’d say. I think the bigger issue is simply missing tackles like I mentioned above. There have also been some terrible reads or decisions at times that have put them out of position to make the plays they need to make.
Q: Two weeks until next Husker game and no more Royals baseball…. what do I do now? – S.S., Adams, Neb.
JJ: Start watching season one of Luke Cage on Netflix. Seriously. Watch it. It’s awesome.
JP: Watch preseason NBA basketball.
BV: I’ve got a mountain of interviews that need to be transcribed if that interests you.