What’s on the mind of Husker Nation this week? Offense, stadium seating, baseball, incoming freshman and, yes, expectations. Mike Babcock, Jacob Padilla, Chris Schmidt and Brandon Vogel tackle those questions and more in this week’s mailbag.
What adjustments need to be made to get baseball over the hump? Do we need to find a hitting coach? We haven’t been a great hitting team since Will Bolt left. (J.B., Facebook)
MB: Erstad coaches the hitters, of course, and you can’t get much better than that. After some slow starts by several regulars, the Huskers hit .281 as a team, fifth or so in the Big Ten. Jake Schleppenbach is a good example. He struggled to reach .200 through the early
season but finished at .292. But the Huskers were at the bottom in home runs, a head-scratcher considering Scott Schreiber hit 16 home runs last season and only seven this season. Schleppenbach was second with five. What Boldt provided was a kind of hard edge to everything, not just hitting. That might be missing. But they can’t do much better for a hitting coach. They’re well-taught. It just has to translate. It’s on them, not the coaching.
CS: Baseball is a fickle game, and the performance at the plate had to be frustrating. I don’t think Nebraska needs to look for a new hitting coach. They do need to continue to recruit at a high level. Getting some pop in the lineup has to be a priority and continuing to comb through the country and in state for talent is the objective. This senior class went to the NCAA Tournament three-of-four years. The underclassman now need to move it forward with a win in the postseason.
How many pass oriented offensive schemes/coordinators do we have to go through before we look at returning to the power-I and triple option? (R.E., Facebook)
MB: I’ve wondered the same thing, why not go back to a system that worked for so many years and didn’t necessarily depend on NFL-bound players at all positions. Plus, it creates preparation problems for opponents, who don’t see it. But Gary Barnett was on with Chris Schmidt recently and addressed that question in a way that I’m not sure it would work. Nebraska used to spend a practice, or part of one, each week preparing for Oklahoma’s Wishbone so it could be ready by season’s end. And practicing 1’s against 1’s enhanced the Husker defense with the option. It has implications on both sides of the ball. Anyway, after listening to Barnett, who knows more than I do about it obviously, I’m not sure it would work in this day and age. Clemson runs some option, though not as Nebraska did. That’s probably what it would need to be.
CS: I think the key to everything when it comes to offense is the physicality of the offensive line. The option was special and is a fantastic offense. What separated Nebraska was its physical play. I think you can run a number of offenses, the key is, are you physically whooping the other team? And is it taking a toll ? What tends to sink pro-style teams is the lack of aggressiveness with the offensive lline off the ball. You need a controlled aggressiveness when pass blocking similar to what is expected in run blocking. If you don’t have that, you likely won’t grind many teams down.
BV: I’ll add that I don’t think the difference is necessarily between run and pass, but “complications.” In the watch world, how many complications a timepiece has is generally viewed as a sign of quality, but I don’t think it applies to football offenses. Most pro-style offenses are going to ask the quarterback to make full-field reads. That’s a big ask for an 18-year-old and those offenses can be defined by their ability to find a quarterback capable of making the reads. Part of the reason the spread is so popular is because it offers a way to manage those reads. Instead of asking the quarterback to read the whole field, maybe a certain play just asks him to diagnose the coverage and then read the nickel back. The option required exquisite timing and technique, but at a certain point it became a simple read — If A, then B or if B, then A. A lot of teams use the spread to provide similar reads in the passing game. Chris is right about the offensive line, but I think you also have to consider just how much you’re going to ask your quarterback to do.
When a former O lineman stated during spring game that he could tell with a 90% accuracy whether the offense was going to run or pass based on the O line stance….is this true and if so will it get fixed. (M.B., Facebook)
MB: Didn’t see that, but it would be concerning if accurate. And if true, I’m sure it will get fixed. Some of that could be a result of trying to learn a new system, same offensive coordinator but with Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien (and Tristan Gebbia down the line) at quarterback, things are markedly different now. Taking the optimistic approach, I’d say it’s only a matter of time, and practice, before that’s not the case. Fifteen spring practices aren’t sufficient to make a transition such as the one Nebraska’s offensive line is making. It’ll continue in the fall. Taking the pessimistic approach, if it doesn’t get fixed, Lee and O’Brien are in for a long season. How good the quarterback looks, or doesn’t look, depends on the guys up-front.
What underclassmen on the offensive line have the best chance to earn playing time this season? (M.M., Facebook)
JP: This is somewhat of a complicated question. I’d say in terms of pure readiness, redshirt freshman offensive guard Boe Wilson is the guy. However, Nebraska has a pair of pretty talented guards already slated to start. There’s only one position that seems to be truly up for grabs — center — and sophomore Michael Decker is battling it out with Cole Conrad. If Decker wins, he’s obviously the answer. Senior David Knevel is in line to start at right tackle, but he was unable to make it through last season healthy. Another injury to Knevel would open the door for redshirt freshman Matt Farniok to step in, but depending on how Farniok looks the coaches could decide to kick Conrad out to tackle in that case and plug Decker in at center (assuming Conrad wins the starting center job to open the season). I’ve pretty much avoided answering the question by running through every potential scenario, but I think the answer is whichever of the players I named has the cards fall his way.
MB: Jacob has broken it down well. I wouldn’t dismiss anything he says here. Wilson almost played last season. He’s shown that potential. Farniok will push anyone ahead of him and will be the guy at some point in the not-too-distant future. The same for John Raridon, who spent his redshirt and part of the spring at center, only to be moved to guard near the end. Even though he dropped out of the center competition, he now has the ability to play both. I think ideally, Nebraska identifies five starters, a back-up swing guard, a back-up swing tackle and a back-up center. Typically, you wouldn’t rotate centers, but you could rotate a guard and a tackle. So those young guys, including Decker as Jacob says, could play an important role. I’d expect one in that group to be starting somewhere by season’s end.
2020 – Huskers are defending B1G Champs and a playoff team. Riley steps down. Is next coach currently on staff? Who? (@Corn_Huskers, Twitter)
CS: I’m not sure. I would like to think that Riley would/could hand off the gig to Danny Langsdorf. It also depends what the AD wants to do. Is Shawn Eichorst still in charge as we look to the future in 2020? Maybe a former QB from Wood River is ready to move back to the good life. I don’t want to think about coaching changes in three years. Last thought, is Bob Diaco still here? He’s worn the HC headset before.
MB: If your scenario occurs, maybe so. If Riley retires and things remain the same, no. In your scenario, things have come together and you don’t want to mess with success. So you carry over what you can.
CWS, CFB Playoff, Elite 8 or adding LAX…which of these comes first for NU? (@RobNickJo, Twitter)
JP: I don’t know anything about the likelihood of Nebraska adding a lacrosse team, but out of the three other sports I’d choose baseball based on where the respective programs are in comparison to their competition.
MB: I’ll go with Jacob on this, baseball. Used to be a women’s field hockey team . . .
CS: I will say Nebraska gets to the CFP. Not clued in on lacrosse, hoops is awkward right now. Football, if this all clicks on offense/defense and at QB with a prove-yourself-type schedule in 2018-2019. It could happen and that’s their goal to make it happen.
If you were a new coach on a team (any sport) how important would it be to have former players as coaches? (@IBeLionBeats, Twitter)
JP: I think having former players as part of the staff is important. They should be able to relate to the student-athletes fairly well with potentially similar backgrounds, and occasionally players will buy in more knowing they’re learning from someone who has done it themselves. That being said, it certainly would not be a requirement for me for everyone on the staff. I would want to hire the best coaches possible.
MB: I’d like one or two on my staff, at least, particularly at Nebraska. I know it might seem like a cliche, but it’s true; you have to understand the culture at Nebraska. Bill Callahan didn’t. I’ll give you a small, but telling, example. After the Colorado loss in Bill’s first season here, which left the Huskers at 5-6, he said it was “only one game in one season.” That’s not how Nebraska fans looked at things. Coaches didn’t look at things that way here, especially since they hadn’t endured a losing season since 1961, and had been 10-3 the season before. Having a former player or two on staff might preclude that, though Bill did have Turner Gill on his first staff. Not sure how much he listened to Turner, though. Also, Bill Busch and Scott Downing had coached at Nebraska. So there should’ve been some understanding. But there wasn’t. Adding John Parrella was a good Riley hire.
Any news on south stadium seating changes? (@HuskerPower66, Twitter)
MB: Had heard the same thing that occurred in the north stadium, making the seats a little more generous, would happen in the south stadium. Don’t know that it has gone any further than talk.
BV: The university just published a story outlining the upgrades today. Looks like some of the south stadium sections have gotten upgrades, but not the wholesale changes completed in north stadium.
When is Elijah Blades getting to UNL? (@j0nnilles, Twitter)
JP: I don’t know any specifics, but Blades graduated from high school within the last week and he was waiting to get his second semester grades back to determine whether or not he qualifies. Those in his camp seemed optimistic, so that’s a good sign, but we won’t know for sure until we know. I’d imagine he’ll get his grades back soon and if the news is good, he should be heading to Lincoln shortly thereafter. If the news is less than positive, he’ll likely have to take summer school classes, delaying his arrival.
BV: It sounds like he and a few others still had some academic work to do, but at this point I think the staff believes that everyone from the 2017 class will be able to enroll by UNL’s second summer session, which begins July 10.
What’s realistic for expectations on a macro level? Is it realistic for Husker fans to think the program can perennially be in the top-15? (@ParrishWalton, Twitter)
CS: Nebraska football has the schedule to be top 15 the next few seasons. The talent on paper that needs to translate to the field looks good. There are three stock-plied QBs built for this system and a defensive side that includes an expert coordinator and former head coach, a decade-plus NFL vet in the trenches, a former defensive coordinator coaching safeties and, finally, a top-10 national recruiter. I’d say all of these ingredients should/can produce a top-15 ranking. The opportunity will be there.
MB: I become more pessimistic with each passing (no pun intended) season. The top programs have all gone through a downswing, but Nebraska’s situation is a bit different, especially in a world driven by recruiting rankings, non-staff quarterback gurus and off-season camps. The more time that goes by, the harder it gets.
BV: It does get more difficult the longer a team is “away” from elite status, but I still think consistent top-15 finishes are possible. It’s too simplistic, but I always turn to Oklahoma in these instances. Different conference, different circumstances, but there are still a lot of similarities to my eye, and the Sooners have done it under Bob Stoops. So much of this just comes down to getting the right coach. Oklahoma went through three of them post-Switzer before landing Stoops. Where programs like Nebraska have an edge is that the demand for the coach who can win at a top-15 level is strong. Doesn’t make it any easier to find one, but traditional powerhouses get a lot of swings at the plate. It’s always been my thought that it’s when we stop getting this question that the Huskers are really in trouble. (Or have won multiple titles and everything is fine.)
What is the one football game that everyone will peg as a loss, but you think the Huskers will win? (@Corn_Huskers, Twitter)
JP: Wisconsin. They had the Badgers on the ropes at their place last year and couldn’t seal the deal. I think they get over the hump this year.
CS: I agree with Jacob on this. Nebraska has been very close the last couple of years. Riley’s familiarity with Paul Chryst is key. Nebraska needs a big win over a big-time conference opponent and it could happen this year against Wiscy in Lincoln.
MB: Same here, because the game’s in Lincoln and Riley’s connection to Chryst.