Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Chinander, Three More Wins, JoJo Domann’s NFL Future And More

October 13, 2021

Before Nebraska and Minnesota tangle this Saturday, get your Mailbox fix in.

This week’s edition is packed with great questions from our readers. We touch on hypothetical coaching staff moves from a certain defensive coordinator, we discuss possible wins on the remaining schedule, JoJo Domann’s NFL future and more.

OK, enough talking. Let’s get to the Mailbag.

How many more seasons, if any, will we have of Erik Chinander? If and when he does leave, does Barrett Ruud get a shot at defensive coordinator? (@40924d2c7e4a418) 

Jacob Padilla: I think the defense would need to take another big step forward in the second half of the season in order for Chinander to become a hot commodity on the post-season coaching carousel, and that side of the ball could be looking at a step back next season based solely on the number of key contributors that will be leaving (as in, half the starters at least). If and when Nebraska does lose Chinander, I’d be surprised if Ruud was the first one they looked at to replace him. He’s the least-experienced full-time coach on the entire staff. That being said, I’m not privy to everything these guys do behind the scenes or what kind of responsibilities each of the assistants carry. 

Steve Marik: I wouldn’t be surprised if this was Chinander’s last season in Lincoln. The coaching carousel is wild. Coaches turn down and accept new positions all the time, and I have to think a guy like Chinander, who’s built his best defense yet at Nebraska, would get a strong look from someone looking for a change on that side of the ball. As for Ruud, I’m with Jacob, I won’t think he’d be the first choice if they look in-house for a replacement if Chinander does leave.

Greg Smith: I think it would need to be a significant opportunity for Chinander to leave Nebraska. For me, the defense is better than people realize and has been for two years now. The level of buy-in that Chinander commands from his players is high too. Those things will get him some looks but I don’t think it would be enough to sway him now. I would be pretty surprised if Ruud was the next man up too.

You can pick three remaining games to win this season. Which games do you choose? (@Borgy___) 

Drake Keeler: Love this question. My first thought was the easiest three — Minnesota, Purdue and Wisconsin — solely because I’d like to see this team actually win all of the games it’s supposed to win. But at the same time, closing the season by winning out against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue would likely take away most of the pain of back-to-back Ls against Minnesota and Purdue. Nebraska’s last win over any of those three programs came in 2014. In the end, I’ll choose Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa. You win two of the games you should win, and beat your rival for bowl eligibility — a rival that could still be a top three team in the nation at that time. A road loss to Wisconsin would hurt, but it’s fairly understandable.  

Mike Babcock: Following Drake’s lead, Minnesota, Purdue and (applause) Iowa. The first two seem like “must” wins if Nebraska has any hope of being bowl eligible. Wisconsin, maybe, but look out Hawkeyes, your time has come. 

Brandon Vogel: Mike’s three are my three. Beating Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa would provide the most possible joy for Husker fans, but I’m here for the least amount of angst. That makes Minnesota and Purdue musts, and then you’re looking at a must-win to become bowl eligible, at home, against a team Nebraska hasn’t been able to get past. Oh, and the Hawkeyes might be playing for Playoff consideration at that point. 

Jacob: I’ll echo what everyone else has said: with as good as Wisconsin has been defensively, it’s certainly reasonable that the Badgers could figure enough out on offense to go down as an understandable road loss. They have to beat a Minnesota team missing its top two running backs and a Purdue team just lost to that Minnesota team. Ruining a potentially undefeated Iowa season to close things out and secure a bowl bid is pretty much the ideal way for this season to end, so if we get to pick that one is a no-brainer. 

Steve: I can’t add anything else to my colleagues’ points. My three wins would be Minnesota, Purdue (which are must-wins) and Iowa at the end of the season. Iowa’s style on offense allows opponents to hang around longer than they should, and that could end up biting the Hawkeyes. Can you imagine the speed and ferocity at which Kirk Ferentz would be chewing his gum if he was in a tight thriller with Nebraska with a perfect season and College Football Playoff berth on the line? Oh, that’d be some good stuff.  

What are you most confident about into the home stretch? What concerns you the most? Do you know if Adrian Martinez audibles or has the ability to do so? Shotgun snaps on third-and-shorts—why? (@TheRealSteveFox) 

Drake: First, I’d say the defense. Nebraska should be able to be close in every game the rest of the year off the strength of the defense, maybe with the exception of Ohio State. What concerns me the most is Martinez’s turnovers. Nebraska needs to be able to win close games. As much as the losses to Michigan and Michigan State weren’t on him, he had crucial late-game turnovers. That could cost the team again, even against unranked opponents. Second, I have no idea, but I feel like I haven’t seen it happen if he does. Last, I think part of it is because Nebraska loves the QB power with Martinez in short yardage. The Huskers prefer that play to a QB sneak or traditional run because Martinez is their best runner, it’s been effective and he can get even more yardage than the first down.  

What position do you see JoJo Domann at in the NFL? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

Mike: Maybe linebacker; he’s listed at 6-1, 230, if that’s accurate. For a size comparison, Lavonte David is listed at about the same. 

Jacob: I think his best chance at making it in the league is in a similar role to the one he’s playing now: a sub-package linebacker who can do a little of everything. He’ll certainly have to contribute on special teams to make an NFL roster, and that’s probably his most direct route to getting on the field early. I don’t think he’s quick enough to be a safety or coverage specialist at the next level, but his ability to get downhill and make plays behind the line of scrimmage as well as stick with some running backs and tight ends could earning him a look. 

Steve: I agree with Jacob, he’d be exactly what he is now, a hybrid safety/linebacker who plays closer to the line of scrimmage so he can defend the run and cover tight ends, slot receivers and running backs. I think one of the best hybrids right now is probably the Chargers’ Derwin James, the Florida State product who can cover as a deep safety, is athletic enough to stick in man coverage like a corner, can play the run like a linebacker and get after the quarterback like an edge rusher. I’m not saying Domann is Derwin James, but if there’s a position Domann can play in the NFL, it’d be that situational hybrid defender.

Why does Nebraska need two linebacker coaches? Couldn’t one of them be reassigned to special teams and have just one linebackers coach? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

Mike: Probably because the responsibilities are different. But I’m with you on special teams, with either Tony Tuioti or Ruud working with the linebackers.

Jacob: The inside and outside linebackers have dramatically different roles and responsibilities in this defense. Heck, Nebraska is now listing its outside linebackers as defensive ends on its depth chart because those guys spend most of their time on the line with a hand on the turf. If there’s a consolidation, it would probably be Tony Tuioti taking on the outside ‘backer group. However, though Nebraska spends most of the time with those guys up front, there are still situations where one of those guys drops back into coverage. There aren’t enough assistant slots to have every single position with their own coach plus three coordinators, so a staff makeup is going to come down to that head coach’s preferences.

What are all of your favorite game-time snacks? Also, could this be the turning point for the program? (@JPassler) 

Mike: Popcorn, buttered or not (no imagination), and cashews. And if I were to really get out of control, chocolate peanut clusters. Plus, a caffeine-free Coke, please. 

Drake: I don’t have anything I go to consistently for games, but I enjoy some watermelon sour patch kids as a snack. And I’m not ready to say it’s the turning point just yet, although it’s possible we look back at this year and say yes. Before I go there, I’d like to see the offense thrive without Martinez when he leaves, and the defense do the same without an insane level of experience. 

Greg: Little Debbie Oatmeal cream pies are my favorite snack so they are good anytime. No, I don’t think that was a turning point for the program. Making a bowl or knocking off Iowa would be that moment for me.  

Steve: I’m not much of a snack guy while watching football. I did love Memorial Stadium’s powdered brownies for the Michigan game, though. Those were amazing and I had two of them. As for the turning point, no, I don’t think there’s been one. I still need to see more from the team—we’ll get our answers soon.  

Jolie Peal: My go-to store-bought snacks are Doritos and Oreos, the double-stuffed kind, of course. However, if you are ever in the baking mood, I recommend this extremely quick and easy recipe I found scrolling through TikTok. You take cookie dough and place it in a mini muffin pan. Then you bake the cookies like normal, but right when they come out of the oven, you put mini Reese’s cups in the cookies. Your tastebuds will thank you. 

If 2AM (Adrian Martinez) stays for another year, do you think that will impact quarterback recruits? (@GBRUnited) 

Drake: Not sure which way you’re implying it here, but the short answer is probably not. I can’t see any negative impact, given that the only quarterback recruit that’d possibly be impacted by that decision is 2022 commit Richard Torres. He won’t start next season either way. The only impact I could think of is that it would stop Nebraska from considering bringing in a transfer quarterback. On the other side, maybe it helps for the future if Martinez comes back and improves even more? That still feels like a reach.  

Jacob: It’s more likely to impact the other quarterbacks already on the roster than any quarterbacks Nebraska might be recruiting, I would think. It wouldn’t be shocking if Logan Smothers would at least think about looking elsewhere if Martinez returns for another season, but as things stand he could still have up to four more years of eligibility after this season if he doesn’t play in one more game (he still has his redshirt available since last year didn’t count; he’s played in four games this season).  

Steve: I’m with Jacob, the only players it would impact, if any, would be Smothers, the clear No. 2. Torres won’t be playing next season anyway, as Drake said, so I don’t think Martinez staying would really make that big of an impact on quarterback recruiting.  

Greg: No, I can’t see it impacting quarterback recruiting at all. 

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