There must be some kind of quarterback competition going on at Nebraska because a lot of the questions for the mailbag this week had to do with that particular position. Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson answer that and more.
Two-part question: 1) Will [Caleb] Lightbourn have more kickoffs or punts this season? 2) The approximate average amount of times FBS teams in 2017 went for it on fourth down was 20. Will Coach Frost's Huskers be higher or lower than 20? (@Corn_Huskers)
JP: Last season at Central Florida, the Knights had 104 kickoffs and 46 punts. Conversely, Nebraska had 61 kickoffs and 59 punts. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about those two teams last season, but even Nebraska had more kickoffs than punts (barely). I think Lightbourn does win the kickoff battle, and if that’s the case kicks should be comfortably ahead of punts. Nebraska won’t have Central Florida’s offense in Year 1, but it should be better than what the Huskers rolled out last year.
As for fourth down conversions, the Knights were 10-for-20 last season but 15-for-35 in 2016. The Knights were so good on the first three downs that they didn’t need to go for it on fourth all that often. I think Nebraska, like the Knights in year one, won’t be the offensive juggernaut that Year Two Central Florida was and Frost is going to have to get more aggressive with some fourth-down calls. Give me the over there.
DP: I won’t touch the first part, Jacob’s answer was excellent and spot on. On your second question, I’ll take the over. Numbers for you: Nebraska went for it on fourth down 27 times last year, had a success rate of 46.3 percent on standard downs (70th) and 26.1 percent on passing downs (112th), the 44th-best offensive S&P+ rating on second down and 37th-best on third down. Central Florida was vastly better in all categories (we’re talking top-15 in all) and the difference in early-down success only amounted to seven fewer fourth-down attempts. These guys are also confident in what they’re coaching and confidence in your ability to score points at any given time has as much to do with those fourth-down calls as confidence in your defense preventing points does. I’d put it at 24.5.
What do you predict for the Huskers offensive and defensive ranks in the West? The categories are points scored and points allowed. Please guess the average as well. (@CoryHonold)
BV: Give me 32.5 for the offense. That’s a little above the usual national average, and a touchdown better than what Nebraska was last year, and should rank about fourth in the Big Ten most years. I’ll project a similar improvement for the defense. I could see that unit coming in at around 25.5 points allowed per game. That number is usually good for somewhere around ninth, 10th or 11th in the league.
DP: Nebraska plays five of the Big Ten’s seven best scoring defenses a year ago on the road in 2018, and a sixth at home. The highest per-game average given up was 20.1 a night. Seven of the Huskers’ opponents this year were in the top-25 by defensive S&P+ a season ago. I’ll give them a five-point bump because of the new offense and say 30.8. That’ll be fifth in the conference, third in the West. Defensively they’ll be much improved. My number is going to look low but I’ve also gone on record saying the team isn’t getting blown out in any game this season and that plays into it here. I’ll say the points against improves from 36.4 a year ago (throws up) to 21.5 this year, ninth in the conference and fourth in the West.
What did you think about Gerry DiNardo’s remarks, saying that inside linebacker is the greatest position of concern? Are we just assured that we’ll be good there because there’s a solid two deep? (@christopherfort)
DP: Well initially I said I would respectfully disagree with Mr. DiNardo. I love Mo Barry heading into the season, Dedrick Young II seems to be a favorite of position coach Barrett Ruud and Collin Miller and Will Honas make up a pretty solid second group. But Honas might be trending in the opposite direction, the room suffered even more attrition Wednesday and if the guys at the top don’t stay healthy that spot could get really worrisome really fast. So I’ll amend my answer to: “You should not be worried now, the top is good, but pray for good health.”
GS: I’d have to technically disagree with DiNardo here. I think the inside linebacker is a concern because it’s thin. I think Mo Barry and Dedrick Young will have solid seasons as the starters with Collin Miller and Will Honas providing solid depth. However, cornerback is still the biggest concern for me. That unit is thin and doesn’t have enough proven talent.
If I continue my personal tradition of getting a slice of Valentino's for every touchdown this year, will my wallet or waist be safe? (@TheWeeksy)
BV: Would about four slices a game qualify as safe for you (on either front)? That’s about what I’m projecting for Nebraska’s offense in 2018 (see above). It’ll take at least a season, maybe more, before I think the Huskers are ready to match UCF’s 6.5 touchdowns per game in 2017.
ES: What Brandon is saying is that every game day will essentially be a pizza eating contest for you in 2019.
Which cornerback will be higher on the depth chart in your opinion? Cam Taylor or Braxton Clark? (@_LilBigRed12_)
BV: Cam Taylor. He might be as high as you can get before it’s all said and done.
JP: I’ll say Cam Taylor as well. His name has come up throughout the entirety of fall camp, both prompted and unprompted. Monday was the first I’ve heard Clark’s name, and Travis Fisher was asked about him so it wasn’t like he brought him up all on his own. Will Jackson’s departure does open the door for Clark, though, as another tall corner like Lamar Jackson.
DP: Cam Taylor will be higher on the depth chart than all but one guy when the season starts.
GS: Cam Taylor. By the time Nebraska goes to Columbus, he will be a starter at corner.
ES: I, too, am taking Cam Taylor. I’m believing all the hype he’s been given and then some.
How many quarterbacks throw a pass this season? Over under 2.5. (@captainwaller)
Do you think we will play two quarterbacks this year? (@FrostSkers)
BV: I’ll take the over on QBs with a pass attempt. Andrew Bunch will get in a game at some point. And I do think two quarterbacks will play this season, but not so much that it feels anything like a “two-QB system”.
JP: Ditto what Brandon said.
DP: Four guys throw a pass, so I think that means I have to take the over. Martinez, Gebbia and Bunch with a package designed for Cam Taylor at some point.
GS: I’m allowed to also say ditto for Brandon’s answer, too, right?
ES: I’m just here to agree with my coworkers.
Will we beat Wisconsin this year or next? (@LynettePeavy)
DP: When Scott Frost said “catch us now because you won’t later,” he was talking directly to Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst. (Not really, though that would be the ultimate flex and I’d be here for it.) Realistically, that comment feels like it applies to Wisconsin. Nebraska won’t beat the Badgers this season (though the game will be close) but all bets are off next year.
GS: I’ll go with next season. The games with Wisconsin have been close while Nebraska has struggled. Once the Huskers are settled in 2019, they’ll take down Bucky.
ES: I’m also taking next season. I think this season’s matchup will be close, but there are going to be some bumps in the road. Plus, the game is in Madison which is just a tough environment all-around. As for 2019? Like Derek said, all bets are off.
Ok. In your opinion, how close is the quarterback race? Who will have the first three series? (@GospelQue)
BV: I think it’s as close as advertised and I keep going back and forth on who I think ends up taking the bulk of the snaps. Towards the end of last week I would’ve answered Gebbia to your second question. Now I think it’s Martinez again, which is where I was at going into last week.
JP: Considering we haven’t gotten to actually see these guys throw outside of a few warm-up drills, I personally haven’t put much stock into what has been said as far as being data points that alter my feel for the battle. Considering this is my first season covering this staff, it’s hard to judge just how much coach speak is going on. I do think it is very close, otherwise, they probably would have made an announcement by now and started focusing more on game prep than depth chart. I said Gebbia at the start and I’ll stick with that until I see some strong evidence to the alternative, which hasn’t been the case thus far.
DP: The longer the competition has gone on, the more uncomfortable I’ve grown about the spot. I personally don’t think a two-QB system ever works and hearing that discussed as even a hypothetical is worrisome. I don’t think one guy has had it won for a bit and the staff is playing it out for appearances, I think it’s so close they can’t decide and that gives me pause. Too many seasons have been either stuck in the mud out of the gates or derailed altogether because there wasn’t a definitive decision made on the quarterback before the opener. I still don’t think that will be the case here after listening to coach Mario Verduzco talk on Wednesday, but we are having this conversation and I didn’t expect that either. Also, the longer the competition has gone on, the more I’ve started to switch my thinking from Martinez to Gebbia.
GS: This morning I told the rest of the crew that I was doubling down on my thoughts that Adrian Martinez would be the guy and I’m sticking with that. I do believe the race has been close. I tend to think the race has been closer than expected because Gebbia has shown more than the staff thought they’d see from him when they took the job. In the end, Martinez will get the nod and the first three series.
ES: Derek pressured me into answering this question, so here I am. I will say this: The quarterback competition is as close as advertised, otherwise I’m convinced we’d have had the starter named by now. As for who will have the first three series, I’m back on the Gebbia bandwagon. I briefly hopped off in favor of Martinez (thanks, Derek and Greg) but I’m back. I think he is the better decision-maker right now and has the arm. We’ve also been told he can run the ball, too, even if it’s not as strong as Martinez’s running abilities. Unless they feel like they need Martinez to bail the offensive line out a bunch with his legs, I’m taking Gebbia.
DP: You're welcome, Erin. On both fronts.