Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Martinez, Freshmen, Nebrasketball and More

November 06, 2019

Another week brings another mailbag. Even though the Huskers are on another bye, Husker Nation still has questions. The entire Hail Varsity staff tries to get to all of them. 

Who are some of your favorite sportswriters, personalities, etc? (@JJStark8) 

Erin Sorensen: Growing up, I was a big Linda Cohn and Erin Andrews fan. Still am. Those two ultimately inspired me to get into sports in some capacity. I’m also a big fan of Sam Ponder, as well as Sarah Spain, Mina Kimes and Katie Nolan. Do I have favorite sports writers and personalities that are men? Sure, I do. But I figured I’d give some love and appreciation to the women who inspire me. 

Mike Babcock: Writers: Jim Murray, Rick Telander, Malcolm Moran, Dan Jenkins, Sally Jenkins, Lars Anderson. Sportscasters: Keith Jackson, Robin Roberts, Don Gill, Bob Zenner, Lyell Bremser, Shelley Smith, Bob Costas.  I’ve had a lot of favorites, lots of respect for folks in the business. 

Derek Peterson: Zach Lowe, Wright Thompson, Baxter Holmes, Lee Jenkins (before the Clippers). 

Jacob Padilla: Brandon Vogel. 

Greg Smith: Bomani Jones, Pablo Torre, Mina Kimes, Dan Le Batard right off the top of my head. Malika Andrews is a great up and comer too. Oh, Chris Haynes over at Yahoo is my favorite NBA guy. 

Brandon Vogel: Brian Phillips, Spencer Hall, Mina Kimes, Bill Connelly. Wide range of styles and specialities there, but they are all in the “if they wrote it, I’m reading it immediately” category for me. I like writing that doesn’t have too much reverence for writing, if that makes sense. (Also, thanks Jacob. Check’s in the mail.)

How would each of you introduce yourselves on Sunday Night Football? Straightforward? Funny? Add “The”? (@marcus_sheer) 

ES: The “body built by Taco Bell” moment from Sunday was inspiring. Give me a “University of Chipotle” tagline and I’ll be happy. 

BV: “Hemingford High School Spudpickers.” That’s not the mascot any more, sadly, which is why I hope to create enough public pressure via my NFL football platform to bring it back. 

MB: Old and in the way . . .  

DP: “Derek Peterson, Whataburger over In-N-Out.”  

GS: “Greg Smith, The Brook.” 

JP: “Jacob Padilla, the Ghost.” Shout-out to my defunct elementary school. Holy Ghost forever. 

The defensive line has stood up against the run the last couple of games but the LBs are getting torched in coverage. Would you look to switch out one of the LBs out for a player who can cover? (@Corn_Huskers) 

DP: Yeah, probably. If Nebraska started going dime a little more on third that might help, seems teams are really targeting those inside backers on third down. The problem is some of Nebraska’s safeties right now aren’t playing any better. So, you’re switching out an inside guy for maybe a freshman or a corner, in which case you open yourself up to the run. I’m not sure. Nebraska’s in a tough spot right now. It needs those guys to be a little better in coverage but, yeah, I would say experiment with some formations and see what happens. To his credit, Chinander has been mixing things up a pretty good amount the last few weeks.  

BV: I agree in principle, but might be tough to pull off against Wisconsin and Iowa (Maryland’s a different story). Holding up against the run against the Badgers will be essential (and brutally tough), but Wisconsin can still take advantage of those linebacker matchups by being creative from a pro set. Iowa’s run game is a little less daunting, but it still requires attention This particular weakness, which has been exploited big time the past two weeks, is one where I think for this season you just have to hope guys start making one or two more plays. 

Will Hoiberg’s style work in the BIG? What are realistic expectations for his first year? (@tklim2430) 
What’s the ceiling for Nebrasketball this year? (@cmoura23) 

JP: I tend to believe that if your talent and execution are good enough almost any style will work, so my answer to the first question is yes so long as Hoiberg and his staff can get it done on the recruiting trail and on the practice floor. I came into this season with a pretty open mind and tried not to have much in the way of set expectations, but Tuesday’s opening night loss to a UC Riverside team missing its best player was certainly eye-opening. The coaches tried to warn us about what might be coming with some of their comments through the preseason, but I didn’t expect we’d ever see something like that 47-point performance under Hoiberg. I thought this team had a chance to compete right away better than Hoiberg’s first team at Iowa State, but that was an inauspicious start. They’ve got a lot of things to fix. I think the upside might still be there, but honestly, we don’t know how good most of these players actually are. Ask me again after Saturday. 

DP: Yeah, Hoiberg’s style can work. His style is just modern basketball. The 3-point shot levels a lot of playing fields in basketball in a way few things can in football. A four-guard lineup shooting 3s and firing on all cylinders can be a serious problem for bigger teams. There’s no reason he can’t find success if he can develop the guys he brings in. This year’s expectations should be hovering around .500; it’s going to take time for this group to coalesce. 

MB: I figured .500 going in, and still think that’s about right (though I was including Riverside among the wins, of course, like everyone else). 

I still believe that Frost is the right man for this job, but with the inexplicable steps back, losses, and frankly occasionally questionable play-calling, do you think next year will be a "prove it" year for him? Will his seat be getting hot going into next season? (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: It depends on where you look, I think. Frost is going to get a chance from the university to stick this thing out, but I’m sure he’ll start to land himself on some hot seat lists nationally and I know a segment of the fan base will get pretty vocal. I still think Frost will figure it out, but these first two seasons have certainly tempered my expectations.  

MB: The first two seasons have been more of a learning experience for Frost than I expected. Having said that, I’m still optimistic about the chances of his getting the “job” done, depending on how the “job” is to be defined. My definition is consistently competitive in the Big Ten, not just the West Division, and what that implies.  

BV: This season hasn’t gone as well as I expected either, but I honestly don’t see a ton of steps back, just a lack of steps forward. The biggest step back for me has been the run game, but that’s not out of nowhere given what Nebraska lost last year. Martinez’s regression is tougher to square, but I don’t think that or the run game are irreversible at this point. On defense, that group has shown some real promise over stretches and I think, despite recent form, has made some nice gains over 2018. The offseason checklist for me for the Blackshirts includes just one item—become a better tackling team. Frost won’t be on the hot seat in any meaningful way entering Year 3 beyond the fact that he’ll be on every national hot seat list you read this offseason. (Don’t read too many, you’ll drive yourself crazy.) Will there be pressure to show some gains in 2020? Yes, there will be pressure. With the production Nebraska is poised to return, a lack of progress next season would make this season’s plateful of angst look like an appetizer. 

Is Frost too tied at the hip with Martinez? I remember CU saying before that game they didn't have to worry about Martinez throwing the ball. Turned out to be true. Teams stacking the box so we can't run because Martinez can't throw. (@thawildbunch) 

JP: It depends on whether or not Martinez is able to show improvement. While he couldn’t make every throw last season, he still completed 65% of his passes in addition to everything he did on the ground. He looked like a special player. If he can find a way to get back to that level and then develop from there, Frost’s confidence will be rewarded. If Martinez continues to struggle, however, things will get pretty dicey. 

MB: It would seem apparent that Frost, a former quarterback, considers Martinez the best to get the Huskers where they need to be. If he can run as he did last season, that will open up the pass. 

DP: I think Frost is showing faith in his guy and trying his best to protect his guy. If that faith is repaid, it’ll be the right move. 

GS: No, I don’t think he is too tied to Martinez. He certainly needs to play better but I don’t think it’s completely fair to say he can’t throw. Martinez like the rest of the team needs to find consistency. 

Will the program do some soul searching this offseason or continue to pretend it's all because Mike Riley never played for Tom Osborne (@SaltCreekGBR) 

MB: It’s too soon to dismiss Frost (just as some folks wanted him replaced at quarterback when he played). I liked Mike Riley. Didn’t want him to be fired. But I’m not sure where things were headed. So, I’m more comfortable with a former Husker. 

GS: The ability to reflect, self-scout, and adjust may determine Frost’s success or lack of it at Nebraska. I don’t know how you couldn’t at least look at everything you are doing after this season. 

DP: I think there will be a bit of self-reflection. There should at least. That shouldn’t mean any staff changes, but it should mean having an honest discussion about some adjustments to make on the field or changes to make in approach. This should be a humbling season. We’ll find out soon enough whether or not that was the case.  

Which freshman do think will see the most action in the last three games while preserving their redshirt? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: I’d love it to be Bryce Benhart. I think there’s value in letting him see some game action now so his first time seeing the field isn’t 2020. I don’t know if that will happen, but it’s my preference. Otherwise, I’m not even sure who I think it could be. I had thought maybe Rahmir Johnson earlier in the season, but he’s just about out of games. 

JP: At this point, I doubt we’ll see anybody. Maybe they completely alter how they handle things after this bye week, but I’m not going to expect it until I see it. Perhaps we’ll see a bit of Nick Henrich if he’s caught up enough in his understanding of the defense.  

GS: I’m in the minority here but I don’t really want them putting freshmen out there now. Stay the course with the development plan that has been in place and don’t panic. I think we may see more Chris Hickman and I’d be curious to see Nick Henrich. 

Are we going to see more of a concerted effort to improve the d-Line through recruiting? Based on who will be on the roster next year are we looking at another year of no pass rush from the d-Line in 2020? (@BenzelLucas) 

BV: For me, it’ll be more about development on the defensive line. What do players like Tate Wildeman, Casey Rogers and Ty Robinson look like next year? What about younger guys who are getting a little time now like Deontre Thomas and Damion Daniels? Recruiting for ready-made defensive linemen is as competitive as it gets, and those guys are often flights away rather than drives away from Nebraska. We talk about the Huskers’ recruiting challenges all the time, but I don’t think there’s a bigger one than the defensive line. I don’t think Nebraska can count on regularly signing Ndamukong Suhs. They have to try and build them most of the time. 

There were eight returning starters this year on offense, yet the unit was considerably worse. Does anyone have any reason for optimism in the offense for next year with 10 starters coming back? (@Cody_TipToes) 

MB: Times change. But the 1983 defense had its issues. Most returned in 1984, when Nebraska led the nation in total defense. With that many starters returning and an offensive lineman or two, like Bryce Benhart for instance, stepping in, there’s reason for optimism about the offense, I think—emphasis on I think. I thought this season would go differently, too.. 

JP: Honestly, I’m not sure what to think. Nebraska is in a strange spot. Generally, a lot of returning starters leads to success, but those starters are the same ones not getting it done right now. That being said, I’m not convinced all these young guys will be able to take jobs from the upperclassmen so easily. If the guys they brought in were good enough to start, then they’d be playing instead of redshirting (like Wan’Dale Robinson). Will one season in the strength and conditioning program be enough for the freshmen to catch up physically? Say you do plug in Bryce Benhart at right tackle; does that mean Matt Farniok, a captain this year heading into his senior year, goes to the bench? Does he slide over to guard and bump another senior-to-be in Boe Wilson to the bench? Or do they play both Farniok and Wilson and replace Trent Hixson? Without seeing Nebraska’s practices and offensive line grades, it’s hard to know how Greg Austin truly feels about the guys in his room. If you’re looking for reasons for optimism, I’d say you can hope that Martinez figures things out, hope that those young linemen do either replaces or really push the returners and hope the young receivers (including guys in the 2020 recruiting class like Zavier Betts) bring a new dynamic to the field.

BV: There is a pretty strong correlation between returning production––which is different than returning starters––progression. Nebraska is poised to be way better off in that regard next year, particularly on offense, than it was this year. I’ll write about that more when the season is over, but in terms of reasons for optimisim in 2020 I think it might be the top reason.

Should we play some freshmen the last couple games and get them game time? (@Peyton51533) 

ES: See my answer above on Benhart.  

MB: As long as they don’t burn redshirts AND they don’t get discouraged by what might happen.  

GS: Nope. See answer above. 

Should we be worried about Wan’Dale getting hurt when he is repeatedly run straight into the middle of the defense and overused? (@GBRrecruiting) 

MB: He’s tough and durable, it seems. But clearly, Nebraska needs folks to take pressure off him. With some diversity in the offense, to the point at which defenses can’t expect he’ll get the ball, the number of touches wouldn’t be an issue. 

JP: Robinson has taken some massive hits and he’s pretty much bounced right back up off the turf every time. I’m more worried about his legs getting caught the wrong way or something like that––that’s how he got hurt the first time––and that can happen anywhere on the field. I do think they probably need to chill a little bi on running him up the middle, but Robinson is one tough dude. 

GS: Yes. This is taking nothing away from his heart and toughness because he clearly has plenty of both. But there is no way I can see it being sustainable to use him as your every down back to just run up between the tackles. It’s just not the best way to use his skill set. Last year Rondale Moore had 21 carries. Robinson had 22 carries against Indiana alone coming off an ankle injury.  

Do you think Frost has done enough to adjust his scheme to fit the current players that he has? Or are the players truly not executing the scheme properly? (Who is most to blame for the consistent blunders that this team seems to make weekly?) (@WesleyDanger) 

MB: Enough blame to go around. I think it’s more an issue of Frost learning what’s going to work consistently in the Big Ten and players being fundamentally sound.  

Why not get Rahmir Johnson some touches to utilize his speed like Adrian Killens or Otis Anderson at UCF? (@mjmiles5) 

MB: I was convinced Johnson was going to play a significant role against Indiana. I’m perplexed by what the coaches have said about him compared to how they haven’t used him, even if they wanted to preserve his redshirt. 

JP: They’re handling of Johnson has been one of the most bizarre things about this season to me. I have no idea what to think. 

It's really relatively quiet on the recruiting front. What is the latest on Omar Manning? (@Go_Big_Red) 

GS: Nothing has really changed with Manning. He still likes the Huskers, hasn’t really taken any other official visits since last summer but it would be great if Nebraska could land him soon. 

Give me your way-too-early predictions for Huskers in this year’s draft (@InDaWilderness) 

MB: This isn’t my area. Darrion Daniels? Lamar Jackson? I don’t see many guys getting drafted. 

JP: I think Lamar Jackson, Darrion Daniels and Khalil Davis will all have a chance to get drafted. At this point, I have no idea of the range for them, however.  

DP: I’d say Darrion Daniels, Lamar Jackson, and JD Spielman. 

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