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Mailbag: Dissecting the Colorado Loss and Talking Disappointments

September 11, 2019

Nebraska isn’t looking how anyone expected, and there are quite a few questions as to why. The Hail Varsity staff answers those and more in a new mailbag.

Scott Frost once mentioned that he hopes other teams would have to adjust to the Huskers. Two games into the season and it seems like those teams definitely adjusted and then some. Is Coach Frost "overthinking" the play-calling? What would it look like if other teams can't adjust? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: Frost essentially said the coaches may have out-thought themselves with the game plan for South Alabama. Colorado was a bit better. I think Frost’s “adjust to us” comment will still end up being true, but Nebraska’s offense also needs to operate efficiently for that to be the case. The offense isn’t right now. It’s struggling to run between the tackles and, in the biggest shock of all, Adrian Martinez has been shaky at times. It was hard to find any reservations about Martinez in the offseason, but if you missed it the first time go back and listen to this podcast interview Derek Peterson did with Oliver Connelly. Start around the 22-minute mark to jump right to it, but Connelly, who does a lot of NFL Draft evaluation, notes some “distinctive flaws” he saw in Martinez’s first season. Now, every player has flaws. We’re not throwing anyone under the bus here by any means, but after Nebraska’s first two games my mind went back to some of what Connelly talked about with Martinez. I think that’s part of what you’re talking about when you say teams “definitely adjusted.” With a full offseason to prepare, defenses can come in with a plan designed to exploit whatever “flaws” they may have seen on tape. 

That’s part of Martinez’s growth process, too. He’s not the new guy anymore. He’s the player defenses know they have to stop. What will it look like when Nebraska is matching those adjustments with its own? I’m guessing you’ll see more big plays, something Frost desperately wants more of at this point. I still have the utmost faith in Frost’s ability to match wits with any defensive coordinator. You do this? We’ll do this? He’ll win that battle most of the time. And when Nebraska does start winning those battles, I think you’ll see this offense start to look more like we thought it could in 2019. 

Jacob Padilla: I do think Nebraska lost the play-calling battle in the second half against Colorado, but I don’t necessarily think that the main issue here is that teams have adjusted to Nebraska. I think it’s just that there’s something off with this offense. From the quarterback play to the blocking to the run game to the receivers, it just seems like the Huskers aren’t clicking. I’m struggling to figure out how to divvy up the blame between the different units because it seems like everyone is at fault. Until the Huskers manage to execute better, I’m not sure how much the play-calling even matters in games like the Colorado one. 

This loss feels different. It seems like the players are more upset over it (see Adrian's postgame press conference) and the coaches are as well. Is this just me being over positive or do you see this too? (@ApolloSolace) 

Greg Smith: I agree with you. I think that anger is showing because the players were hoping games like this were behind them. The problem is they still lack confidence to finish those types of games. It is a process to learn to win. Especially when you haven’t done so for a long time. 

Derek Peterson: I think they’re angry, as you’ve noted. But I think they were angry after the opener, too. Particularly Adrian Martinez. But I don’t subscribe to the belief that the best way for a football team to suddenly get good is to get pissed off and play angry. Nebraska needs to play more fundamentally sound and execute better, and ramping up the emotion doesn’t necessarily accomplish that. I think they’re upset, but the only thing that matters is whether that pushes them to work harder this week in practice.  

Mike Babcock: Agree with Derek. Playing angry, as opposed to being angry afterward, are different. The anger I see is from frustration, the team thinking it was beyond this point, not understanding that what has to be accomplished here takes time. Certainly, a sense of urgency is important but execution is the key, at all levels. 

What is the area that you see as most disappointing through two games and which area do you think is the most encouraging? (@dmhusker1) 

GS: This one is easy for me. The most disappointing thing is the lack of rhythm by the offense. Frost made his name as a big-time offensive coach so seeing this step back through two games is baffling. The most encouraging thing happening on the team is the run defense. Allowing 2.1 yards per carry is impressive. If they can continue stopping the run well into league play the team will be in almost every game they play.  

DP: Most disappointing is tough. I could say it’s no doubt the lack of growth from the quarterback spot, but I have a pretty high level of confidence Nebraska can get that sorted out moving forward. Which probably leaves me at the run game. Nebraska didn’t manhandle South Alabama the way anyone expected at the point of attack and it was limited to edge stuff against Colorado. At some point the Huskers are going to need to find some success up the middle. This was a team that was 16th in the country last year in yards per carry and that’s why everything else worked so well. Through two games in 2019 it’s down to 110th. Most encouraging is just the overall effort level of the defense. Everyone flies to the ball. Everyone. The energy has been fantastic to watch and that simple fact has a lot to do with why the defense has performed so well (minus one quarter). 

MB: Use of multiple receivers, not just Spielman, Robinson and Stoll. Has to be more diversity. 

One last look backward. Assign percentage of fault for last week’s loss. A) Offense went AWOL in second half B) Interior offensive line not jelling yet C) Tucker knows a thing or two about defense D) Blackshirts can’t play at altitude or E) Chris Schmidt forgot to wear his lucky boxers (@md_schmidt) 

DP: I think it’s 30% A, B, and C, and then 10% D.  

MB: A, B & C are linked, combined they were 70% (I would say more, just because Tucker made some adjustments that impacted things), D, including time spent on the field as well as altitude, 30%. Really, though, it has to be 100% team.  

BV: I’ll go 30% for both A and C. You have to tip your hat to Colorado for defensive adjustments that exploited a still-developing offensive line (B, 20%) to the tune of six second-half sacks. Without much offensive output for most of the second half, the defense did wear down (D, 15%). The remaining 5% I put on Schmidty. 

JP: On the offensive line point, I don’t think it’s just the interior line nor is it just the newcomers. The whole right side of that line, which includes two returning starters, struggled mightily. Addressing the question, though, I’ll give 65% to the offense as a whole which includes both A and B, 25% to C and 10% to D. Scott Frost said he thought the team got a little tired late, and I’m sure some of that’s true, but the biggest busts of the game had nothing to do with fatigue and everything to do with eye discipline or recognizing responsibilities. If the offense puts a couple of drives together, I don’t think defensive fatigue matters much at all regardless of altitude. 

How long does it take a line to jell? I’m certain more years in S&C and being on practice squads and such will help the growth in the future, but are we gonna have to wait until next year or year 4 with the new recruits? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: That’s a great question because we haven’t really seen an offensive line “jell” and play well for a season here in a long time. Keep in mind that the offensive line is still young so it will take time. Also, the line did improve over the course of last season so its reasonable to think they’ll keep getting better before year 4. 

MB: Much different from back in the day, when offensive linemen, most of them, didn’t play until their third year, after a redshirt, and lots of time repping plays in practice—with the same coaches. These days, offensive linemen have to develop more quickly. The development here has been slowed some by a center who’s making an adjustment from tight end and a guard who walked on and has little game experience. They’ll figure it out. 

We’ve seen good and bad from both sides of the ball now. Do they get more good consistency moving forward or is it going to feel like a long, long season? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

DP: I think the only worry at this point should be the offense. If the offense gets better about coming out in the second half the same way it comes out to start games, the defense will be in much better positions. I still think it’s entirely too early to panic about the offense. We can clearly see what’s not working, which theoretically means it’s only a matter of time before the smart guys in the room get it fixed. 

MB: Looks as if there will be some frustration, but we’ve got only two games on which to base that. As Derek said, it’s too early to panic, much too early. It’s a work in progress. If we think the pieces are there, which we do, then there’s still room for reasonable optimism. 

JP: If you believe in this staff’s ability to develop, then you should expect consistent growth week to week. We say this all the time because it’s the truth and worth noting in every discussion like this: this is a young team with a lot of new starters and contributors. While the team wasn’t able to close the game out at Colorado, I think we did see improvement in a lot of areas from the previous week. The question now is how quickly they can male that progress because Big Ten play is right around the corner and Ohio State looms in week five. 

Think GameDay coming to Lincoln in a few weeks is still possible with the CU loss? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: Yes, I think it’s still possible but Nebraska must take care of business this week.  

MB: If the thought is that things will go badly for the Huskers, I’d just as soon GameDay didn’t come to town that day. Despite the Colorado loss, though, Nebraska remains an interesting team nationally, I think. 

BV: If Nebraska is 3-1 going into that game, I’d be surprised if the ESPN boys weren’t in town. 

Do you see any chance the Huskers meet up with CU again in a bowl? (@BenzelLucas) 

DP: Bowl people would probably like that. The only non-Rose Bowl games with a Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup are the Holiday Bowl and the Red Box Bowl. It’s possible. 

MB: Good question. Hadn’t considered that, but it would be a great match-up, though maybe Colorado would look at it and say, “Ah, we’re 2-0, with nothing more to prove.” 

What are thoughts on Chris Hickman moving out to wide receiver? (@sweetermanders) 

GS: I’ve never really thought about it and don’t think Sean Beckton and Frost are either. The whole thing with Hickman is that as a tight end he will create mismatch problems for the defense from the tight end spot. The desire for a bigger wide receiver is high for the fan base, the Huskers just need to land one of them in recruiting.  

Interested in the staff’s take on the ‘unsportsmanlike’ tag that’s been alleged of the Huskers & how that approach of some/few may be hindering the team. (@navymousel) 

DP: I don’t think I’ve heard anyone accuse Nebraska of being unsportsmanlike except for one guy and I’ve already shared my thoughts on that particular accusation. 

MB: I’d be surprised if it’s any more than someone who doesn’t know how to win with class spouting off, in the wake of what happened last year in Lincoln. That said, I wouldn’t dismiss a Husker or two-stepping out of line in the heat of the moment. It’s a violent game. Overall, though, I think the Huskers are held to a high standard by Frost and his assistants. I remember a Kansas State game, 1994, after which the Kansas State quarterback accused the Husker defense of less-than-sportsmanlike behavior. It’s part of the game, the allegations. 

How quick does Nebraska try and schedule Colorado again? (@JacobKrueger5) 

DP: Bill Moos wants former Big Eight rivals on the nonconference schedule regularly, and Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Colorado are on his list of priorities because of the conference visibility those games would bring. You’ll probably see a rotation, but given the traveling success of this past Colorado game I wonder if Moos doesn’t try to get something set up on a semi-regular basis. The atmosphere around Saturday’s game is exactly what Nebraska has been missing since joining the Big Ten. 

MB: I’m in the minority, I think, but prefer mutual-respect rivalries, like Nebraska-Oklahoma once was. Get Missouri on the schedule and it’s likely to be similar to Colorado. 

BV: The Buffs are already on the schedule again in 2023 and 2024. While I’m sure Nebraska would like another crack at Colorado before then, that seems unlikely. This last game did sort of make me long for an annual matchup with Colorado. Certainly no love lost. 

People are starting to second guess Frost and his staff (I am not included in that because I stand behind the team for everything), but what will it take for people to have patience? Its only Year 2. It takes at least four years. (@Go_Big_Red) 

GS: The short answer is that a good amount of people will not have patience. Right or wrong (it’s wrong) Frost and his staff are tasked with fixing a program with massive problems overnight because Husker fans have been waiting 15-plus years to be relevant again. Nebraska was viewed as ahead of schedule coming into Year 2 because of Adrian Martinez and Frost’s track record but so far it’s not looking like *the leap* is happening. Patience is needed but it is hard to come by.  

DP: Frost has coached 14 games. Fourteen. Anyone jumping off the bandwagon now was never really on board to begin with.

MB: Social media allows a relative minority to appear much greater. I think most Husker fans have patience, even though the perception might be otherwise. What will it take for those folks to have patience? Win out. I’m surprised that two games into his second season Frost would be questioned by all but the most irrational fans—or the handful who didn’t think he should be the coach (I know of a couple). I figured he’d have a grace period someone who hadn’t been a Husker wouldn’t, like three seasons instead of two. 

Is Nebraska football the most tortured fan base of all time? (@ApolloSolace) 

DP: You guys have it pretty rough right now. You could be Tennessee, though. 

MB: See Tennessee above. 

BV: Considering Nebraska had one of the greatest 40-year stretches ever it would take a lot to earn Husker fans the most-tortured tag. (And that’s saying nothing of the first half of the 20th century, which was mostly good, too.) Nebraska’s had some tough losses over the past 20 years, particularly of late, but it’s easy to forget just how close they were at times, too. If the Huskers had won one of the three conference title games they appeared in under Bo Pelini, would the conversation be different? Probably would be. 

Seemed like a whole bunch of missed holding calls last Saturday. How would it have changed things had those been called? (@Goooobigred) 

DP: You saw those, too? Only one of probably every fan in the stadium and any person halfway paying attention at home. I imagine a handful of plays got sent to the Big Ten office after the game. The one up the middle where Darrion Daniels was blatantly held in front of two back judges staring right at him directly resulted in a 57-yard completion for Colorado and the Buffs scored on the very next play to get within three. Some of them late had a very real impact. 

MB: Don’t like to see that. And Nebraska probably should’ve taken advantage of the lax officiating. But to be where it needs to be, Nebraska can’t be looking for excuses or blaming officials. The Huskers have to play beyond such things. Though ask the Saints, sometimes a blown call is the difference.  

No fear of failure. . . Was there fear with those play calls in OT? (@jason_johnson) 

BV: I don’t know if fear is the specific word I would choose, but you can’t argue that there wasn’t at least some trepidation there. And it certainly does stand in contrast to the mantra this staff brought with it from UCF. It looked like the old cliché of trying not to lose instead of trying to win at the end there, and I don't think that's what we should expect from this program long term. But after Saturday’s game I took it as an indication of just how badly Frost wanted to beat CU. Bad enough that he seemed to get away from his own philosophy. That has to sting. But I have a feeling that the specific thing we’re talking about here could be a catalyst for the rest of 2019. 

The staff touts how they recruit players who are winners (ie. state titles, wrestling champs etc.) yet we’re told that this team needs to learn how to win. How does this jive? (@deapsee60) 

GS: Those players that they recruited aren’t really playing yet. For the upcoming game’s depth chart there are six Frost-recruited players starting. The team absolutely needs to learn how to win. You don’t rebuild a culture in one full recruiting cycle and a transition class.  

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