Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: Football Talk, Men’s and Women’s Basketball and More

November 24, 2021

We’ve got a mixed bag this week for this edition of Hail Varsity’s mailbag.

There’s football talk—obviously. It’s Iowa week, so that’s a given. But we also touch on men’s and women’s basketball. The men snuck by Tennessee State on Tuesday night while the women are headed to a two-day tournament in San Diego.

And, of course, there’s some offensive coordinator talk. Because how can we not do some guess work about the new guy who’s going to be calling plays next season.

So, let’s get into it. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Can the Nebraska women’s basketball team make postseason play this year? Their high-scoring offense and guard play look pretty good so far. (@dmhusker1) 

Steve Marik: Yeah, I think the Husker women can make the postseason. They did last year, though it was the NIT, not the NCAA tournament. This season may be different, and the team is aiming higher than the NIT. It’s got sharpshooters like Oregon transfer Jaz Shelley (54% from 3-point range on 12-of-22) and Ashley Scoggin (57% on 12-of-21) and steady, tough players like Sam Haiby and Isabelle Bourne. Haiby does a little bit of everything and is one of the leaders of the team while the 6-foot-2 Bourne is so versatile—she’s got the post moves and the ability to stretch the defense (she’s shooting 40% from 3). It will be interesting to see how the two true freshmen who are getting a lot of run off the bench to start the season—Alexis Markowski and Allison Weidner—develop and help the team once Big Ten play starts. 

Jacob Padilla: Nebraska has played what appears to be an incredibly soft schedule so far with Creighton being the only competitive opponent, and the Huskers didn’t look great in that game (though they made the Bluejays look worse, obviously). The schedule starts to pick up quite a bit here soon so we should learn more about where this team’s ceiling truly is, but it certainly looks the part of a postseason team right now. 

Drake Keeler: As Jacob said, the schedule has been light, but I’ve been impressed with how dominant the team has been against most of its early opponents. I also will have to see how the Huskers fare against better competition before judging their tournament chances, but it’s obviously well within the realm of possibility at this point.  

After seeing the men’s basketball team for a few games now, do your expectations change at all? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

Jacob: I’m definitely starting to worry at least a little bit. On the one hand, the team has certainly improved in its offensive process as I wrote about ahead of the Tennessee State game. Then the Huskers went out and dished out 18 assists on 28 buckets (10 from Alonzo Verge Jr. by himself) and continued to play through Derrick Walker with his third straight double-digit scoring game and new career-high, further proving the point. But for the fifth time in six games, the Huskers couldn’t buy a 3-pointer (24%), and the defense continues to be a mess. If those latter two areas don’t improve, the progress in the former won’t really matter once the Huskers get to conference play. 

Mike Babcock: I’ll always defer to Jacob when it comes to basketball. The offense is starting to look as if it’s more organized but, as Jacob says, the defense has been a mess and there’s no consistent 3-point shooting. And when the Huskers start playing teams that are better than Tennessee State and Southern, there are likely to be problems rebounding, as there were early on, as well as increased problems with the defensive mess and a need for 3-point shooting. My expectations are wavering as a result. I expected Nebraska to roll past Tennessee State (and Western Illinois, for that matter) and every opponent except maybe Creighton, until “real” instead of scheduled-win games begin.

Do we change our game plan a little now that Smothers is starting? Do we also get a chance to see Haarberg? (@Peyton51533) 

Steve: Yes, I think you’ll see a little more of a run- and option-heavy approach on Friday with Logan Smothers likely taking the majority of the snaps. We know that Smothers is a good athlete and definitely a run-first quarterback, but what we don’t know is how well his passing ability has developed. Whenever he’s played in non-garbage time, there’s really only been three types of plays: handoff runs, quarterback runs and option runs. That leads me to believe Frost doesn’t trust Smothers in the passing game enough to let it rip like he would if Adrian Martinez was playing. Does that mean Smothers won’t attempt a single pass against Iowa? Of course not. I’d still expect Smothers to throw the ball, but maybe keeping him in the 15-attempt range would be wise. Or, Frost could throw Hawkeye defensive coordinator Phil Parker for a loop and call the game like would if Martinez was out there. What’s there to lose? As for Haarberg, Frost didn’t rule out the possibility. 

Mike: Not sure how dramatically the offense can change—you appropriately indicate “a little”—but there’s bound to be some adjustment. I think Haarberg will/should get in, one way or another. If I were Frost, I’d plan for him to get a series in the first half, when it matters. A redshirt isn’t at risk, so give him an opportunity to see what real game-action is like. 

Drake: My answer to both questions would be I hope so. I don’t think Nebraska wants Smothers throwing the ball 30 times against a defense that leads the nation in interceptions. That being said, I’m not sure how much choice the Huskers will have trying to pull off a run-heavy approach. Iowa only allows three yards per carry, the second-best mark in the conference. Nebraska’s starting running back also seems on track to miss the game. There’s not much going in the Husker offense’s favor to begin with here. As for Haarberg, it’ll probably depend on how the game goes, but the fact that Frost mentioned him earlier this week is intriguing. Selfishly, I’d like to see him play.  

With a new offensive coordinator hire, will NU finally have an identifiable offense? Also, do we see a shift in QB style? More of a Justin Herbert type: can sling it, but run when needed (option here and there)? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

Steve: In my opinion, I doubt the offense looks much different next season, regardless of who the next offensive coordinator is. At the end of the day, it will always be Scott Frost’s offense, and I have a hard time believing he’s not going to have a major role with it. Frost is on record saying he’s just not going to hire some guy—he needs to trust the next OC. That tells me Frost will hire someone who has a similar spread-offense background as he does. As for the second part of your question, I think we’ve already seen a shift in the style of quarterback Nebraska’s recruiting (Greg will know better than me on this). To me, Martinez and Smothers are similar—to put it simply, they both came to Lincoln as runners who can kind of pass. Over time, I think Frost has realized that it may be better to recruit physically bigger passers who can kind of run. Heinrich Haarberg and 2022 commit Richard Torres from San Antonio are good examples of that shift. Haarberg (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and Torres (6-6, 210) don’t look like Martinez and Smothers do—they’re different styles of quarterback. 

Mike: At one point this season, it didn’t appear Nebraska had an identifiable offense. That’s changed a bit. Certainly, Frost will try to hire someone who approaches the offense the same. But it has been a learning process, developing an offense that works in the Big Ten, for Frost, and that needs to continue.

What did you think of the Creighton students taking over the NU student section? (@WaylonVSmack)

Jacob: I believe they were actually UNL students who are Creighton fans. I happen to know one of them. Credit to them for showing up early enough to get those seats.

What does the process of recruiting for a new offensive coordinator actually look like? How does someone express interest in the role—do they have agents? Do they have interviews? Other rules of engagement that need to be followed, etc. (@ehaverty21) 

Steve: Frost has said he has several people helping him with the search. I’d have to assume athletic director Trev Alberts and others inside the athletic department know people who handle this sort of thing whenever it pops up. This is college football, it’s a crazy and wild business. That means crazy and wild stuff happens behind closed doors. Coaches aren’t dumb, they hear and read about which jobs are opening and closing. I know a lot of the high-profile coaches have agents—Jimmy Sexton is the most famous, a super agent if you will. Sexton has clients like Alabama’s Nick Saban, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Texas’ Steve Sarkisian and Penn State’s James Franklin. Not everyone can afford Sexton probably, but I bet a lot of college coaches, big-time and small, have someone who keeps an eye on openings across the country.  

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