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Mailbag: Turnover-Prone Offense, Assistant Coaches From the Bayou and More

December 01, 2021

The Nebraska football season may be over, but the mailbag rages on.

This week we have questions on the style of Nebraska’s offense—and its habit of turning the ball over—as well as possible assistant coaching candidates from the bayou, Texas recruiting thoughts and more.

These are some good and interesting questions, so let’s get into them. 

The current Nebraska offense relies on the quarterback to make many reads on close to every play. It also has many moving parts when running plays like the triple option. Do you think that directly contributes to the large amounts of unforced errors and turnovers? (@gus_kathol) 

Mike Babcock: Turnovers might be more a result of handling the ball in an option offense. I’m thinking of Oklahoma’s Wishbone back in the day. The Sooners occasionally had some turnover issues (nine fumbles, six lost in the 1978 Nebraska game). Maybe decision-making is part of the problem, but Nebraska had a lot of option quarterbacks who made good decisions. And, of course, so did Oklahoma. As with any offense, the option just requires lots and lots of reps, a commitment. I’d like to see Nebraska go that direction. Running an option offense in the Big Ten could be an advantage because conference opponents would only see it once a season and have to prepare accordingly. Back in the day, Nebraska’s defense would spend part of a practice each week working on the Wishbone even though Oklahoma—in typically the last game—was the only team running it. 

Jacob Padilla: The nature of Nebraska’s offense does tend to lead to more opportunities for turnovers, but a lot of the unforced errors and some of the turnovers trace back to poor technique or focus as well in my mind, which I’d chalk up to the coaching and development. Offensive line penalties and poor routes/effort by pass-catchers can contribute to turnovers as well, and blown protections or holding penalties back the offense up and often necessitate more aggression offensively.  

Steve Marik: Mike and Jacob make great points. At the end of the day, when you use a quarterback to run the ball as much as Scott Frost does, fumbles will happen. They’re quarterbacks after all, not running backs. Adrian Martinez has steadily gotten better at not fumbling. As a freshman in 2018, he had a whopping 12 (!) fumbles. Then in 2019, he cut it to eight. Last year, it was at seven (in only seven games, though). This year, he’s fumbled four times. As for interceptions, I always ask myself “Whose fault was it?” when one happens. And most of the time, it’s hardly ever just on the quarterback. Maybe there was a protection breakdown along the offensive line that affected the quarterback’s arm angle, maybe the receiver ran the wrong route, or didn’t cut it off at the correct time. Maybe the ball was tipped in the air and into a defender’s arms. Maybe the ball hits the receiver in the hands and gets picked off. There’s just a lot of stuff that can happen, and it’s not always 100% on the quarterback. But, yeah, I guess I’d agree that an offense that leans on quarterback run and deals with those tricky mesh points on option runs could lead to a higher amount of turnovers.

Mickey Joseph? Do we go after any highly-touted guys in the portal? (@Peyton51533) 

Mike: Joseph immediately came to mind after the four offensive assistants were (sadly) released/fired. He’d be a great addition to the staff, with a good resume. 

Steve: I’m with Mike—if Frost is able to land Joseph, that’d be a huge get, not only on the field with coaching but off it on the recruiting trail, too. If that hire does go down, and Joseph returns to the place where he played his college ball, maybe he could convince a couple of those Bayou Bengal receivers to join him in Lincoln? (I’m kidding—that’s probably a hard sell.) 

Greg Smith: Mickey Joseph would be a home-run hire for Nebraska. The question is, what is the selling point to pull him away from LSU or any other job available to him? The same thing goes for “highly-touted” portal players. Competition is fierce for players deemed as can’t-miss portal guys. That will be tough sledding for Nebraska.

Do you think Nebraska football not getting many Texas recruits is an issue, or no big deal? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

Jacob: I don’t think it’s all that big of a deal. Texas is as deep in talent as any state in the country, so it is definitely fertile recruiting ground, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently special about players that come from Texas. Doing well in the 500-mile radius is what is most important in my mind, and then beyond that I don’t know that it matters too much where the rest of the recruits come from — so long as the staff gets them. Florida, California and Georgia are all talent-rich states as well, and Nebraska has done well to varying degrees in those regions under this staff. 

Steve: I’m with Jacob, I don’t really think it’s a big deal. I do, however, have a soft spot for Texas quarterbacks. I don’t know what it is about them, I just think they’re built different, you know? I’d want a Texas quarterback in the foxhole with me. Maybe that stems from years and years of watching Texas high school football stuff on TV like Friday Night Lights. They live and breathe football down there, and I respect the heck out of that. Also, this seems like a good time to mention Nebraska has a quarterback recruit from San Antonio for the 2022 class in Richard Torres, a big-armed 6-foot-6, 210-pounder. He doesn’t look like previous Frost quarterbacks, like McKenzie Milton, Adrian Martinez, Luke McCaffrey and Logan Smothers. He looks more like Frost’s most recent quarterback recruit, the 6-5, 200-pound Heinrich Haarberg. 

Greg: I don’t think it’s a big deal. There are other states with a lot of talent for Nebraska to recruit from. I agree with Jacob about the 500-mile radius, but for a slightly different reason. At some point Nebraska has to hang its hat on winning battles for recruits against the teams they play in the Big Ten. Beating Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc head-to-head can really add up on the field.  

Brandon Vogel: Like the others, I don’t think Nebraska has to consistently land Texans to be successful, but it would be good to have a presence there. The Huskers did for a long time and, perhaps contrary to the easy explanation, I don’t think moving to the Big Ten had to mean the end of that. Nebraska won big in Texas while in the Big Eight (which included no Texas schools). Some great Huskers from Texas like Turner Gill and Broderick Thomas didn’t play a game in their home state while at Nebraska. Being able to pitch that for 15 years in the Big 12 was nice—come here and you’ll play in Texas every year—but I think Nebraska might’ve abandoned the state too early just because it changed conferences. Once you lose those inroads, they take a good deal of effort to rebuild.

What does the next few weeks look like for recruiting? How have the firings affected the recruits? (@lredeugene) 

Greg: Hectic. The coaches will be flying around the country doing in-home visits and dropping by high schools. While doing that they are securing official visits because there are a pair of official visit weekends before the early signing period begins on Dec. 15. The firings surely have an impact because it’s tough to sell an offensive recruit right now when they don’t know who will be coaching them. The players already in the class appear to be safely in the class though, so that’s good.

North Dakota State University football has grown some head coaches (Craig Bohl to Wyoming, Chris Klieman to Kansas State) and quarterbacks (Carson Wentz, Easton Stick, Trey Lance). Is there a filter through which the B1G cannot discern what Randy Hedberg brings to quarterback development and team success? (@Jay_Haiby) 

Steve: I hear you—any time North Dakota State and football comes up, I pay attention. What a machine that program is. And you’re right—Randy Hedberg has a great track record with identifying and developing quarterbacks. It looks like he plucked his next good one from Nebraska’s backyard in Cole Payton, too. Whatever it is that North Dakota State and Hedberg are doing up north, Nebraska—and just about everyone else—could take notes. 

Brandon: This is a good question. I’m guessing there are at least some Big Ten schools out there that recognize what he’s done through multiple coaching changes. I also wonder if, because he’s stuck through recent changes, Hedberg isn’t viewed as an NDSU-lifer by programs that might be interested. Never hurts to ask, however.

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