The Huskers are off but we are not. The mailbag continues.
What do you make of the coaches’ very positive descriptions of practice last week and then the performance at Minnesota? (@nebraskicker)
Jacob Padilla: I think those are pretty much throwaway answers at this point. Reporters ask as sort of an ice-breaker and to get a generic quote to lead into the practice report for that day, and Frost doesn’t seem interested in getting too in-depth or revealing with his answer. So he just says practice was great. We’ve seen a game or two I believe where he’s come back after the fact and revealed that practices weren’t, in fact, great, but he’s not going to speak too poorly about his team in response to that kind of a question leading into a game.
Mike Babcock: Agree with Jacob. Scott is more straightforward after games, and as Tom Osborne was, Scott chooses his words carefully, so you have to pay attention to exactly what he says even when he’s being seemingly straightforward. What he tells his players and what he tells us are often different, I’m sure. To some degree, every week leading up to games has been better, after the fact, not so much.
Derek Peterson: I’ll push back on this growing narrative that Frost is just always lying to us. He is in some instances, as does every coach in every league across the country, to protect his players or protect information or play games with opposing coaches. But he’s not just outwardly misleading us with everything he says. They can have a strong week of practice and still come out flat to begin Saturday’s game. Which is what I think happened.
JP: It was a phenomenal defensive performance by the Huskers, shutting down what had been one of the best offenses in the Big Ten. Nebraska held the Wolverines to a season-low .019 hitting and recorded five solo blocks in the third set alone. It’s even more impressive coming off the match against Wisconsin the previous week where the Badgers lit up Nebraska on its home floor.
You were talking about volleyball, right?
Brandon Vogel: I think as we get a little bit further removed from the Minnesota Mauling you have to give the Gophers credit for a good plan and great execution. P.J. Fleck outlined it after the game—make Nebraska’s linebackers fit correctly against the run, essentially—and a few days later, having reviewed the tape, Scott Frost essentially agreed—the Huskers misfit too often. Why the errors? That’s a tough question to answer, but the Huskers need to during this off week.
I know Frost's system is predicated on tempo, but would it benefit the Huskers to slow down to help the defense? Maybe take a few more seconds to get organized, set, settled down especially based on the amount of mistakes? (@Corn_Huskers)
MB: I think you do what you’re comfortable with. Plus, if the offense started working the way it’s supposed to work, the fast pace would be producing points, which would have a positive effect on the defensive mindset––“We gave up some points that time? Not good, but the offense has our backs.” Right now the offense isn’t holding up its end of the bargain based on what it’s supposed to be doing. Rather, it’s putting everything on the defense.
BV: The offense needs to find some efficiency, which it had for the first four games, more than anything. If the offense is moving the ball at a regular clip that allows Frost and the Huskers to control the tempo a bit. They can ratchet it up after successful plays on early downs—and often do—but not always. If the offense is moving the ball, and recognizes the defense has been on the field a ton, I think the coaches are willing to slow down if they’re confident they can continue moving the ball but that’s not a given right now. Over the last three games the Huskers’ offense has had 35 drives. Eighteen of those drives have consumed four or fewer plays, which includes one interception, one turnover on downs and 14 punts. Now that’s really putting a strain on the defense.
Greg Smith: No, I don’t think the offense needs to slow down. I agree with Brandon that they need to find efficiency. Once they do that, I actually want them to speed up. The advantage the offense can create by executing the offense at a fast clip would be enormous. That’s supposed to be the point of this system. The defense’s issues––fundamentals or lack thereof––aren’t coming from the speed of the offense in my mind.
So many questions, Dr. There are so many excuses for bad play going around — the Riley era was THAT bad, takes time, too young, no depth, need a break from each other — but what we saw last Saturday simply looked mostly like a complete lack of effort. Say Nick Saban was hired two years ago… (@thawildbunch)
JP: For what it’s worth, Nick Saban went 6-5-1, 6-6, 7-5 and 6-6 during his first four years at Michigan State. The Spartans went 9-2 in year five and Saban left to take the LSU job before the bowl game.
MB: First, Saban would’ve said he wasn’t taking the job and he was sick and tired of people asking. Then the next day, the announcement would have come that he had already taken the job . . . I’ll stick with Frost.
BV: That would’ve been interesting. In addition to the numbers Jacob pulled—and Michigan State might be a more apt comparison than Nebraska, sad as that might make some people—Saban's first year at Alabama was 6-6 with the infamous loss to Louisiana-Monroe. The next season the Tide went 12-2. Do I think Nebraska would be headed towards a two-loss season this year with Saban patrolling the sidelines? I do not. Would he have Nebraska “further along” than it appears to be now? Possibly. His track record post-Michigan State is as strong as it gets. Point is, the things you listed do read like excuses and that’s frustrating, but I think there’s some truth to some of them. Doesn’t change how much effort a team can put forth, however, and I agree that it was lacking at Minnesota.
Does Nebraska have a good chance at finishing the season strong like 2018? (@TyroneJ22364206)
JP: That’s a difficult question. On the one hand, the likes of Indiana, Purdue and Maryland aren’t exactly world-beaters at this stage, so Nebraska has a decent chance to win more than it loses the rest of the way. On the other hand, Iowa and especially Wisconsin are going to be really tough to beat with the way Nebraska has played so far, and if they don’t manage to sweep the first three then you’re staring at a best-case scenario of 6-6. Like Erin and I said during the pre-Minnesota edition of the Varsity Club Podcast, with each passing week the likelihood of things clicking drops precipitously in my mind. If they had a way to fix things and turn it around, I think we would have seen signs of that already. The mounting injuries certainly don’t help either.
MB: Don’t think this will be a 2018 finish. For me, the certainty is a win against Indiana. That Purdue and Maryland are on the road gives me pause, but I expect at least one more win among those two. Wisconsin and Iowa come to Lincoln. Best chance there is Iowa in the final game. I expect that to be a scrap. But none of this adds up to a finish comparable to 2018. I’m more skeptical than Jacob at this point. Two more wins, yes. Three, maybe.
Erin Sorensen: I agree completely with Jacob and Mike. I’ll add an extra layer though: I think we need to stop comparing too closely from one season to the next. A lot of people got caught in the Year 1 to Year 2 jump at Central Florida and wanting to find the comparisons at Nebraska. The two were never going to be the same. So, I’d caution against wanting to compare what we considered a strong season finish last year to what happens this year. They’ll ultimately be very different, but this team has a very real likelihood of being bowl bound. That gives the team more practices, and opportunity to finish strong on the road against another team, etc. So, for me at least, I’m going to focus on that and use the potential of what’s still ahead as a way to evaluate how this season ends.
DP: I’ve run through a number of different ideas in my head over the last few weeks to try and explain Nebraska’s offensive struggles to begin this season — injuries, wideout production, running back usage, quarterback decision-making. Over the last two weeks, I’ve had a sort of “Aha” moment and decided to throw all those excuses out. Nebraska’s close to the season is tied exclusively to the offensive line.
If you had to pick one, would you go with one giant Adrian Martinez or one hundred little Noah Vedrals? (@AlpineAddiction)
JP: You didn’t specify what we’re taking them for, so I’ll assume we’re talking about a football game. You can only have 11 guys on the field at a time, so 100 Vedrals does you no good. Can you imagine how effective the quarterback run game would be with a giant Adrian Martinez? This is a no-brainer.
MB: Adrian the Giant . . .
ES: One giant Adrian Martinez, please. Sounds like a cocktail.
BV: Before I order one at the local lounge, what exactly is in a Giant Martinez? Give me 100 tiny Vedrals and then Nebraska just runs the ultimate option. One tiny Vedral takes the snap—they need to be not so tiny that handling the football is an impossibility—and all 100 Vedrals arc left. Oh, the defensive end is going to accidentally step on one Vedral? Pitch it to the next one. The outside linebacker is there and can take out 17 more Vedrals? Pitch it to the 19th Vedral. Strength in numbers.
Which freshman would you pick as the most likely candidate to burn their redshirt who so far still has it? (@Cody_TipToes)
JP: With five games left, I don’t think we see anyone else burn their redshirt. We might see a few guys get to four games, but that’s all I’d anticipate. If guys haven’t proven in the coaches’ eyes at this point that they can significantly contribute to winning, there’s no reason to waste a year of eligibility. If I had to pick one, I guess I’d go with Darien Chase. Unless I’m mistaken, he's played in three games so far so he only has one left if they want to maintain his redshirt.
MB: I’d be surprised if anyone who has yet to burn his redshirt will seven games in. When Frost was discussing the situation, he made it clear the 4-game rule was the consideration.
GS: The only player that I think could make a run at it is Darion Chase. He’s at a position that needs help and he’s seen the field the most of the young wideouts not named Wan’Dale Robinson.
Do you think we will be seeing more young guys being rotated in these last games to start getting playing experience? (@THINKMULE)
JP: Frost said on Tuesday that getting more freshmen in is in their plans, but they’ve been saying similar things much of the season and it hasn’t worked out that way. We might see a couple guys here and there, but I doubt Frost is ready to give up on a lot of the guys who have played to this point in order to play a bunch of freshmen the rest of the way.
MB: Agree with Jacob. The coaches won’t bail completely on older guys just to get freshmen, or younger guys, experience. For example, Broc Bando got an opportunity because Trent Hixson was struggling. You’ll see some of that. But Bando didn’t step in just to get experience.
GS: Not really. I know people don’t like hearing it but you can’t just put young guys in just because. A lot of them would really benefit from a redshirt year. Perhaps we will see some of them get their feet wet but not enough to make a huge difference.
Who would win in a fight, a gorilla or a grizzly bear? Please… this question is tearing apart my workplace as we speak. (@captainwaller)
MB: Yes . . .
BV: Give me the gorilla. Narrowly. I like its superior agility and smarts. (Also, there’s a great music blog called Gorilla vs. Bear, if that’s your thing.)
Can we drop kick extra points and field goals? (@RobCzaplewski)
MB: The rules don’t preclude that.