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Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: Running Back Competition, Using Scholarships, and Sam Haiby’s Case for All-Big Ten

February 03, 2021

It’s Wednesday, so let’s get to the mailbag.

How would you go about rebuilding Nebraska in the new EA Sports college football game? New head coach? Maybe switch to a military academy style option offense? What fast food chain would you use as your preferred way to pay players? (@gus_kathol) 

Greg Smith: It’s funny but I used to basically run Scott Frost’s offense in the EA Sports game. Maybe with more spread option. So I’d just tweak what they currently do a bit. I would absolutely change the coach to myself. I do wonder if they’ll find a way to make you want to use the real coaches more than the previous versions of the game. I’d pick Val’s. We’d have to get creative there.  

Erin Sorensen: I only care to answer one part of this right now and it’s the last question. I’d pay them in Chipotle. Free guac for everyone. 

What, if any, changes would you make to address the enormous amount of players in the transfer portal? Could you adjust their stipend based on their years at a school? What would you recommend? (@Corn_Huskers) 

GS: I wouldn’t make any changes on the player side. I would however change the 25 scholarship per recruiting class rules for schools. I would make it to where you could replace a lost scholarship for each player lost in the portal. It looks like it only helps the schools but it would also give players more opportunity to land in a new place if the numbers loosened up a bit. 

Jacob Padilla: Greg’s suggestion is a good one, but I’m not sure there’s much beyond that that the NCAA should or can do. It’s going to fall on everyone involved — coaches, players and players’ families/mentors — to adjust to the current college landscape. Coaches probably need to try to vet players better and build up stronger relationships with them both during the recruiting process and after they get to campus. Players need to realize that nothing is given when they enter the portal with the number of guys that put their names in and never find a landing spot. And the people in the players’ ears need to realize that sometimes it’s OK to have patience and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the portal. 

Assuming Stepp is ready to go next season, who do you think will compete with him that’s on the current roster? Any of them possible to have breakout year? (@CarnesRegg) 

Mike Babcock: Based on what Frost said at one time or another, any of the young guys could compete. How about Marvin Scott III? He got the most carries of the returning running backs. Or Sevion Morrison. Don’t think we’ve seen him yet, have we? 

Derek Peterson: We have not seen Sevion Morrison yet, and I am very much looking forward to.

Where does Nebraska go with two remaining scholarships? (@CarnesRegg) 

GS: They’ll go portaling. Nebraska is in the position to add two more scholarship players that count for the 2021 class. They could look at any number of positions and likely winter conditioning and spring ball will inform that decision quite a bit. 

DP: Particularly as it relates to quarterbacks. (Building off Greg’s point.)

Why has Nebraska’s recruiting presence in Missouri lessened over the past few years and do you think it will improve in 2022? (@dmhusker1) 

MB: Greg can address this better than I can. My guess is the fact Nebraska and Missouri are no longer conference foes has contributed. That despite the states’ proximity. Used to be Missouri had problems balancing the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas in recruiting. Plus, Missouri’s now in a warm-weather conference; that might be a significant part of it. As coaching staffs change, recruiting connections are lost. Used to be, Nebraska had stability. Not so now. 

GS: Nebraska has to put more focus there to land players and the team needs to win. If you look at it, Missouri players will go just about anywhere but a typical common thread is winning programs. If you aren’t winning, you need an ace recruiter on the full-time staff like Illinois does with running backs coach Corey Patterson. 

Do you think Sam Haiby has a chance for conference honors? She has been a leader for the Husker women. (@dmhusker1) 

MB: Without question, Haiby deserves all-conference consideration, first-team probably. She’ll get the recognition, though first-team honors might depend on how the Huskers finish. It seems to be getting tougher and tougher to crack the all-conference first team if players aren’t on contenders. Even so, Haiby belongs with the best. She’s done it all to this point. 

ES: Mike said it all best so I’m just here to add that I’m a big Haiby fan. That’s all. 

JP: Haiby is currently eighth in the Big Ten in scoring (17.8), 10th in rebounding (7.8 — as a 5-foot-9 guard), 13th in assists (4.2) and seventh in minutes (34.2). Nebraska is seventh in the conference at 7-4 despite all the health issues Amy Williams’ crew has dealt with. She’s certainly put herself in the conversation and will have a great argument for inclusion if Nebraska continues to remain in the top half of the standings. One area she could improve in to strengthen her argument is her efficiency as she’s 22th among qualifiers in field goal percentage at 38.7% including 30% from 3.  

DP: On Jacob’s last point about efficiency, I would hope that the voters for such honors look at why her numbers are what they are instead of just looking at them and assuming she’s a poor shooter just chucking. That couldn’t be further from the truth. She has every defensive gameplan built around stopping her, and when Nebraska was playing with seven healthy players, she was the offensive everything. As Nebraska gets healthier, her shooting percentage should start to creep back up. She’s still got some work to do on the 3-point shot, but she hits those when she needs to. She’s got 20 or more in three straight games and has solidified herself as a clutch bucket-getter. She absolutely belongs on the first team if this keeps up.

What football player that was injured last year do you hope recovers fully and can be a strong asset for the team next season? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: Adrian Martinez. I’d love to see a full healthy season of Martinez. That could provide a huge upside for the Huskers 

MB: Omar Manning, just from everything said about him. Maybe it was all hype but there sure seemed to be a lot of interest in whether he’d be able to play. And receiver is a position at which Nebraska will need folks to step up, obviously. 

ES: Cam Jurgens. He’s at his best when he’s healthy, like any player of course. In his case, the lower leg injury he faced in 2020 clearly affected his whole game. Some injuries can be played through, but a leg injury for a center? It can throw off your balance which throws off your timing on the snap and so on. A healthy Jurgens makes for a strong Jurgens and that directly benefits Martinez who then benefits from the extra time it hopefully gives him to make the throws he needs to make. 

JP: The first name that comes to mind is Daniel Cerni. Nebraska was 12th in the Big Ten in punting average at 39.7 yards per punt. That’s not going to get it done. Cerni is the only special teams player Nebraska deemed worthy of a scholarship, so hopefully he can solve that issue by getting on the field this second. Another one I’ll toss out is Will Nixon, whose health suddenly becomes a much bigger story with Wan’Dale Robinson’s departure. Unless I’m mistaken, Nixon was the only wide receiver in the last two recruiting classes that was targeted as a Duck-R type of hybrid player, so there should be plenty of opportunity for him to earn a role as a freshman if he’s back to 100% and used last season to really learn the offense. 

What year will Nebraska men’s basketball make the NCAA tournament and the football team play in a bowl game in the same year? (@dmhusker1) 

JP: I’ll just go with 2022-23, and if both teams can’t get there by then we might be waiting a while. 

Who is your best friend in the office? (@SipplesLostT) 

MB: We’re working from home these days, so . . . I wouldnt differentiate anyway, never have. It’s like being part of a team, the metaphor most often used. These folks are all my best friends. Over the course of time, I’ve established friendships at numerous media outlets, still maintained, even among competitors. I think that can be done if one maximizes his or her abilities, something I’ve always tried to do. Personal connections are what I missed most when I left the Lincoln Journal Star to freelance. I’ve basically worked from home since 1995. Oh yes, Sip remains a good friend. Just so you’ll know. 

ES: My office is currently my closet (but I have a nice window) and sometimes Jacks and Scout hang out with me. So, I guess you can give the best friend title to my dogs. 

JP: I don’t have a best friend, only a mortal enemy in Derek. 

DP: Michael Scott.

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