Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Possible Coaching Changes, Offensive Identity Crises and More

October 20, 2021

The Nebraska football team is off this week due to a bye week, but the Mailbag never takes a week off during the season. 

This week’s edition had some really good thoughts and questions from fans, including some on Adrian Martinez, Scott Frost’s offense in year four and much, much more. 

 So, let’s get to it.

Do you see Scott Frost starting Logan Smothers over Adrian Martinez at all this season? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

Mike Babcock: With only the four games remaining, my sense is no. Against whom would he start? Purdue, possibly, but with the next game against Ohio State? Doubtful. You want your veteran starting against the Buckeyes, I’d guess, and Purdue is something of a confidence reinforcement to that. A start at Wisconsin? Tough place to get a first start, right? Final game against Iowa? 

Drake Keeler: No. There’s nothing we’ve seen that suggests that Smothers would provide any sort of upgrade to the offense over Martinez. Martinez has still been far better than he was last year, when he did get benched.

Jacob Padilla: If Frost didn’t sit Martinez down last week when he was dealing with an ankle injury, missed most of the practices leading up to the game and couldn’t really run, I just don’t see it happening. He tried it last year and I backfired. I’d be surprised if he went that route again.

Steve Marik: No, I don’t see that happening. Martinez is still the best option at quarterback, and he’ll get right physically with this bye week.

If 2AM (Adrian Martinez) had gone to a different school out of high school where he had an offer to that may be a better situation like Oklahoma, Oregon, Georgia, Alabama, etc. With the talent we’ve seen from him, and remembering his freshman year, where do you think his career is at now? (@Borgy___)

Mike: He might have been an all-conference quarterback at Oklahoma or Oregon, though Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts were at Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Haven’t watched Georgia enough to know what the Bulldogs do offensively, but Jake Fromm was there 2018-19 and Justin Fields was a back-up in 2018, before transferring. Adrian probably wouldn’t have emerged at Alabama, given the quarterbacks the Crimson Tide has had: Tua Tagovailoa, Hurts and Mac Jones were all there in 2018, so Hurts transferred. Adrian probably would have been a good fit at Oregon, but again, Justin Herbert was there in 2018-19. My point is, Adrian probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity he has at Nebraska.

What is the offensive identity? It’s year four and I still don’t think NU knows. They say they want to run ball, but I think they show that they want to sling it around. (@Sal_Vasta3)

Mike: Maybe the identity is to not have an identity so defenses have trouble preparing. The identity has some option, put the ball in Adrian’s hands and expect him to do something. You’ll get better answers from others on the staff. 

Drake: Yeah, this is tough. The option Nebraska runs is probably the closest to being considered its identity, although obviously there’s more to the offense than that. Even with that though, it’s interesting that the Huskers have used so many different players as the pitch man on those plays, which can be an advantage to keep the defense guessing but also a disadvantage when your best players sometimes aren’t the ones getting the ball on those plays. Other than that, the identity is throwing the ball and letting Adrian Martinez make plays. We probably won’t ever see a more traditional run-first attack from this team.

Jacob: What you see from Nebraska is what happens when a team cannot consistently dictate the terms of play. The Huskers aren’t good enough to do what they want, so Frost has to try to find whatever works. I think that’s why the offense seems so disjointed and without an identity.

Steve: Nebraska doesn’t have an offensive identity, which is saying something in his fourth year here. I’ll echo what Mike said: If I had to pick what the Huskers’ offense is good at, I’d say Martinez scrambling. Of course Nebraska wants to run the ball, but it’s not very good at it outside of Martinez’ ability to create on his own.

What games on the men’s basketball schedule are the biggest early tests? Very curious to see if this team can really deliver against legit competition. (@CornFan82)

Jacob: It obviously starts with the Creighton game on Nov. 16. The Bluejays replaced all five of their starters, but they signed a top-10 recruiting class and could still be a very tough out depending on how ready some of those freshmen are ready to make an impact. North Carolina State isn’t a great team by any means (it was picked ninth in the preseason ACC poll), but the Wolfpack returns two of the team’s top two scorers plus former Huskers Thomas Allen. I think it will be a good measuring stick; if Nebraska can’t hang with NC State on Dec. 1, the Huskers are going to have a tough time climbing out of the Big Ten cellar. After that, Nebraska could face three straight ranked opponents in Indiana on Dec. 4, Michigan on Dec. 7 and Auburn on Dec.11.

General consensus is that Frost and Co. have a two-year window. But NU won’t be favored the rest of the season. If only three wins this season, what kind of coaching changes would one expect? (@Sal_Vasta3)

Drake: Three wins would mean Nebraska loses six straight games to end the season and eight of its last nine. At that point, it’s difficult to justify keeping Frost, even if the losses are close. But in the situation that every single one of those games are close to the end, including the ones against Ohio State and Iowa, maybe they’d try to keep Frost for another year. Erik Chinander and most, if not all of the defensive staff would stay, but you’d have to expect multiple changes on the offensive side and for something to be done about special teams coaching. Completely running it back after a 3-9 season while the team has a poorly-ranked 2022 recruiting class and a significant number of key players leaving would be a laughable decision.

Brandon Vogel: If it’s a three-win season, Nebraska’s in a pretty tough spot in terms of shaking up the staff. As Drake noted, you wouldn’t voluntarily do so on defense at this point, so it would be limited to offense, but the problem is this: What kind of candidates are interested in a job where it would be pretty clear that if things don’t work it’s a one-year gig? The best candidates probably aren’t signing up for that, which is why you really have to avoid a scenario like this. Nebraska doesn’t have a ton of leverage. Changing assistants in hopes that will be the missing piece of the puzzle is often the Hail Mary pass for coaching regimes. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many examples of this working.

What can Nebraska say, or sell, to future and potential recruits? Yes, the new facility will be great, but the on-field product has, for the better part of five years, been sub-par. And besides blind faith, it doesn’t appear to be changing soon. (@TheRealSteveFox)

Drake: The answer is not a whole lot. You can sell the facilities, the tradition and the fanbase, but there’s not that much else besides that. The defense could have an easier time, especially if it sends a few players to the NFL in the next draft. On the other side, the offense’s inconsistencies means that recruits would just have to have faith in Frost as a coach and his system, which has shown flashes this year.

Steve: Playing time. A chance to play big-time football in a big-time conference against big-time players.

Greg Smith: The fanbase and game day atmosphere are the top selling points for recruits to come to Nebraska right now. The problem is that neither of those really have to do with what Frost and his staff have accomplished on the field.

If Iowa and Nebraska switched schedules, what do you think their respective records would be through this week? (@dmhusker1)

Mike: Indiana and Iowa State were ranked when Iowa played them (though Iowa State would’ve been a better win possibility than Oklahoma); still, I’m counting those two games as Nebraska losses. Kent State and Colorado State would probably be wins (matching Buffalo and Fordham). But Penn State? No win there, so switching schedules might give Nebraska one more win at this point, against Maryland (probably). As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes would lose to Oklahoma, Michigan State and probably Michigan—plus Purdue. The Hawkeyes wouldn’t have played Ohio State yet because Nebraska hasn’t. I think I’ve matched up the schedules to this point, though Iowa has five games remaining, the Huskers four.

Drake: There are two surefire wins for Nebraska (Colorado State and Kent State) and two almost surefire losses (Iowa State and Penn State). The rest are tough to pick, since none of Indiana, Maryland or Purdue have been wildly impressive. I’d give the Huskers a ceiling of 4-3 with Iowa’s schedule, although I think 3-4 is more realistic. For Iowa, I’d say between 5-3 and 7-1. I think they beat at least one of Nebraska’s three top 10 opponents, but don’t get through unscathed. An upset against a non-ranked conference opponent is possible too.

Steve: That’s a good question. I’d say Nebraska would still be pretty close to being what it is now, 3-5. The Huskers would still be who they are, which is a flawed football team that plays down and up to its opponent. Iowa wouldn’t have gotten to No. 2 in the nation, of course.

If you were given one special power to use on the Huskers this season that would ensure they get to go bowling, what would it be? (@jewelzfive)

Mike: The ability to avoid critical turnovers and I’d give that special power to Adrian Martinez, acknowledging that those around him have accountability as well. But if he had that special power, the Huskers would be assured of a bowl at this point.

Jacob: Since Mike took the easiest and most realistic one, I’ll go a different route: with my special powers, I would make it so Adrian Martinez has at least 4 seconds of clean pocket every time he drops back to pass. Nebraska’s pass protection has been dreadful this season, and I’d be interested to see what Martinez and his receivers could do without a pass rusher getting in his face immediately after the snap on every other player. This wouldn’t actually guarantee a bowl bid, but I think it would greatly improve their chances. I thought about guaranteeing Nebraska gained at least 5 yards on every run, but that would make the game kind of boring.

Steve: Jacob is spot on. My special power would be to have the offensive line run block better and pass off stunts from opposing defensive lines better. Martinez gets a lot of negativity, but let’s not forget he’s been running for his life nearly every game.

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