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Mailbag: Does Nebraska Have a Shot Against Ohio State?

October 21, 2020

It’s Wednesday. Let’s get to the mailbag.

Now that we have a season, it’s prediction time! Please give your predictions for the following categories: Offensive/Defensive MVP, leading rusher (yards), leading receiver (yards), most TDs (non-QB), most receptions, most INTs, and average yards per game (earned/allowed). (@Corn_Huskers)

Brandon Vogel: Dedrick Mills is the offensive MVP as he is the leading rusher (792 yards) and has the most touchdowns (11). Wan’Dale Robinson leads the team in receiving, yards and receptions. Cam Taylor-Britt leads in interceptions and is the defensive MVP. Nebraska will average 440 yards per game and give up 420.

Jacob Padilla: To be honest, I don’t have a lot of confidence in anybody in particular on offense at this point, but since Brandon went with Mills I’m going to go the other way and take Martinez for offensive MVP. Behind a strong offensive line and a reliable running game, and fresh off a fierce competition in fall camp, I’ll say Martinez bounces back and averages at least 5.0 yards per rush and 8.0 yards per pass attempt, completes better than 62% of his passes and scores 30-plus total touchdowns. Mills leads the team in rushing with 777 yards (just over 85 yards per game in a nine-game season) and 10 touchdowns. Wan’Dale Robinson leads the team in receiving with 60 catches for 780 yards and six touchdowns. Defensive MVP is tough; Brandon went with Cam Taylor-Britt so I’ll go a different way again and take Collin Miller. I think he leads the team in total tackles and also ups his disruptive plays from last season as well. JoJo Domann and Deontai Williams are on that shortlist for me as well. I will take Taylor-Britt for most interceptions, though. I’ll go with 425 yards per game and 390 yards per game allowed (10 more yards per game gained and right around the same yards per game allowed as last year).

Mike Babcock: After two good breakdowns, there’s little to be said. I’m picking Martinez for offensive MVP, though.

Derek Peterson: Brenden Jaimes is the offensive MVP. Deontai Williams is your defensive MVP. (I’m going to base the numbers off an 8-game season.) Dedrick Mills will be the leading rusher with 895 yards. Wan’Dale Robinson leads pass-catchers with 750 yards. Mills will get 13 touchdowns. Robinson will have 52 receptions. Williams will lead the team with four picks.

Will Nebraska win Saturday? Or at least not get blown out? (@thawildbunch)

BV: No. Maybe.

JP: Probably not to both questions, but hey, you never know.

Greg Smith: No and No.

Erin Sorensen: When I first started offering predictions for this game, I told people I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a high-scoring game for both teams. I was thinking something crazy like 56-35, but that was when I had a different understanding of Nebraska’s wide receivers (which Jacob Padilla did a nice job of explaining here). I’m probably more around 42-17 now, Ohio State. Is that a win? No. Is that getting blown out? I wouldn’t say so, but maybe someone would feel that way.

MB: No, and yes, depending on what’s considered a blowout. And I’d say losing 42-17 is a blowout, or certainly approaching one.

DP: They won’t win but I think they can cover.

Does Henrich have the ability to make a big impact at OLB this season? Or is this a weird limbo year from him at ILB and OLB based on team needs until he finds a true home? I’d hate for him to get lost due to constant position shuffling. (@Sal_Vasta3)

BV: I don’t think it’s a limbo year and I’m not too worried about him getting lost (though you can’t just write that concern off totally). I’m not too worried because of this from defensive coordinator Erik Chinander on Tuesday: “I just think he’s a football player and he needs to be on the field somewhere.” I’m taking that pretty much at face value. Nebraska needs someone to take a big step at outside linebacker this year. If someone like Henrich can show some consistency in assignment there, he’s got a great chance to make an impression and stay on the field.

JP: I’m not worried about him getting lost in the shuffle because the reason they’ve had him bounce around is because they want to find the best way to get him on the field. The coaches are high on him, like Brandon pointed out. I also think Henrich has the skill set to contribute at either spot — he has the range to play sideline to sideline as well as a knack for making plays in the backfield. The coaches just have to figure out where he can help them the most. It seems like he’ll either be the fourth inside linebacker or in the three-deep at outside linebacker. I think a lot of where they play him comes down to how guys like Caleb Tannor, Garrett Nelson and the JUCO transfers perform on the outside. If those guys aren’t cutting it, you very well may see Henrich get his shot to play a lot. If not, maybe they leave him on the inside because Barrett Ruud has talked about wanting to have four viable guys to be able to rotate in and out.

GS: A big impact this season might be too much. I could see him being a player at that spot though. It feels like ancient history now but Henrich was the number one defensive player on the Huskers board for a long time in that 2019 recruiting class. He’s done nothing on campus to make the coaches regret that. If healthy, he will figure in somewhere.

Blackshirts are going to need a lot better pass rush this season starting Saturday. What are some names we should be watching for to get some heat on opposing QBs? (@CarnesRegg)

JP: One thing I’ll be looking at is if Nebraska goes with more true nickel looks (if someone like Nadab Joseph proves he deserves to be on the field), it could free JoJo Domann up to rush the passer more rather than dropping back into coverage himself. He had 9.0 tackles for loss including 2.5 sacks last year in his hybrid role. Ben Stille led Nebraska’s defensive linemen in sacks with 5.0 the last time he was a full-time starter (in 2018) and I’m expecting a big year from him. And then Caleb Tannor will probably get the first crack at generating a pass rush across from Domann, and if they aren’t getting enough production out of that first group I think we’ll see more snaps for guys like Pheldarius Payne or Nick Henrich.

Does NU play the entire season without internal Covid issues? How do we know how they’re testing (is it public at any point)? (@Sal_Vasta3)
How can it be said Nebraska handled the pandemic well when we have no idea what has gone on within the program? (@RandallKolman)

GS: It doesn’t seem likely that Nebraska will make it without any COVID related issues. It’s happening everywhere. We won’t know much of anything because Nebraska will refuse to share any information as long as possible. All speculation about how Nebraska has “handled” the pandemic internally is just that—speculation. We can’t possibly know without them fully pulling back the curtain.

ES: All we know about testing is what we’re privy to from the Big Ten’s expectations. They’re doing the daily antigen testing. Coach Scott Frost said they’ve had some positives on the team, and Athletic Director Bill Moos said the same about the athletic department. Unless Nebraska feels like sharing more (and they have said they
won’t), then we are at their mercy with information.

DP: The trend so far in college football says they won’t. We don’t because it’s not public. And it can’t.

If McCaffery is as good as Frost says (just lacking experience)? How short of a leash is Martinez on this season? (@Sal_Vasta3)

GS: I think the leash will be fairly short. Frost seems to be setting the stage for that with the comments about how tight the race was. At least in my opinion.

MB: Martinez will be given a reasonable opportunity, which by my definition would not be a short leash. He’s earned the No. 1 job over two seasons, the second of which he wasn’t at full speed.

If Martinez doesn’t go pro next year, should we expect either him or Luke to transfer? (@InDaWilderness)

JP: The likelihood of both Martinez and McCaffrey exhausting their eligibility at Nebraska is low, especially now that the timeline for both has been pushed back another year. That’s just the way it is now – it’s hard to keep multiple talented quarterbacks on the same team for more than a year or two. One way or another, odds are probably better than not that one of them won’t be on the team beyond this season.

MB: Agree with Jacob.

Why are all NU sports pundits saying we have to get Luke on the field? If he gets hurt playing another position and Adrian gets hurt, too, which is likely, you’re left with true freshman Smothers at QB. (@GaskinsJeffrey)

JP: I agree with you on this and it’s a line of thinking I’ve never really understood. I get maybe throwing him out there for an occasional trick play like they did last season, but beyond that I’m not sure the reward outweighs the risk. What exactly does “you have to get him on the field” mean? How many other back-up quarterbacks on teams with established starters are talked about like McCaffrey has been around here (in terms of getting him on the field, I mean)? He’s fast, but if he’s spending all his practice time at quarterback, is he really going to be more valuable to Nebraska as a receiver or whatever gadget role people may have in mind? And if he’s able to help the team at quarterback more than Martinez, he would have won the starting job, no?

MB: Not among those who think Luke needs to be on the field, unless (as Jacob says) it’s some sort of trickery. Otherwise, he’s the guy who’s ready if Adrian gets hurt. What I would say is, as Tom Osborne typically did, as the next-guy-up, Luke ought to get a predetermined series in the first half, when it matters, to help prepare him. Remember the Scott Frost-Frankie London drama against UCF? That was a predetermined series for London.

Does Wan’Dale need to average 100 all-purpose yards a game for NU to win? (@Sal_Vasta3)

BV: No. He averaged 102.9 all-purpose yards last year and Nebraska went 5-7. If the Huskers are to have success this year the offense needs to be more than hand it off to Mills, throw it to Robinson and then sprinkle in some Martinez for good measure. That’s too easy to prepare for when facing nothing but conference teams. This offense is really up-and-running when the ball can be spread around. Fifteen offensive players scored touchdowns for UCF in 2017. Nebraska had 11 find the end zone in 2019, eight in 2018. That’s not totally a talent thing. A large part of it, I think, is having a quarterback comfortable with letting the offense work for him. And a large part of that comfortability is a quarterback who is supported by the talent around him, so it’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. It’s quite possible, maybe even likely, that Robinson will be over 100 all-purpose yards per game again this year, but I’m not sure that on its own is a good health check for the offense.

MB: Ditto (that’s about all I’m doing with these answers). Nebraska’s offensive success will depend on other things in addition to Robinson.

Any word from Big Ten on what happens if a team cannot play due to COVID? Forfeit? (Sal_Vasta3)

ES: I doubt it would be a forfeit. Other conferences are just handling it as a no-game situation, and I would imagine that’s the same here. You don’t want to slap a forfeit on a game because someone can’t play due to COVID-19.

DP: Only thing I’ll add is that if a program is operating the way Baylor currently is and can’t play a game, it should be a forfeit on the part of that team for not holding up its end of the bargain. That being said, I expect cancellations to be labeled as such rather than forfeits. That’s the way things have gone elsewhere.

Do you think Kevin Warren will be the Big Ten commissioner when the next TV contract will be negotiated? Do you expect new media outlets to successfully bid on the Big 10 package? (@dmhusker1)

MB: Yes to Warren, not up-to-speed on the details of the B1G’s TV contracts. I do wish the Big Ten television network’s second and third options offered something other than simply showing what the primary network shows. That’s an unavoidable waste of subscribers’ money, requiring additional money for BTN-Plus—which sometimes works on a Roku and sometimes doesn’t (but be assured, they’re working to restore it).

DP: Sooner or later, one of those OTT streaming services is going to try and get into the market. Hulu and Youtube TV each have live components and if they’ve got the money (they might still be rebounding from COVID like everyone else) I’d certainly consider making a push. I don’t know. I’m all about weird things. Someone suggested Nebraska go for a Notre Dame-NBC-style partnership with Netflix and I loved that idea. We’ll see. The Big Ten, if not the best, is the second-best product in college football right now.

Frosty has suggested that Thompkins “fell” to Nebraska as a result of injury. What should we expect to see from a talented guy who hasn’t played in two years? Adrian Martinez was hurt his senior year too. Is Nebraska showing a willingness to take chances on high upside players? (@huskerazy)

BV: I don’t really know what to expect from Thompkins but given everything he’s gone through to play football at all, anywhere, I’m hoping for big things for him. Given that he’s No. 2 right now, winning that job over some young guys who appear to be pretty talented, that’s a solid indication of his ability. I said in our employee Slack channel the other day that if Thompkins rushes for 85 yards and is Nebraska’s second-leading rusher on Saturday that the Huskers will win, so feel free to hold that against me after the game. As for the “take chances” portion, I think that’s an accurate representation of where Nebraska is at in its program progression. Like most programs, it doesn’t have the clout to just shop the ready-made section at the grocery store. It has to make its own food most of the time and sometimes that means shopping for what’s on sale.

GS: It wasn’t just the injury that allowed Thompkins to “fall” to Nebraska. The Huskers stuck with him after the injury which strengthened the relationship. More on that here. It speaks to Thompkins’ talent level that even after tearing both ACLs in high school, Alabama and Ohio State still tried to flip him from Nebraska at the end of that recruiting cycle. I expect him to be good at some point but I don’t know what to expect right away. Brandon is correct about the willingness to take chances. It basically has to be done at this point.

How big of an impact with Greg Austin have on the run game as the new coordinator? (@lil_huskercoach)

MB: Doubt much will change. Frost has a philosophy, an approach that he expects Austin to carry out. Austin would have the same impact without the title. Everything starts with the guys up front. They’re the key to whatever the offense is.

DP: I think he’ll have a significant impact. Wrote about it here and touched on it here.

Do you think Reimer starts? (@eric_2011PJ)

JP: I don’t think so, but then again I didn’t expect him to jump up to the No. 3 spot this quickly either so who knows? Collin Miller is a captain and Will Honas has a lot of snaps under his belt. Nebraska rolled with the same starting duo at inside linebacker all 12 games last year and I’m guessing that will happen again this year, health permitting. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his snap count increase as the season progresses, however.

GS: No. Reimer is on the rise but I think Miller and Honas have become undervalued. Each still has good (and better from last year) football ahead of them.

MB: No, but Reimer doesn’t need to be a starter in order to have a significant impact. He can rotate in, help keep the starters fresh and do his thing. It needn’t come down to whether he starts. Having a player about whom such a question can be asked is good for the defense. Will he get a Blackshirt? Yes, at some point if not right away.

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