Mailbag: Nebraska's Most-Likely Breakout Candidate on Saturday
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Mailbag: Nebraska’s Most-Likely Breakout Candidate on Saturday

August 28, 2019

Another week, another mailbag. Let’s get to it. 

What is the first play run on offense? Who records the first sack of the season? What is the longest kick return of the game and who returns it? What is the final score? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: First play—Wan’Dale Robinson motions into the backfield for a zone-read with Adrian Martinez. First sack—Alex Davis. Longest kick return—none, all touchbacks (and I doubt South Alabama will be kicking off much). Final score—56-14. 

Mike Babcock: First play, Dedrick Mills carries in some way. First sack—Ben Stille. Longest kick return—agree with Brandon, though we might see some drama on punt returns with JD Spielman. Final score—a whole bunch to not very much. 

What do you think will be the main difference in the team between last year and this year? (@dmhusker1) 

Erin Sorensen: I have two: attitude and endurance. We've heard a lot about the team’s “swagger” leading up to this season. They’re confident (especially the defensive backs) in what they can do. That’s not to say the 2018 team wasn’t confident, but I think it took some time for them to find that. They’re going into the 2019 season with that attitude. And, of course, strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval has had more time with the team and that should pay off on Saturdays. 

Greg Smith: Confidence and knowledge. I think they both go together so it’s hard for me to separate the two. The entire team should be more knowledgeable within the schemes being run. That will boost everyone’s confidence also allowing them to appear faster.  

Jacob Padilla: Attitude, endurance, confidence and knowledge I think are all intertwined here and when you add them all together the result is that the Huskers will be more capable of playing the kind of football that Scott Frost wants them to play than at any point last season. 

Which team in the Big 10 West has the best facilities and when do you think that Nebraska will upgrade their facilities? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: I’m going to give this to Northwestern solely because look at it.  

GS: As Derek can attest to, I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I would vote Purdue as No. 1 even though Northwestern’s facility is on Lake Michigan. Minnesota’s is very nice too. Iowa has a massive weight room with all the bells and whistles. Illinois just opened a new building last week. Nebraska must announce something this year and complete the project at the earliest time possible.  

MB: I’ll defer to Greg on this. 

What under-the-radar player will we be talking about most after this week’s game? (@Brooks_Layne) 

BV: We’ll probably be talking the most about Wan’Dale Robinson, but I wouldn’t consider him under the radar so give me Deontai Williams. Kanawai Noa is a candidate, too. 

GS: I love the Deontai Williams choice. I will stay in the secondary and go with Dicaprio Bootle. 

ES: Williams would be my pick too. I tweeted a video to former Husker Tre Neal of Williams talking about his approach to working hard (and hitting people) and Neal’s response was a good indicator of what we can expect this fall.  

MB: I’m not sure there is an under-the-radar player as you look at the depth chart, unless it’s maybe in the offensive line, the back-ups. Coverage has been extensive. It’s interesting that Bryce Benhart is listed at No. 2 at right tackle. I would say Garrett Nelson, but the coaches have already gushed about him, so he’s not under-the-radar, right, even though his is the third name listed at outside linebacker. 

Who has the biggest day on Saturday? Also, did the FBI come get Jacob yet? (@Go_Big_Red) 

GS: Adrian Martinez. Wait, what did Jacob do now? 

JP: I did nothing wrong. But here’s some background: 

As for the first question. I’ll go with Dedrick Mills. We still don’t know if Maurice Washington is even going to play, and as we saw last year, Nebraska is willing to ride a running back if he really gets going. Martinez will make his share of impressive plays but I don’t think they’ll ask him to do too much if everything goes according to plan. 

MB: Mills, the “hammer.” 

If you had to pick one game this year for Nebraska to just absolutely dominate, would you pick Colorado, Ohio State or Iowa, and why? (@PBlak69) 

ES: Because you can still win a game without dominating, I’ll take Iowa. I think the Huskers need a big, big win over the Hawkeyes. 

BV: Colorado. The Buffs are the worst team of those three options, thus the chances for domination go up. Then there’s the whole, umm, incident that happened in last year’s game, plus the summer back-and-forth about keeping Husker fans out and the history between the two old Big Eight rivals adding to it. Nebraska has the best shot at a big win here and if the chance to add a little extra to it presents itself in the game, I think the Huskers might take it. 

GS: Ohio State if I’m picking a domination. A big win in that game would have a huge impact on the season and recruiting. There will be double-digit official visitors in town that weekend. Let’s say College Gameday is in town. For fun, let’s say they wear the alternates and it’s a night game. That would be a lot fun for everyone.  

MB: Agree with Brandon with Colorado as the most likely, and there are plenty of reasons that would be cool to dominate the Buffs in Boulder because of all that has occurred in the past, not just here last season and since. 

If everything goes according to plan (NU up big by half time) do you think McCaffrey plays in the game? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

BV: This is a really good question. My gut reaction was “no,” but the more I thought about it I wonder how many comfortable leads Nebraska might actually have this season. Maybe many, but it’s hard to count on those without having seen the team play. I’m sure the coaches want to utilize those four games for McCaffrey and this might be the surest bet. But I’m going to stick with no for this game. It’s just easier to save that option for later and Noah Vedral could probably use some game snaps, too. 

GS: I’m going to say no. One of the under-the-radar questions this season is how the staff will utilize the four-game rule. A lot of things have to fall into place to even consider using it. It would be great experience to get McCaffrey in, but I’ll stick with no. 

JP: Nebraska only went two-deep at quarterback against Bethune-Cookman last season, but I can’t remember if Andrew Bunch was healthy at that point or not so it’s hard to draw many conclusions form that game. I’ll say yes just to be different, although I don’t feel strongly about it. 

MB: Like Jacob, I don’t feel strongly about it, but yes, I think McCaffrey will get in the game. He’s not jeopardizing a redshirt, and IF something were to happen to Martinez down the line, off goes the redshirt. So allow him an opportunity, however brief, to see some game action. That’s the best way to keep him involved, and around. 

What surprised you most when the two-deep came out? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

BV: There weren’t any huge shocks. Austin Allen as a co-No. 1 was a mild surprise. It was good to see Quinton Newsome make the two-deep as his name has come up frequently. Also, seeing Rahmir Johnson at running back reminded me that we haven’t heard as much about him as I thought we would this August. 

MB: Benhart at No. 2 right tackle. Initially, I thought he wouldn’t redshirt, then I thought he would. Isaiah Stalbird as the No. 2 safety behind Dismuke (followed by Eli Sullivan) and Damian Jackson as the No. 2 long snapper—glad his name was on the depth chart somewhere. 

Does Jahkeem Green play this Saturday? Or is he still getting up to game speed/shape? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: Even though he’s not fully ready, I’d guess he sees some snaps this weekend. 

JP: Tony Tuioti said he’d feel comfortable going six deep on the line (the six linemen listed on the two-deep) at this point, but if the Huskers blow out South Alabama like they should we’ll probably see some 3s and 4s on the field, and Green would likely be among them. 

Who is the least-talked-about starter that could make the biggest impact this year? (@SipplesLostT) 

BV: Jack Stoll (or Austin Allen, I guess, since he’s co-No. 1). I think the tight end spot is in for a big year. 

JP: I’ll disagree with Brandon a bit as I feel like we’ve actually talked about the tight ends and Stoll in particular quite a bit. However, since it’s the same group of guys as last year plus Chris Hickman, there wasn’t a whole lot of new stuff to write about. I’ll go with Marquel Dismuke. He’s mostly been overshadowed by his partner at safety in Deontai Williams but Dismuke has had a really good camp by all accounts and it’s worth remembering that he was one of Nebraska’s highest-rated recruits in that 2016 class. If things truly have clicked for him and he can translate his practice success into games, the safety position might turn out to be a strength for the Huskers despite losing three seniors who played the majority of the snaps last season. 

What was your biggest question for a Big Ten team (not Nebraska) that was answered during fall camp? What is the biggest question that still needs answering? (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: I’m probably reading too much into it, but Wisconsin’s decision to go with Jack Coan signaled to me that the Badgers might feel pretty good about their defense after a relatively down year in 2018. Maybe Coan’s ceiling is higher than I’m giving him credit for, but he seemed like the safe pick, the classic Wisconsin pick. But classic Wisconsin is pretty dang good. The biggest question for me is still how good Justin Fields will be and what it means for Ohio State. 

MB: Agree with Brandon on Coan. But then, Wisconsin is Wisconsin. Biggest question? Really general. How good will Michigan be? 

What are the three most intriguing B1G non-conference games this year? (@j_sanatez) 

BV: Iowa-Iowa State on Sept. 14 is absolutely on the list. I am desperately hoping Army-Michigan on Sept. 7 is the uncomfortable slugfest it could be. And if the new Ohio State isn’t automatically the old Ohio State, that Week 2 game against Cincinnati could be fun. 

Safety looks concerning, what do you think? They clearly want to redshirt the incoming DBs, huh? (@Black41Reverse) 

JP: I’m actually pretty high on the safety group, at least at the top. I think Deontai Williams is going to have a huge year and it seems like Marquel Dismuke has really turned the corner. Williams was arguably the secondary’s best playmaker last season, and now after a year in the program he’s ready for a featured role. Dismuke has been arguably the hardest-hitting defensive back on the team since he got to campus and according to Lamar Jackson, he’s been at the top of the production chart for defensive backs in practice. The depth is a concern, although Eric Lee Jr. Has a lot of experience and is a solid tackler. Isaiah Stalbird making the two-deep is a surprise (see below), but it will be interesting to see if any of the scholarship true freshmen can make a push for that spot down the line. I don’t necessarily know that the coaches want to redshirt all of the freshmen, but they’re not going to burn that redshirt unless the player in question is able to rise up the depth chart and earn a significant role. None of the freshmen have done that as of yet. 

MB: I don’t think any of us focus more on the secondary than Jacob, so I’ll agree with him. 

What happened to John Bivens? (@clawson_tanner) 
Whatever happened to Desmond Bland? He sign anywhere? (@joshlanik) 

GS: Two things with Bivens. First, academics were always a question but I’m unsure how that turned out. Second, after getting a look at all the new running backs, the staff may have decided bringing in another back wasn’t worth it. Bland isn’t playing football anywhere to my knowledge.  

More info on Isaiah Stalbird and Joseph Johnson. I feel like they have not been mentioned at all. (@emarintzer) 

JPI wrote about Joseph Johnson back in April so that’s a good place to start. It seems like he’s impressed the coaches since he first set foot on campus. His name has come up a couple different times over the last year, and I wasn’t surprised at all to see him make the two-deep considering the head start he had over the true freshmen and the injuries a few of those guys have dealt with. 

It was a little more surprising to see Stalbird on the two-deep as a redshirt freshman, although I was pretty high on him long-term after watching him play in the state championship his senior year at Kearney. At 6-foot and 210 pounds with solid athleticism, Stalbird doesn’t look like a typical walk-on. Here’s Travis Fisher talking about Stalbird last week: 

“Stalbird’s done a great job. He’s a kid that probably, if I had to just look at him last year and evaluate him last year, is a kid that probably wasn’t too sure about this or that, so he probably questioned himself a little bit. But this camp, he’s jumped in the boat. He’s making improvements very fast and it started off by just watching the older guys and how they practiced and buying into how he’s supposed to practice, flying around to the football. We put him in the situation to make some plays and now he got a taste last scrimmage of making some plays by flying around, and now he’s flying around. You’ve got young guys like him that are flying around that fast on the football field. It’s a couple things: first of all, he’s in the film room, and his confidence level is shooting through the roof because he knows what he’s doing so he can fly around, and then when he flies around and sees himself making a play because he’s flying around, then he probably feels like ‘Hey man, I want to do that again; it didn’t hurt, I wasn’t tired, I’ve got a bunch of energy.’ He’s doing a great job.” 

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