The Hail Varsity staff is back with a regularly-scheduled mailbag this week to answer your Nebraska questions. As expected, there's a heavy focus on Saturday's Ohio State game.
What happens first for Nebraska on Saturday? A) Huskers force Ohio State to punt B) Huskers score a rushing touchdown C) Huskers score a passing touchdown D) Huskers kick a field goal (@Corn_Huskers)
JP: Let’s get crazy: I’ll say Nebraska gets the ball first and scores on its first possession. How long that lead lasts I have no idea, but I do think Ohio State will punt at least once. At least.
GS: I’ll go with A. I think Ohio State takes the ball first and goes three-and-out resulting in a punt that is caught with a fair catch from JD Spielman.
DP: Devine Ozigbo rushing touchdown.
You get named honorary defensive coordinator this week. The first question the head guy asks you is, "What guys do you match up on OSU when they go trips?” Your response? (@CoryHonold)
JP: My first response would probably be to get down and pray and I’m not even the religious type. Nebraska has struggled to figure out its nickel defense all season long, running a few different guys through that spot without finding much success. Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson are both more suited for the edge than in the slot. Aaron Williams played that spot but got torched by Northwestern’s Flynn Nagel and then was taken off that duty and replaced by Cam Taylor. However, Taylor is still just a freshman trying to learn the finer points of playing corner. If I had to make the call, I’d probably start out with Taylor at that spot because I think Nebraska needs as many corners on the field as it can get in subpackages; sticking with three safeties isn’t going to work. Ohio State has arguably the most prolific and precise passing offense in the country, so I’m not really sure there’s much the Huskers can do to stop them. Just bank on getting a few key stops and hope the offense can keep up with the Buckeyes.
Other than a few elite QBs in the NFL, the league is filled with guys who aren’t very good. Is there a good reason college QBs generally aren’t very successful once they go pro? (@IBeLionsBeats)
JP: I think the simplest answer is that it’s just really, really hard to play quarterback at the NFL level. The athletes you’re having to account for on defenses are the best of the best and that dramatically changes passing windows – they’re smaller and open for less time than in college. In part because of the athleticism difference, a lot of college offenses are far more simple or quarterback-friendly than pro ones. Quarterbacks have to be a little more creative to trick NFL defenses and defenders.
BV: I don’t watch much pro football, but as offenses at that level continue to draw more and more from college offenses (i.e. spread offenses), I’ll be interested in if this changes at all. The pros have long complained of the diminishing amount of pro-ready quarterbacks, which makes sense given the spread’s rise at the lower levels. But at some point, if college football remains the primary feeder system for the NFL, you have to adjust to the raw goods, right?
Jacob makes very good points above. On the rare occasion I watch pro football, I’m always shocked (still) by the athleticism across the board. I look at it as athleticism has continued to increase across the board, but prior to recent years, the NFL has still asked pro quarterbacks to do the same things pro quarterbacks have always done. And that’s tough when most of them (now) aren’t playing in those systems and making those throws in college. The spread emerged at the college level as a way to neutralize talent deficiencies. The NFL is just starting to realize that it can do the same, and perhaps has to, when you’re drafting quarterbacks who aren’t used to the tiny windows you have as a pro quarterback. In my opinion, a good quarterback at the college level should remain a good quarterback at the pro level in most cases, but the “exchange rate” hasn’t been close to one-to-one for a while in the NFL. But I think we’re getting closer.
Does our passing game, running game, or defensive line and linebackers do more damage to Ohio State? (@_LilBigRed12_)
JP: I’ll take Nebraska’s passing offense. This isn’t a vintage Ohio State defense by any menas, especially without Nick Bosa. In fact, the Buckeyes are pretty close to Nebraska in terms of where they rank in the conference against both the pass and the run. I think Adrian Martinez, Stanley Morgan Jr. And JD Spielman are more than capable of going off int his game.
DP: My answer to this feels weird. If you ask me one guy that has to have a good game for Nebraska to win, I say Adrian Martinez just because if Nebraska wins it’s because they won a shootout. But my gut on this one says the run game. From Wednesday’s practice report: “Ohio State has given up at least 160 yards rushing in five of eight games this season. It's a run defense that gives up a 46 percent success rate on standard downs (63rd nationally) and 69 percent of first downs on first or second (64th nationally). Opponents are averaging 4.4 yards a carry and hitting the Buckeyes for 10-yard gains more than all but four Big Ten teams and 20-yard gains more than just one other Big Ten team (Rutgers).” That, to me, looks like a weak point Nebraska can put some pressure on. Devine Ozigbo is hitting his stride right now and I see him getting over the century mark regardless of result in this one.
If Bryce Benhart and Desmond Bland come in and earn starting jobs, what would your starting five offensive line be? (@tklim2430)
GS: If that were to happen, I’d go with Jaimes, Wilson, Bland, Farniok, Benhart from left to right. I have a hard time believing that it plays out like that to start the season with Benhart arriving in the summer.
JP: Yeah, unless something changes, I think Matt Farniok will probably open next season as the starting right tackle. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him crack the lineup at some point, whether because of injury or performance. It will be interesting to see whether the Huskers like Bland better at center or guard. Will Hunter Miller, Will Farniok or even Cam Jurgens be ready to handle the center role next season? I have no idea. At this point, I’ll lock Brenden Jaimes in at left tackle and Boe Wilson in at one of the guards and call the other three spots a toss-up.
Ohio State hasn’t punted against Nebraska since the fourth quarter in 2012. How many punts does NU force Ohio State into this game? (@Sal_Vasta3)
GS: I’ll go with 4.
DP: I’ll say three with a shot at four. The defense is averaging just over five punts forced each game this season. So, there’s that.
BV: Three. This Ohio State offense has been one dimensional over the past month, but it’s still an accomplished passing offense And Nebraska is not an accomplished pass defense at this point. The larger concern, in my mind, would be if Ohio State had success running the ball. If that happens, it’s hard for me to see Nebraska hanging on to win a high-scoring game. But if the Huskers can stop the run and come up with key stops in the passing game they might have a chance. Either way, it doesn’t involve a lot of punts.
ES: I, too, will take three.
Has Nebraska football ever used basketball games as a recruiting tool? I have a good feeling Dec. 8 vs. Creighton is gonna be fire, reminiscent of 2014 Wisconsin. That atmosphere would sell!! (@TheWeeksy)
GS: I believe they have taken football recruits to basketball games as recently as last season. Any time you can show off the passion Husker fans display, it’s a win.
BV: For those prospects taking late visits, basketball games have been a key part of it. As Greg mentioned, it’s pretty easy to demonstrate the support all Nebraska teams have with a sold-out game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. I don’t think it’s the preferred option, but when a home basketball game might be the best card you have left to play I don’t think the staff is hesitant to play it.
ES: Yes, they have. Scott Frost utilized basketball games leading up to the February signing day last year. They had a section blocked off for the recruits and their families, and they would sit and hang out with the staff and current players. In fact, many of those kids that came for those games left impressed with Nebraska. They figured if Nebraska fans were that great for basketball, just imagine football. Worked out well on the recruiting trail.
With four games left in the season do you think Breon Dixon will get extensive playing time since we haven’t been getting to the quarterback as much as they like? Since we play a passing team this week and all? (@btran0524)
GS: I’m going to predict we don’t see Dixon at all this season.
JP: I’ll have to agree with Greg here. With Dixon not even dressing for the Bethune-Cookman game, I think his chances to contribute at all this season are pretty slim.
How will the revelation that Urban Meyer has a brain cyst affect the game Saturday, if at all? (OSU will be jacked up anyway, coming off a loss.) (@thawildbunch)
DP: I don’t see it having any bearing on the game. Ohio State will be amped to play regardless. It’s possible the team knew about Meyer’s situation before the outside world did as well.
BV: The timing of that, based on his Monday press conference, felt pretty transparent to me. And I agree with Derek: I don’t think it has much impact on Saturday. Playing Ohio State off a bye week and a loss isn’t ideal for Nebraska, but any motivational gains the Buckeyes may have made were probably made last week.
Which Huskers do you expect to be drafted this year and how high? Who could be the biggest surprise? (@Steinmeyer1844)
JP: Nebraska has a pretty small senior class with just 16 seniors on scholarship, so there aren’t a ton of options considering I don’t anticipate any underclassmen declaring early (except for maybe one or two surprises). I think Stanley Morgan Jr. is the easy answer for highest draft pick. He hasn’t had quite the statistical season we thought might be possible, but he’s still one of the better senior receivers in the country and somebody is going to draft him, maybe in the third or fourth round. I personally hope Luke Gifford can finish this season healthy and gets a shot to go somewhere, even if it’s a late round pick. He’s a good football player who can help a team in multiple ways. If Devine Ozigbo can keep this up and doesn’t run too slowly at the combine or his pro day, I think he could end up as a late round pick too. Beyond that, I’m not sure I see anyone who would be more than a potential undrafted free agent.
DP: Stanley Morgan Jr. goes in the third. He’s an NFL receiver; looks like one, plays like one, makes big plays when they matter like one. After that Devine Ozigbo feels like a sixth-round guy that gets in with a team and sticks because of the work ethic. Nebraska probably has a couple undrafted free agent guys —Luke Gifford comes to mind — and there’s one guy who probably declares when he shouldn’t and doesn’t get taken.