The Hail Varsity staff tackles your questions in the latest edition of the mailbag.
What is the best this defense realistically can be? (@ApolloSolace)
DP: Are we talking over the long run? This system averaged out around late-20s, mid-30s when it comes to defensive S&P+ ranking at Oregon. I think Nebraska will be able to recruit better than Oregon was running a similar system, so theoretically the Huskers should be able to consistently be a top-25 defense by S&P+. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be a top-25 scoring defense. Traditional numbers like points allowed per game and total yardage allowed suggest Nebraska is a cellar-dweller defense, not just in the Big Ten but nationally. It’s not. It’s 56th by S&P. It’s just not going to look like those 17-3 games of the late ‘90s, early 2000s. If Nebraska can win a bunch of games 47-21 averaging around three takeaways with decent percentages on third downs and red zone opportunities, given the number of snaps that unit is going to play when the offense really gets rolling, Frost will be happy with that.
The NCAA gives you the power to grant one senior another year of eligibility. Who do you pick and why? (@tklim2430)
DP: Stanley Morgan Jr. and it’s not even close. Another year in this offense with a one-year-older Adrian Martinez? Morgan would be a very fun player to watch. He’s already fun and that’s part No. 2 for why I would want to watch him around here for another year.
ES: Since Derek took Morgan (which is honestly the best pick), I’ll take someone from the defense: Tre Neal. He’s been incredibly valuable behind-the-scenes for this team, and I imagine he’d only be more helpful with another year. It’s too bad Nebraska only got him for one season, but I think he’s proven his value over and over this season (on and off the field).
BV: Give me Luke Gifford. As we start to look towards 2019, one of the biggest question marks out there is linebacker for me. Gifford would make me feel a lot better about that position going into next season.
JP: Brandon stole my answer but I’m going to give it anyway: Luke Gifford.
What is the main thing (or two) keeping our defense from being one of the best in the Big Ten? (@thawildbunch)
DP: Elite talent that bolsters your depth and scheme, meaning they’re not being asked to be on of the best.
ES: They need a certain level of athlete, as Derek noted. They have some of those athletes, but not an entire team of them just yet. Keep an eye on how they recruit for defense going forward, too. That’ll tell you a lot about where they feel they’re missing those athletes.
BV: I do think the style of play dictates this a little. It’s not that you can’t pair a shut-down defense with a high-powered offense. It’s just rare. Do it and you’re 2018 Alabama or, the more “local” example, Ohio State. And that would be great. It is, however, a very high threshold. Oklahoma has won a bunch of conference titles and struggled to find a defense that comes close to matching its offensive ability. Like the others here, I think the biggest jump Nebraska can make on that side requires a talent upgrade.
JP: I think the overarching answer is time. The coaches need more time, both to add more talent like the others said but also to continue ingraining the scheme and everything that goes with it into the players. Some of Nebraska’s struggles against the quarterback run game was talent (AJ Bush did make a few guys look silly) but the bigger problem was a lack of eye discipline and guys reading the wrong keys. As the players become more familiar with the scheme and what they’re being asked to do and trust in each other and in the scheme, I think you’ll see natural improvement.
Predictions for the Huskers’ total rushing yards for the game? Yes, you have to consider the weather before guessing. (@CoryHonold)
DP: Sparty has played six top-30 rushing attacks this season. They’ve given up an average of 90.8 yards rushing in those six games (25 yards on 25 carries against Utah State, 44 on 29 against Arizona State, 205 on 32 against Penn State, 183 on 52 against Michigan, 62 on 13 against Purdue and 26 on 29 against Maryland). Nebraska will be the best rushing attack Michigan State has faced this season, statistically speaking. I’ll put NU at 157 yards rushing.
BV: I’ll go with 175. Of those teams Derek mentioned, Penn State is the only with true threat running from the quarterback spot. I think that’ll be big in this one.
JP: Give me 176.
Looking ahead to 2019, what’s your projected offensive line? (@md_schmidt)
GS: From left to right give me Jaimes, Hixson, Bland, Wilson, Matt Farniok. Bryce Benhart could then have a role similar to what Boe Wilson started this season as.
BV: I’m struggling to come up with a right tackle right now, but I feel good about Jaimes, M. Farniok, Bland, Wilson and _________.
There are currently 23 LBs on the roster with two being seniors. Will either of the three starters come from the returning players? Are there freshmen coming in who could challenge for immediate playing time at linebacker? (@Corn_Huskers)
GS: Right now, I’d say your 2019 starting linebacker corps is Mo Barry and Collin Miller on the inside with JoJo Domann and Tyrin Ferguson on the outside. Will Honas will work his way back into the mix inside and Caleb Tannor would be the first guy off the bench on the outside. I’ll say Nick Henrich will get playing time as a true freshman but the only way I see a new player challenging for a starting role is if the Huskers land a junior college pass rusher.
DP: I’ll pick the as-the-season-has-gone-on starters rather than the Day 1 starters: Mo Barry and Will Honas are your two middle backers with an actual rotation of Nick Henrich and Collin Miller then JoJo Domann and Caleb Tannor are your two outside linebackers.
Hypothetically speaking, Troy Walters has familiarity with Colorado. Would AD Rick George put any consideration into him if the Buffaloes' job is indeed open?
With four coaching changes so far, do you see any of our assistants becoming candidates for the job? I really hope this doesn't happen. (@_LilBigRed12_)
ES: Maybe Walters would get a look, but I think it’s too early for him in his career at Nebraska for that to be a real possibility. If he had been at Nebraska a few years now, I think the chances would be more significant that he’d get a serious look and/or consider a move. That goes for all coaches, too. I think there are coaches on this staff that will (and should) get a look to run other programs. It just feels too early right now, especially with how they all wanted to come to Nebraska together.
BV: I wondered about Colorado, too, considering Walters was (relatively) recently there. I would be surprised if they’d be willing to take a shot on a first-time head coach –– whether or not ADs should be that way is another discussion –– but I also think the fact that these two teams play next year makes it even a little more unlikely.
What are the chances of players pulling a Nick Gates and declaring for the draft early when not ready? And who do you see doing that? (@btran0524)
DP: Seems like there’s always someone on a team that leaves a year too early. I don’t necessarily love telling players “You’re leaving too early” because they’re always just one play away from the kind of situation Chris Jones found himself in last season. If Lamar Jackson leaves, we’ll certainly talk about the benefit of staying another year with Travis Fisher (I think Travis Fisher is talking to him about the benefit of staying another year with Travis Fisher) but he’s also young and physically what the NFL is looking for in a corner and having a strong close to the season.
Which Huskers will be drafted and when? Who's the biggest surprise? (@InDaWilderness)
DP: Stanley Morgan Jr. gets drafted in the second round. Devine Ozigbo gets taken in the fifth round. Luke Gifford excels throughout the interview process and has a few strong private workouts to surprise some people by sneaking into the sixth round.
JP: I think Derek nailed the three most likely guys to see their names called. There are some other guys that I think are good football players but lack either the measurables or enough of a track record of production to be good bets to hear their names called. Give me the three Derek mentioned but each one a round later than he said.
Does a 5-7 Nebraska make a bowl game? If they do go 5-7 and are invited, do they accept the invitation? (@B1GRed_KC)
ES: Long story short, probably not. I can’t remember the tweet I saw, but someone was breaking down the likelihood based on how many teams have six wins and the odds don’t look good.
Which Big Ten coach would win in a battle royale between all coaches today? Who wins if every one of them is in his prime? (@knapplc)
BV: Today? Frost, probably. Though Fitzgerald deserves serious consideration. Fleck has youth on his side, but was a wide receiver and not a linebacker or option quarterback (or NFL safety). Darkhorse winner: Brohm. He did play in the XFL. Now if we’re talking in their primes, I’d go Dantonio. He doesn’t have the size of some others, but look at that guy and tell me he’s not the scrappy dude you never want to fight.