It’s mailbag time. Let’s get to it.
We all had ideas and preconceived notions about what the offense would look like and how prolific it would be. I assumed, based on previous teams and similarities that going for 2 would be a staple. What happened? Am I wrong in my assumption? (@Corn_Huskers)
Brandon Vogel: It wasn’t a huge part of what this staff did at UCF (four conversions over two seasons ), and we probably remember it as being a bigger part of Oregon’s attack than it actually was. At least that was the case for me. The high under Chip Kelly was seven converted two-point tries. That’s a lot, but I remember it as being even more common than that. I’m not that surprised Nebraska hasn’t implemented it. Those Oregon teams that did were pretty confident they could score at will, so dropping a point every now and then meant less. The risk of six (instead of seven) is greater for Nebraska at this point.
Mike Babcock: Brandon’s right. This offense wasn’t reliable enough to gamble on 2-point conversions. One was sufficient.
Do Nebraska’s struggles to block on the edge have anything to do with the lack of size on the outside or is there more to it? (@tklim2430)
Greg Smith: I would say it has mostly to do with lack of size. Even if say JD and Wan’Dale are providing max effort, there will be times they get beat. Some of the other times, it’s just poor technique or flat-out missing blocks. So it’s a combination but it’s a not-so-glamorous area that the Huskers have to be better at if the offense is going to take off.
Jacob Padilla: Like Greg said, I think smaller receivers are going to have a tougher time holding their blocks against bigger defensive backs. Kade Warner is one of their best perimeter blockers and he’s also one of their biggest receivers so that probably isn’t a complete coincidence. That being said, there are times where they just completely whiff. Size isn’t a problem with the tight ends and they’ve been inconsistent in that area as well. Every part of perimeter blocking needs improvement––effort, technique and personnel (recruiting).
Special teams has been shaky, if not downright terrible, for a while now. What needs to happen for that to improve? New coach, new scheme, more effort, or simply more talent? (@InDaWilderness)
BV: Nebraska needs some consistency in the kicking game, first and foremost. In 2018, punting was all over the place. In 2019, place-kicking was the big issue. I think some of that is finding the right fit. I also just think there needs to be more of a top-down emphasis on this phase. For Frost to say post-Iowa that he didn’t know why Nebraska kicked to Ihmir Smith-Marsette is not a good answer. On the talent front, I think the Huskers’ decision to keep redshirts on a lot of freshmen the past two years might have had an impact, too, as it decreased the pool of potential difference-makers on special teams.
MB: The lack of communication before Smith-Marsette's touchdown return was glaring, should’ve never happened. But that’s just one instance. Supposedly several coaches work with special teams, but it almost seems as if special teams are an afterthought. Coaches might be trying so hard to get the offense, and particularly the defense, in order that they don’t commit as much time to special teams. It’s a head-scratcher, has been for a while.
What would you classify a solid finish to this recruiting class? (@InDaWilderness)
GS: To classify as a solid finish for me the Huskers need to fill their needs and infuse talent into the roster. That may sound basic but it is a must to end up with at least one bigger receiver and an upgrade in athleticism at inside linebacker plus a couple of pass rushers to feel good about. There are prospects on the board that fit all of that, but Nebraska needs to close.
What are the benefits of getting recruits to sign early and get them on campus before the fall? (@rybread120)
GS: I assume you mean the benefits of early enrolling in January versus the summer. The benefits are huge. First and most importantly (in my mind) the players get acclimated to the college life and schedule. I’ve had coaches on staff break down how different and demanding the schedule is for a college football player and getting a jump on that is big. The other frequently cited part of this is going through winter conditioning and spring ball. That extra time with Zach Duval and then practice time is generally crucial in playing during your freshman season.
JP: In that 2018 class, eight players enrolled early and six of them played that first season, including Adrian Martinez. Last year seven guys enrolled early, but Wan’Dale Robinson and Garrett Nelson were the only ones who burned their redshirts. It’s impossible to say, but perhaps one or two more of those guys migh have been able to earn roles right out of the gates had they gotten that head start.
Is Frost really going to be open to a quarterback competition in spring? Keep reading how Martinez is “his guy” but isn’t McCaffrey his guy too? (@IBeLionsBeats)
BV: I think that’s a key distinction. All three quarterbacks who could be in such a competition were recruited by this staff. That matters. In some ways, I think it could be healthy for the team as a whole, though I’m not convinced yet it will happen.
Erin Sorensen: There will be some form of quarterback “competition” and like Brandon, I’m fine with that. I don’t know how legitimate it will be, but hopefully it can help everyone improve. Competition should do that, no?
GS: There has to be a competition, right? But the way the question is phrased and chatter I see about the subject makes me think that Frost can’t win here if Martinez is the starter next season. Until he plays well of course. But if Martinez “wins” the competition then there will be a lot of fans who think he was going to win it all along.
MB: I expect open competition at quarterback in the spring. Open. Even if Martinez is Frost’s guy, he could come out of the spring at, say, No. 2 on the depth chart. That would be motivation, right? I don’t think you can pay lip service to competition and then stick with one guy, though I also think that coaches coming off 4-8 and 5-7 seasons are going to put the guys on the field who give them the best chance to win. So Frost might think that of Martinez, a healthy Martinez.
JP: There’s a competition of sorts at every position every offseason. They don’t start forming the scout team and giving most of the reps to the starters until shortly before the season. But ultimately Scott Frost, with the help of his assistants, determines the winner of each “competition” based on who he thinks gives the team the best chance to win. In order for someone else to line up behind center next year, Martinez has to show he just doesn’t have it any more while someone else has to significantly outplay him consistently. I doubt that happens. Luke McCaffrey was fun this season, but I’m not sure they ever asked him to throw from the pocket in his brief appearances this season, which is kind of important for a quarterback.
Derek Peterson: Martinez is still Frost’s guy. That being said, there needs to be a competition.
If we can’t get taller receivers, could Hickman be the answer for next year? If so, do you think he could have a monster year? (@SlicVic13)
ES: From what I could tell, I think they’d prefer to keep Hickman at tight end but maybe utilize him as an option at wide receiver if absolutely necessary. They also just need to recruit some bigger-bodied receivers and then this would be a moot point. Either way, Hickman has shown a ton of potential (and willingness to block and do whatever is asked of him) so I think he’ll have a big year no matter where he lines up.
GS: Hickman will be one of the more interesting Huskers to watch in the spring and summer. He essentially forced the staff to play him based on his work ethic and talent this season. I too think they love his potential as a mismatch problem at tight end but it wouldn’t surprise me if he played more out wide. Part of the reason for that is having Jack Stoll, Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek next season too.
MB: Doubt a “monster” year, however that might be defined. But in the mix, yes.
DP: Chris Hickman, I can tell you already, is going on my “10 Most Intriguing Huskers” list for next season. Even if they land a bigger receiver, I’m very eager to see what happens with Hickman. Like Greg points out, Nebraska has three pretty good options at tight end. Hickman clearly has the staff’s trust, and I think he’s potentially a difference-maker in this offense. Is he more likely to have a “monster year” as a junior than a sophomore, probably, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a weapon in 2020.
With conference championships this week, I took a look at the four teams that left the Big 12. All four have combined for four division titles and zero conference championships since departing. Why do you think these teams have struggled so much since leaving the Big 12? (@JEREIH)
BV: That’s an interesting stat. I think it could say something about the hidden difficulty in making that move. You have to learn some new ways to win, some new ways to recruit (in some cases). On the other hand, I would consider Missouri winning two division titles in the SEC and Colorado one in the Pac-12 to be at least mild surprises. The tenor of those additions to those conferences was very different than what accompanied Nebraska to the Big Ten. The Huskers were expected to compete for division and conference titles and haven’t lived up to that yet. I kind of view it as Missouri and Colorado’s transitions going about as expected, Nebraska’s going worse than expected and Texas A&M’s being somewhere in the middle.
MB: I think Nebraska is still trying to adjust to the Big Ten, how to play, where and how to recruit, and so forth. As Brandon says, Missouri and Colorado have probably done a decent job adjusting. A&M had some adjusting to do in the Big 12, coming from the Southwest Conference, so it adjusted and then adjusted again. Despite all the changes, Nebraska would be much more successful had it stayed in the Big 12 in my opinion. But the coffers wouldn’t be as full, and Missouri would’ve gotten that coveted $pot in the Big Ten—plus the academic prestige that Chancellor Perlman wanted.
It seems like we had a hard time getting receivers open this year. At the same time, it seemed like our secondary was very soft on pass coverage. Are the two related? So, were we having trouble covering in practice a mediocre passing attack? (@mikemathias10)
MB: I wouldn’t say the two are related, necessarily, though you make a good point. That was the reason Osborne matched ones against ones so much. Lining up against the Huskers’ running game made the defensive line better and vice versa.
DP: I don’t think it’s fair to say the secondary was poor against the pass this season. Great? No, they struggled for stretches on third downs and gave up some big plays, but the NU pass defense ended the year 26th nationally in yards per play allowed and finished top-50 in a number of other categories.
On both defense and offense who are one or two players that you guys think will rise up in the 2020 football season? Most important recruit/target needed in the 2020 recruiting class that can make an impact immediately? (@dwilliamsj)
BV: Cameron Jurgens made some nice strides as the season progressed. He’d be my pick on offense. Assuming Marquel Dismuke gets healthy during the offseason, and stays healthy through the season, I think his 2019 was encouraging. I’m interested in seeing more from him. If we’re considering Dismuke a “known” at this point, I might go with Ty Robinson.
GS: Jurgens is such a good pick on offense. Can I go with Dedrick Mills? If he gets steady carries in 2020 he could have a huge year. Wide receiver Omar Manning is my pick for immediate impact player. He’s a huge target right now.
MB: I’ll leave the incoming guy to Greg. I’d also go with Jurgens, or Rahmir Johnson, on offense and Ty Robinson on defense. Or, how about this, Luke McCaffrey on offense, if there really is wide-open competition at quarterback—and maybe even if there isn’t because McCaffrey can be used in unique ways, as we’ve seen. He could be sort of like Bobby Newcombe in 1997, get him on the field somehow, though his competition with Crouch at quarterback was short-lived. Footnote: Had Newcombe come in and just focused on wide receiver and kick/punt returner throughout, he could’ve been a Johnny Rodgers-type.
JP: Can I go with Deontai Williams on defense? That injury was such a killer for this defense. He was one of the biggest playmakers on a team lacking enough difference-makers on both sides of the ball. On offense, for this team to take a step forward it has to be a receiver, whether that’s a newcomer or someone like Darien Chase.
DP: Dedrick Mills, Deontai Williams.
Seen lots of rumors of the departure of JD Spielman to Minnesota. Where do the Huskers go at wide receiver if this happens? (@zanebusekist)
ES: Nebraska has some young wide receiver options that really should be utilized either way in 2019. If Spielman departs for any reason—whether that’s to just play elsewhere or to go the NFL route—the Huskers aren’t without options. Plus, there’s always Wan’Dale Robinson.
MB: Wan’Dale . . . and even with JD, the Huskers need more reliable receiving threats.
JP: A departure by Spielman would have a domino effect, of sorts. First of all, Wan’Dale Robinson would likely play the majority of his snaps at slot receiver, though he’d still move around a bit as the Duck-R. That means his snaps in the backfield would be reduced significantly, which probably needs to happen anyway. So first of all, Nebraska needs another running back or two to emerge alongside Dedrick Mills. Whether that’s Rahmir Johnson, a healthy Ronald Thompkins or one of the newcomers, I don’t know. Kade Warner will continue to have a role in this offense, but Nebraska needs at least three other receivers to emerge from the underclassmen currently on the team or the group of newcomers. I’d expect Wan’Dale to lead the team in targets by a lot next season if Spielman is gone, but the other receivers need to keep defenses honest to allow Robinson to do his thing.
Weekly 2020 projected position group starters: who are your starters for the DL? (@3rdLargestCity)
JP: Just going off the depth chart at the end of the season, Ben Stille and Damion Daniels are easy calls for two of the starting spots. Deontre Thomas probably is the favorite for the other end spot, but Casey Rogers, Ty Robinson and Keem Green will all likely be in the mix as well. Robinson could also play in a tandem with Daniels at the nose.
Does Georgia belong in the top four? (@3rdLargestCity)
BV: Yes. The Bulldogs were pretty unfortunate in their loss to South Carolina (i.e. despite some failings that were their own fault, they still played better than the Gamecocks in that game). Since then, they’ve beaten two top-10 teams. If Georgia loses to LSU you probably have to give that spot to a one-loss Utah or Oklahoma, but for now the Bulldogs belong. Personally, I kind of like that they’re the defensive counterpunch to the flurry of offensive jabs LSU, Ohio State and Clemson provide.
MB: Right now. And when it loses to LSU, it’s out, unless Utah and Oklahoma both lose, and even then I might prefer Baylor, which would have beaten Oklahoma. I’m SEC weary. Plus, I don’t think with only four teams, a team that doesn’t win its conference belongs in the playoff. You can’t win your conference but you can be national champion?
In a game of 1s and 2s to 11, how badly do I beat JP in 1 on 1? (@3rdLargestCity)
MB: You don’t?
JP: First of all, real basketball is played with 2s and 3s. Second of all, it probably would depend on the day. You know the term “streaky shooter?” Well, I’m a streaky player. There are some days where I’m on fire and others where I can’t make a basket of any kind (including layups). Unless you’ve got some high-level playing experience I’m not aware of or are hiding some serious athleticism, I like my chances.
Nebraska’s percentage chance of landing Hunter Sallis? (@3rdLargestCity)
JP: Well, Nebraska getting him on campus for an official was a good sign. That being said, I’m not going to put a number on it but I’d expect that percentage to be low. I think Kansas offering was the game-changer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other blue bloods jump into the mix.
Top Holiday Movie? (Die Hard!) (@3rdLargestCity)
BV: If “Die Hard” qualifies because it is set during Christmas—and I’m fine with that ruling—then my favorite Christmas movie is “Blast of Silence.” (Just watched it last night, actually.) It’s a great low-budget, neo-noir about a hitman who goes to New York City for one last job, during Christmas, and it goes heavy on the noir part of the equation. If that’s your thing, you’ll love it. If we’re excluding those kind of films, I’d probably go 1) “Home Alone” (it came out when I was a kid and thus delivers the most child-like nostalgia), 2) “Christmas Vacation” and 3) “A Christmas Story.” I also think “The Night Before” filled a really nice niche and was an essential addition to the Christmas canon.
ES: I like “A Christmas Story,” and I can’t help it. I watch it religiously every year when it’s on for 24 hours from Christmas Eve through Christmas, and it’s one tradition I can’t quit. It’s my go-to, alongside maybe “Elf” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (which really doubles as a two-holiday feature).
GS: “Die Hard” isn’t a holiday movie and I have this argument every year. “Love Actually” is my favorite though but I do watch Ralphie and the gang in “A Christmas Story” every year. “Christmas Vacation” and “Home Alone” are great, too. My favorite animated pick is “The Year Without a Santa Clause.” I watch a LOT of Christmas movies.
MB: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” my wife’s favorite, along with her family’s. We’ve gone to the Grand Theater showing the last couple of years even. Though I like the “King of Queens” episode in which Arthur explains why he wishes George Bailey had never been born.
JP: Greg is wrong. “Die Hard” all the way. But of the more traditional Christmas movies, I’m definitely an “A Christmas Story” guy.
DP: I didn’t know Greg was now my enemy. The greatest traditional Christmas movie is “Christmas Vacation.” Criminally underrated: “Elf.”
Hamburger buns….with or without sesame seeds? (@SipplesLostT)
BV: Martin’s potato rolls, sans seeds, are the best burger platform. That said, having sesame seeds doesn’t bother me.
ES: I prefer them with.
MB: Either way I’m good. Hamburgers are a staple.
JP: The last time I bought hamburger buns from the store I chose ones without sesame seeds, so I guess that’s my answer. But I’m fine either way. The seeds just don’t add anything for me.
DP: As long as they aren’t falling off and getting everywhere.