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Mailbag: Exciting Freshmen, Running Back Potential, Blackshirts & More

October 23, 2019

It’s Wednesday. Let’s get to it.

I know the transitive property doesn't hold water in sports, BUT, what, if anything, can the Huskers take away from Illinois' win over No. 6 Wisconsin? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: That if you can be plus-two in turnover margin you can beat just about any team? Half-joking, but turnovers were a big part of that game. So were big plays. That might be more relevant to Nebraska. Illinois, which has built a pretty nice run game over the past season and a half, was the first team to rush for more than 2.4 yards per carry against Wisconsin. The Illini’s 4.0 wasn’t earth shattering, but Illinois stuck with it and hit for a long touchdown run and the relative success on the ground helped open things up for some big pass plays as well. I think the lesson from that game was to kind of stay the course. Illinois wants to succeed with an explosive run game. Wisconsin makes that as tough as anyone, but the Illini got some big blows in and kept at it. 

ESPN has run simulations of the games left in our schedule. According to it there’s not one win left on the schedule. If this team loses every game left on the schedule what do you say about the state of the program? (@Cody_TipToes) 

BV: That this is going to be a longer reclamation project than almost anyone thought, probably the coaches included (though I’m just guessing there). At 4-8 in 2019, Nebraska is kind of back to square one from a perception point of view. Nationally, Scott Frost is showing up on every offseason hot-seat list and the Huskers would have little-to-no buzz going into 2020. Does any of that perception matter? Not in a practical sense—it's still about improving in all areas—but it sure does make for a more tense atmosphere. That’s something this staff hadn’t really had to deal with prior to this point in their careers together. 

Mike Babcock: “The sky is falling” would be a generous description of how the most vocal Husker fans would react. But I’m old and not really into such simulations. Was ESPN among those simulating a Husker run to the West Division title at the beginning of the season? Did ESPN have odds on Adrian Martinez and Trevor Lawrence winning the Heisman? Let things play out. On the other hand, as we were talking in the office, what if the Huskers scrape out six wins, go to a bowl and pull off a victory there, 7-6. Then we’ll spend the off-season with the opposite, lots of hype once again going into the 2020 season.  

Greg Smith: It will say that the program is a long way from being where Frost and his staff want it. It will also be the first signs that this may not work with Frost. Going 4-8 again would be an absolute disaster causing a very restless offseason.  

Where do you think the discipline line is right now for the team, with Mo, Hunt and Legrone situations as well as Khalil Davis? (@natethomas01) 

MB: The line has been established with Washington, Hunt and LeGrone. I’ve been surprised with Khalil’s indiscretions, maybe from frustration? But I don’t want to make excuses. These issues underscore the fact that the program remains a work in progress. It’s not where it needs to be with a basic matter, discipline. As we continue to say, players have to step up, take ownership and hold each other accountable. Until that happens . . .  

With enough criticism being thrown Nebraska's way let's switch it up… What is one area (if any) that the team has improved upon from last year…? (@TheseShadows1) 

BV: Prior to the Minnesota game, Nebraska’s defense had improved in just about every category. That game dinged some of those numbers, but it’s still taken the steps you’d like to see for year two in a system. If the offense had done the same this season looks closer to what many people expected. But if you really want to drill down to one specific thing, I’d note the pass defense. Thanks to two good corners and a solid defensive line, the Huskers’ numbers against the pass are good from an efficiency and explosiveness standpoint. 

MB: Guess I agree with Brandon on that, the pass defense. But the overall impression certainly isn’t good. 

Derek Peterson: I remember arguing before the Minnesota game that one game can, right or wrong, completely change the perception of a team or a group or an individual. Well, that Minnesota game probably changed the perception of the defense, but if you have time, go watch the way Nebraska flew to the football against Northwestern this season and then compare that to the defense a year ago, and then compare that to the defense in 2017. Mo Barry said Monday defense is, at its core, about reading and reacting to what you see. If you’re looking for improvement on this football team, look no further than how the defense moves. The effort and intensity are almost always dialed right where you want to see them at. When you can add in the top-end talent at key positions, Erik Chinander is cooking with something. 

How do you think the Big Ten, Nebraska as a state, and the university feel about the student-athlete pay debate? Do you think it would ever be accepted or will ever gain traction here? (@bryankelleybpk) 

MB: Conservative state, my guess is folks might support it in theory but nothing beyond that. Sen. Ernie Chambers was well ahead of most folks on this issue. He and Tom Osborne were at constant odds about it, though I think Tom also thought, in theory, the student-athlete deserved something more. Sen. Chambers wanted that something to be getting paid in some way as I recall. 

Erin Sorensen: Like Mike said, Nebraska being a conservative state likely means more support it in theory then in actual action. Maybe time changes that, but we’ll see. To the comment on Chambers though, he’s been championing for this issue since 1983. 

If we are breaking out the alternates this week how do you feel about it being the game after getting 34 points put up on us? (@the_levieggers) 

BV: This is the one drawback of having a Blackshirts-themed alternate—there's symbolism attached. Whether talking about a Blackshirts alternate or the practice jerseys themselves, I’ve never been a fan of treating this tradition as a carrot on a stick. I don’t view the Blackshirts as a threshold to hit, but rather just a cool part of Nebraska football. Over the years, however, that seems to be the minority view. The short answer is that I like the alternates and I’m fine with whenever they want to wear them. 

MB: I’m not a fan of alternates. However, there’s so much build-up around them, I think Nebraska has to wear them in a game it has a decent chance of winning. It would have been an embarrassment had the Huskers worn them for the Ohio State game, with GameDay here. Frost’s observation about playing well in the Blackshirt tradition probably has its best chance on Saturday. I might’ve waited until Iowa, because I still think that’s going to be a real scrap, worthy of the Blackshirts.   

ES: Had the alternates been just alternates and not tied to this idea of how the defense had or had not performed (as Frost said earlier in the season), I don’t think this would be that big of the deal. However, now that we know these uniforms will be around awhile and that Frost wants them to mean something, it makes things a little tougher. I don’t mind alternates and I don’t dislike them. I also think Frost would like to have more alternate options in the future. This is just a weird year for what these were originally intended for, I guess. 

DP: Chinander said the group probably hasn’t earned them yet, while Frost said he told the team that if they’re going to wear them, the need to make Blackshirt alumni proud. I would agree that it’s weird to break them out after a 34-7 loss where you were essentially run over, but the defense is more than capable of rising to Frost’s challenge, so I don’t yet have an issue with it.  

Across all Husker sports, what are the best alternate uniforms? (@__abowen__) 

BV: I like the uniform Nebraska will wear on Saturday quite a bit, but I think Nebraska men’s basketball is the leader at this point. Nebrasketball has broken out some cool alternates over the past few years, the script Nebraska iteration being my favorite. 

MB: Any alternate they don’t wear. 

ES: Brandon nailed it. The black uniform for football this season is one of the best (although I’d argue the 2009 throwbacks are even better, but they’re not often considered alternates). With that said, basketball reigns supreme. Shorts with basketball Herbie? Script Huskers? Sign me up. 

DP: The red base, cream script “Huskers” kit the basketball team wore last year was one of my favorite alternates ever.  

Which true freshman are you most excited about for next year? (@PBlak69) 

Jacob Padilla: If I’m understanding this question correctly, the correct answer here is Wan’Dale Robinson. Beyond him, the guys I think who aren’t playing now who could push for starting roles or at least a spot in the rotation include Nick Henrich, Bryce Benhart and, if he can get healthy and stay healthy, Ronald Thompkins. 

MB: I would add Garrett Nelson, who like Wan’Dale is playing already; Rahmir Johnson, who might see some action on Saturday, based on what Ryan Held said this morning; and Ethan Piper. 

GS: Nick Henrich, Quinton Newsome and Ty Robinson are at the top of the list for me. I’m calling my shot now and saying Henrich will be in the rotation at inside linebacker next year.  

When will we finally see "best week of practice" match the results on the field?(@Jeremy_J_KCSR) 

MB: Frost and the players sort of tempered that “best-week” business at Monday’s news conference. 

ES: I don’t mean this to sound as harsh as it’s going to sound, but essentially when they stop saying it. I think it’s sort of become this crutch to remind people it’s getting better. At some point, they won’t have to remind anyone of that. It’s just coach speak as it stands now. 

Who are some candidates to emerge and make an impact for the football team over the second half of the season? (@SkolHuskers) 

DP: I think we’ll see a lot more of Garrett Nelson on defense and I think we’ll start seeing a much more productive Dedrick Mills in the backfield. 

What non-P5 opponents would you love to see come to Memorial Stadium? (@JEREIH) 

BV: Appalachian State! In fact, sign me up for a home-and-home with the Mountaineers. Additionally, I’m in for Boise State. Tulane can bring its cool helmets to Lincoln any time. Temple works for me. I’d also sign up for some Georgia Southern. Need not apply: The MAC. 

MB: Right now, any of those schools Brandon mentions—in a down year for them. Nebraska needs to schedule non-conference wins until things start moving in the right direction. 

DP: A home-and-home with Boise State. Now. 

Who do you think in our running back stable has the best chance at being a star running back in college? (@jennings_zach) 

MB: Mills, with this year’s experience, might be that guy. I also think Rahmir Johnson has a shot—though if we identify Wan’Dale Robinson as a running back, he’s the guy atop my list. 

DP: A one-two backfield of Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins has the chance to be like a Kenjon Barner-De'Anthony Thomas Oregon situation, which is to say the pairing has a chance to be really, really good. Can I also say Sevion Morrison…? 

With a $155 million dollar expansion coming will we see beer at any Husker sports events soon? (@Spacker22) 

MB: Yes, even though that won’t be easy with Tom Osborne’s still influential presence. 

As we move toward four games remaining, which freshmen (who have not played up to this point) are most likely to see game time? (@Glenn315) 

DP: Ty Robinson and Nick Henrich on defense. Jamie Nance on offense.  

JP: Barrett Ruud said on Tuesday that Nick Henrich is getting close and that although he likely won’t play on Saturday, Ruud is thinking about spots where he could potentially get Henrich on the field this year while maintaining his redshirt. Now it’s just a matter of Henrich getting enough practice snaps in his role for Ruud to feel comfortable putting him out there in live action. Mosai Newsom and Ethan Piper are two names Scott Frost mentioned, though I’m struggling to see where they might fit into a game script at this point. 

Why did we fix something that was not broken? We went from Spielman being in the slot last year to playing outside. Moved Warner in the slot from outside. Noa could play any 3. (@Go_Big_Red) 

JP: I’ve mentioned this in multiple spots before, but the problem is almost all of Nebraska’s receivers are best in the slot. Warner was actually a slot receiver last year before they moved him out of necessity. If I’m not mistaken, Noa found most of his success with California playing in the slot. Wan’Dale Robinson is playing that hybrid Duck-R/slot receiver role. Mike Williams isn’t really a slot receiver but he hasn’t been able to use his speed to create separation downfield and he’s too small to consistently make contested catches. Spielman has actually improved his average by over 7 yards per catch and while he’s off his pace from last year, he’s still been productive. Nebraska just wasn't able to find a guy that can give them what Stanley Morgan Jr. Did and it’s really hurt the offense. 

Looking ahead, who do you see as likely starters on defense next year? Anyone we haven't seen much this year that may really break through? (@Cty2CtyLyle) 

JP: Nebraska will lose its whole staring trio up front, two starters from the second level and one from the third. That makes the projection fairly straightforward at a lot of spots. 

DE: Ben Stille 

NT: Damion Daniels 

DE: Deontre Thomas/Jahkeem Green 

The three guys behind the starting defensive linemen have played a lot of football and should be ready to step in next season. I think the wildcard will be Jahkeem Green and whether he’s able to jump ahead of a guy like Deontre Thomas with a full offseason in the program. I’d expect Casey Rogers to step into a rotational role for sure, and the rest depends on how guys develop. 

OLB: Caleb Tannor 

ILB: Will Honas 

ILB: Collin Miller 

OLB: JoJo Domann 

Nebraska will return two-thirds of its three-man rotation at inside linebacker, so that position is pretty easy. Perhaps Nick Henrich will step into that first guy off the bench role with a hopefully healthy offseason. JoJo Domann has grown into a huge part of this defense and will be back and I think Caleb Tannor is continuing to progress. I’d expect Garrett Nelson to have a sizable role even if he doesn’t start. 

CB: Dicaprio Bootle 

S: Deontai Williams 

S: Marquel Dismuke 

CB: Cam Taylor-Britt 

They can go a lot of different ways in the secondary, but this seems like the most likely path. If they decide to leave Taylor-Britt at safety, I’d expect him to start next to Williams (who they were expecting big things from this year before his injury). I’m not sure if Braxton Clark or Quinton Newsome will be ready to start at corner next year, but if Taylor-Britt stays at safety those would be the most likely guys to replace Lamar Jackson outside. 

Do you see any running back or quarterback rushing over 100 yards in a game this season? Or quarter? If so who? I understand that the offensive line would have to play a major role in that. (@2000_Billion) 

JP: Purdue has given up big rushing days to Maryland and Penn State and a huge rushing day to TCU, so if there’s any team that Nebraska might be able to go off against it would be the Boilermakers. I do think Nebraska can get Dedrick Mills to crack that 100-yard barrier in that game if they commit to him as the feature guy and get him going. 

MB: With Washington’s situation, Mills might will have the necessary carries to do that. He’s averaging about 11 carries a game right now, not enough. 

Do you think all the talk about lack of overall talent on social media affects the players on the team? Do you think they feel like they’re not good enough thus don’t give it their all? (@patrick25719299) 

JP: We learned from Brody Belt that he and Adrian Martinez deleted Twitter off their phones because of negativity, so the players certainly see some of the stuff. But I’d be shocked if it actively affected the way they played. These guys wouldn’t make it to this level if they let social media impact their effort level. 

Just got Star Wars tickets for opening night. Who are Rey’s parents? What color would your lightsaber be? (@CruGorman) 

ES: I need to get tickets. I have multiple guesses on her parents and give me a blue lightsaber with glitter. Thanks. 

GS: I need to buy my tickets, too. I think Rey was born from the force. Give me a red lightsaber like Darth Vader. 

Lincoln needs better restaurants. I’m over Lazlo’s, Misty’s, Single Barrel, etc. What good restaurants am I missing? (@Shortguy1) 

MB: Restaurants? Why not just get a burger and great parmesan fries at Honest Abe’s? Or Hacienda Real? Or Fireworks (though it’s a lot like Lazlo’s)? Or if you really want an adventure, Screamers, owned by a former Scarlet & Cream member. 

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