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Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Matt Farniok to Right Guard, Burning Redshirts and Barbecue

June 17, 2020

It's another week, which means it's time for another Mailbag. This week we're talking about Matt Farniok's move on the offensive line, the potential to burn redshirts and barbecues. Oh, and plenty more of course. 

Let’s get to it.

What are Hail Varsity's thoughts on moving Matt Farniok to RG? Give me your blindfolded educated best guess on the OL 2-deep come the beginning of "minicamp.” (@Go_Big_Red) 

Mike Babcock: Matt will be where he’s best-suited to play. That’s been the underlying theme for a while now. It was a matter of finding someone at right tackle with whom the coaches were comfortable. That someone is Bryce Benhart, who would’ve had the spring to settle in there. He’s the guy. So I’m saying Jaimes, left tackle; Wilson, left guard; Jurgens, center; M. Farniok, right guard; Benhart, right tackle. As for back-ups, I’d look first for “swing” players, those who could play either side as back-ups for rotation purposes. That’s old school. They would be Gaylord at tackle and Hixson at guard. You don’t typically rotate your center. If you want straight back-ups, I’d say, add Miller at center, Banks at right tackle and not sure at left guard, Will Farniok—or will he be a center?. I’m just the first to answer. Others on our staff are more in-tune, probably, so their answers might be more informed.   

Derek Peterson: I like the idea of having Farniok and Jaimes on opposite sides. In listening to Frost, it sounded like the door was open to having not just a new guy at right tackle but potentially a new guy at left guard. Could still be Boe Wilson or Trent Hixson, or we could come to find Ethan Piper had a massive fall camp. In either case, having Farniok on the right to help Benhart makes a lot more sense than moving him over to the left. A summer stab at the two deep for me would look something like: Jaimes then Banks at left tackle, Hixson then Piper at left guard, Jurgens then Will Farniok at center, Matt Farniok then Wilson at right guard, Benhart then Gaylord at right tackle.  

Jacob Padilla: I think left tackle will probably be Jaimes and then Banks (though we’re basing that off of one comment from Jaimes on the first day of spring; it could easily end up being someone else as the back-up). Right tackle will probably be Benhart then Gaylord. Center will be Jurgens then Will Farniok. Matt Farniok will start at right guard. After that I really don’t know. With the limited prep time before the season starts, I’ll lean Wilson sliding over to left guard as the starter with Hixson behind him, and I guess that leaves Piper as the back-up behind Farniok. However, I don’t think we can count out Broc Bando. He played off the bench at both tackle and guard last year and I thought he held up fairly well.  

Do you think Frost and Co. will be more open to burning redshirts this season? Or at least trying to get them more series when they do play their four games? Felt last year there were too many times when a player got in for a play and that’s it. (@Sal_Vasta3) 

Brandon Vogel: I think this is the year for that. Over the first two seasons, on a redshirt scale of saving or spending, Nebraska was further towards the saving side than most other staffs that took on new jobs for the 2018 season. The hope, of course, is that the strategy pays off down the road, but entering season three “down the road” is very nearly here. At some spots, Nebraska has to go young (wide receiver, for example). At others, the safe redshirt strategy might actually prevent some first-year players seeing the field (I like the freshman DBs in the 2020 class, but I did the previous class, too, and now they’re available as redshirt freshmen). Overall, however, I do think we could see Nebraska get a little more aggressive with getting players on the field early. 

JP: They’ve got a few years of the redshirt rule under their belts so hopefully they’ve learned from that experience and have a better plan because sending a guy in for a play or two is just a waste. However, with so many redshirt freshmen competing for snaps it might be tough to find playing time for the new guys. The number of blowout games in 2020 could go a long way towards determining that as well. 

Last season Husker QBs amassed 198 rushing attempts for a total of 1,798 yards. How many rushes and estimated total yards would you like to see this season's QBs rush for? How does the QB rush game impact the offense as a whole? (@Corn_Huskers) 

JP: I’ll focus on the starter here to make it a little easier. Mario Verduzco said Adrian Martinez probably logged a few more carries than Scott Frost was hoping for the last two years, but he also said his quarterbacks are wiling to do whatever they need to in order to win a game. In 2017, when Frost’s offense was really rolling with McKenzie Milton behind center, Milton logged 106 carries, or just over a fifth off all UCFs runs. The past two years, Martinez has been at 30.2% and 26.5% of Nebraska’s runs. Ideally, I think Frost would like to get that number down closer to 20% of Nebraska’s runs, but whether or not they can get there depends on how well the offensive line, receivers and running backs play. If Martinez gets more protection and his wideouts get open more, he won’t have to scramble as much. I’d like to see something in the area of 100 carries and 600 yards. A dangerous quarterback run games makes the defense account for the QB’s legs on every play, which means that’s one less defender focusing on the other skill positions. It opens up more opportunities for the running backs and receivers and makes the defense truly play 11 on 11. 

What is the biggest thing coaches can learn from today’s climate, social media, etc. that will help them adapt to incoming players and future recruits (see how not to do things like Dabo and Gundy)? (@3rdLargestCity) 

Erin Sorensen: To legitimately listen to their players and maybe spend a little more time paying attention to what’s going on in the world around them. How many times have we heard a coach say he doesn’t watch the news? Heck, Nick Saban said he didn’t even have the Internet in 2018. I get it. They’re busy. They don’t have time to sit and consume every piece of media all day every day (nor should any of us, to be honest). However, there is a certain level of responsibility here to knowing the issues that are facing your players. Maybe they need to set aside 20 minutes each day to just listen and observe what’s happening in the world right now. Maybe someone on staff can help assist in that. I don’t know the perfect solution, but the takeaway for me is that awareness will go a long way with both current players and recruits. It’ll also help prepare coaches when the time comes to make a statement or stand up for their players, because they won’t need to get fully caught up. They’ll already know (or at least have an idea). 

MB: Coaches need to be aware, as Erin says. A high-profile coach, and by extension his or her program, has a platform but needs to be careful in how it’s used. And now, more than ever, a coach needs to understand his or her student-athletes as people from diverse backgrounds and places. That’s not unreasonable. They’re making good money off the efforts of those student-athletes. They have to win, of course. But they also have a responsibility to those who enable them to win. Used to be, a student-athlete adjusted to the coach in all ways—or got out. That’s why the Unity Council Osborne started was such a positive thing. You have to understand, and listen, to be a successful coach. 

Greg Smith: Agree with everything Erin said so I’ll add a different twist. They need to learn how to actually stop and consider the impact of what their actions are. For a long time in college athletics, coaches have been able to do and say whatever they want without players thinking it's OK to question it. It feels like the days are over where players accept things as being “just the way things are.” That’s great because we will all be better off for it in the long run. 

Given that Frost said the loss of spring practices forced them to fast-track some personnel decisions (ie. Matt Farniok at RG), what other personnel changes or decisions do you suspect have been implemented? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

DP: I wonder how much of an opportunity guys like Quinton Newsome, Braxton Clark and Myles Farmer would have had in the spring to maybe crack that top line in the secondary. Without spring ball, NU probably just goes by the book there and puts Cam Taylor-Britt in Lamar Jackson’s old spot, slots Deontai Williams back into his starting spot at safety and calls it good. I’m curious what happens on the defensive line, specifically with Ty Robinson and Keem Green. Maybe wideout is a spot where Jamie Nance would have gotten a real long look in the spring and could have potentially begun fall camp with an edge over Zavier Betts, now maybe they’re more on level footing. That being said, this is still a very young team with returning production that hasn’t really produced in the way that matters at the end of the year, so I don’t think Nebraska can make too many personnel decisions without practice time to evaluate.  

JP: I’m not sure there’s another position that is comparable to what they’re doing with Farniok. In fact, I’d say the loss of spring means they’re less likely to experiment or make changes quickly. I think this gives a leg up to the incumbents or returning rotation players almost across the board. Like Derek said, maybe this means we don’t see one of Newsome or Clark as a starting corner. Maybe we don’t see someone like Ethan Piper jumping ahead of the upperclassmen at guard (since incorporating Benhart seems to be the priority). Maybe we don’t see someone like Alante Brown jump ahead of Kade Warner at that third wideout spot (at least at the start of the season). Maybe they just go safe early on and see how the daily competition plays out heading into the season. 

Which Big Ten football coach is under the most pressure this season and why? (@dmhusker1) 

BV: It might be Frost, if I can say that without people thinking I mean his job is in any sort of jeopardy. It’s not, I don’t believe, nor should it be at this point. But given the sky-high expectations upon arrival, Nebraska does need to show some progress before that kind of conversation becomes more frequent at the national level. But look around the league and there’s no easy answer to this. You’ve got three coaches where it’s just too early for any perception of danger (Locksley, Schiano, Tucker). You’ve got three that are showing progress at places where the expectation is not 10 wins a year (Brohm, Smith, Allen). I’d put the rest in the almost-completely-safe category with two caveats. Iowa and Ferentz will be interesting as the internal review moves forward, but if we’re only talking about on-field performance, he is of course there until he doesn’t want to be. Harbaugh’s the other one, which is a little bit strange to me. I understand the need to “get over the Ohio State-sized hump.” Whether it’s Ohio State-sized or not, that challenge comes for every coach with a little bit of success. But I just don’t think there should be a ticking-clock scenario there. Michigan is really good year in and year out under Harbaugh. Hasn’t resulted in the bigger prizes yet, but simply being in the hunt each year shouldn’t be taken for granted. That said, just because I feel that way doesn’t mean others don’t feel exactly the opposite. I get it. “More than before” is the only way coaching evaluation has ever really worked at major programs.  

DP: Harbaugh is perpetually here, and after two seasons that began with the kind of “this is it, this is your chance” attitude, I wonder if this year he’s allowed some rope with a new quarterback or if he’ll again have people expecting the wins that haven’t come yet. I feel like programs sometimes reach a point where context no longer matters and saying something like, “We have a new quarterback, I need some time,” is just viewed as excuse-making. Maybe that doesn’t happen. I like Harbaugh. I think he’s good for Michigan. I really thought he had the team to do It in 2018, but at some point, you gotta start beating Ohio State. 

MB: Frost. Brandon breaks it down, but the bottom line is, Nebraska has gotten so much press because Scott is a former Husker and because of what he did at Central Florida that the national perception of the program doesn’t coincided with what’s here. Nebraska got some preseason ratings a year ago and finished 5-7, following back-to-back 4-8 seasons. The Huskers haven’t been in the national conversation consistently for 20-plus years. Reasonable of not, Frost is under significant pressure. Like Brandon said, though, that has nothing to do with his job status. Oh yes, given what’s happened recently, Kirk Ferentz will be under significant pressure for other reasons. 

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate Nebraska women’s athletics and then men’s athletics overall? (@dmhusker1) 

DP: Women get a 7 with volleyball as the flagbearer. Men get a 4. 

MB: Derek’s got it about right. I might give the men a 3, based on where they are and where expectations are. Wrestling, baseball, gymnastics, track and field, might boost that a bit, but everything, we know, is based on football, far and away, and then basketball. Volleyball, and again, are we including bowling, rifle, etc. for the women? If so, maybe that 7 goes up slightly. It’s not just volleyball, basketball and soccer. 

JP: I’d go with a 4 for the men. The wrestling program is propping up that score with a little help from baseball, gymnastics and maybe track. Volleyball gets a 10, but there aren’t enough other good-to-elite programs to prop that score up past the 7 Derek and Mike gave them.  

If the volleyball team and some of the football players were to play a match of volleyball, would the football guys ever score a point? And if so what’s the final score? (@_Prestonp85_) 

ES: Have you ever seen the video of Serena Williams playing against men? All the men had to do was score one point against Serena and, well, it wasn’t as easy as some people may have thought it would be (but also, who are those people really?). Do I think it would be that between volleyball and football? No, but I don’t think football is scoring enough to really have a shot at winning. I fear you’d see too many of the football players end up in the net, hitting the ball out of bounds, etc. Would they be able to really serve efficiently overhand? There’s a lot of technique to volleyball and while football would have the athleticism to keep up, I think they would be outmatched. Give me the volleyball team for a sweep, 25-5, 25-5, 25-7. 

GS: Maybe the guys luck into a few points. It’s a sweep, 25-4, 25-2, 25-5. 

MB: Sweep for the women. Men don’t reach double-figures in any set. The points might go up first to third sets but not by much. 

JP: I’ll put it this way: I bet the football team would get more points off volleyball team errors than scoring themselves. 

Do you think the NBA/NHL will finish their seasons? The MLB will have a season this year? The NFL and College Football will start as scheduled? (Sal_Vasta3) 

ES: Doesn’t look good for Major League Baseball. NBA and NHL are a bit of a toss-up, I guess. I think the NFL and college football start on time and play until they can’t anymore, but I have a hard time seeing college football go too far beyond rivalry week. Basically, I think it’s all a guessing game at this point and I have no idea what to expect. 

GS: I think the NBA and NHL end up finishing their seasons even if the more we hear about the NBA’s plan the more nervous I am. MLB might not even play in 2021 much less this year. I do think the NFL and CFB start on time and will just play until they can’t anymore. 

MB: I’m more skeptical than Erin and Greg. With cases spiking in states such as Texas, Arizona and, I think, Florida, I wonder about college football and the NFL especially. MLB isn’t about the pandemic directly as much as it’s about money; who’s going to give in, players or owners. My guess is, eventually owners, with some concessions. But when that will happen, I’m thinking not for this season. I think the NHL will figure out a way and finish. The NBA? Not so sure. 

Setting up a BBQ for friends and family. What are your go-to food items in the following categories? Meat, side dish, salad, and drink. (@Corn_Huskers) 

ES: Brisket (or ribs), corn on the cob, potato salad (that counts, right?) and sweet tea. 

BV: When I used to regularly host backyard barbecues for friends, the goal was always to invite enough people to make cooking a whole brisket feasible. I prefer a giant pot of collard greens, though the more crowd-pleasing option is probably homemade baked beans (both of which can be vegetarian, which is nice). Salad? If we must, can the collards count? The drink is kind of shameful, but it resulted in more interesting barbecues by night’s end. We called it the Cowboy Margarita and it was one can of frozen limeade concentrate, fill that now empty can up with some cheap tequila that you infused with a jalapeno for a couple of days, and then add one can of cheap beer. Continue with that ratio until you think you have enough. Careful, it’s potent. But surprisingly good. Oh, and if I’m going to be cooking a brisket for hours on end, I always found it smart to throw some spicy sausages on towards the end. The smoker’s already up and running, might as well use whatever space you have remaining. Couple of packs of spongy white bread and you’ve got a nice little thing going. 

GS: If I’m cooking for friends and family, I go steak, corn on the cob, potatoes and fruit salad. All easy to make a large amounts and tasty. The drink is something we call Kim’s rum runner (named after my wife because it’s her favorite) and if you don’t drink, I make it without the alcohol and it’s just a fruit punch. I’ve done all this once or twice, ha. 

DP: Wait. We should all just go to Greg’s house. 

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