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Mailbag: What Needs to Be Nebraska’s Floor in 2021?

January 20, 2021

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for another mailbag. Let’s dive in.

Starting field position, red zone offense, third-down defense, third-quarter scoring, turnovers are examples of game-related statistics and/or scenarios that have been detrimental to the Huskers’ success and failures. Which are the most important to fix in your opinion for success? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: Field position and its not really a close race for me because field position contains at least a dash of everything a football team does. Get more three-and-outs? Better field position for the offense. Avoid three-and-outs on offense? Better field-position for the defense. If you could convince me that there’s a real way to consistently control turnovers, that would be the easy pick but because nobody has totally convinced me of that yet, field position is the play and Nebraska hasn’t been on the winning side of that stat over the past three seasons. 

Of all the kids that transferred out under Frost. Have any of them made big impacts at their new schools/gone pro? Trying to see just how much we actually lost. (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: Patrick O’Brien was decent-ish as the starting quarterback at Colorado State for most of two seasons, but he’s back in the transfer portal this year. Tristan Gebbia had a promising start to 2020 at Oregon State, but was slowed a bit by injury. Tyjon Lindsey’s been pretty good there the past two years (five TDs on 29 catches). But the biggest Ex-Husker in Corvallis success story so far has been Avery Roberts, who led the league in tackles and was first-team All-Pac 12 in 2020. Greg Bell was second in the Mountain West with 637 rushing yards for San Diego State. There are a few others who are playing for other schools, but that group includes those that have made the biggest impact so far. Nebraska lost some talented guys. It wouldn’t say breakout successes at this point, though Roberts is starting to look like it. 

Mike Babcock: Think Avery Roberts even missed one game and still led. Also, Caleb Lightbourn handled kickoffs and split time punting for Oregon State. I watched a couple of Oregon State games. Gebbia was the starter. Then he got hurt, maybe season-ending? Also watched O’Brien at Colorado State and was surprised he’s transferring again. Oh yes, Noah Vedral at Rutgers. I shouldn’t forget him. (And as Jacob notes below JD Spielman.) 

Jacob Padilla: Brandon covered it well, but I also wouldn’t point to what JD Spielman did at TCU as a way to say he wasn’t a big loss. I would say adjusting to a new offense with new teammates during a pandemic-shortened season that got cut even shorter by injury had more to do with his quiet season than him not actually being good. He would have been Nebraska’s best receiver again this season. 

I like Frost, but it’s obvious that his seat is starting to get rather warm. How many games would he have to win next season to calm things down? On the flip side, how bad would he need to be to get axed in the next, say, two years? (@InDaWilderness) 

MB: Six games and a bowl would seem to me the best-case scenario for the 2021 season. Not sure that would calm things down, of course. A serious run in the West Division might get folks saying, “See.” Two more losing seasons would really ramp up the dissatisfaction. But Frost seems to have the support of Bill Moos. And two more losing seasons are unlikely, though that’s not too much of a stretch, probably, in 2021. Winning is, in part, an attitude, and the Huskers have yet to develop that attitude. 

BV: I think the ceiling for 2021 might be a little higher for Nebraska. Six wins should be doable, and it probably has to happen. The program needs a bowl appearance—or really anything—to point to and say, “progress has been more gradual than we would’ve hoped, but here’s at least another small sign.” Win five games again and I think Frost still keeps his job, but 2022 then becomes a win-or-else year and everyone would know it. Four and fewer wins and that timeline would likely be accelerated. 

Greg Smith: Six games also feels like a best-case scenario for me too. I just wonder if that would calm things down in the fan base. Year 4 expectations were not six wins and a bowl game when Frost was hired so it’d still be a disappointment within some progress from previous years. Like Brandon said, the program desperately needs a bowl game bid.   

Can the Husker women’s basketball team continue their run all the way to a NCAA tournament bid? (@dmhusker1) 

MB: The answer before yesterday’s loss to Minnesota might’ve been different. Right now, the Huskers miss Isabelle Bourne, sidelined by an ankle injury—but not season-ending. Three wins against ranked opponents on the resume already certainly helps. But Coach Amy Williams team can’t shoot as poorly as it did in the second half of the Minnesota game and win, even against the bottom of the conference—Minnesota went into the game 2-7. I’ve been impressed with the Huskers’ resolve, until yesterday. NCAA? I’m skeptical. 

Derek Peterson: Yeah, to Mike’s point, I think yesterday reinforced what stands in the way of them being a tourney team, and that’s health. At some point the dam was going to break. I’d written a couple times before yesterday that you just can’t expect to play the way they were playing over a prolonged stretch and stay at a consistently high enough level to win. I still think this is a better team than anyone thought it would be coming into the year, but they need all their pieces to really show that. Sam Haiby, as great as she is, needs some help, and not help in the sense of “her teammates need to make shots”—Ashley Scoggin had 16 yesterday and really sought out her offense, which was nice to see—but more in the sense of more people around her defenses have to respect. Trinity Brady spotting up beyond the arc and Issie Bourne doing Issie Bourne things will both help a lot. The addition of Kendall Coley could also be *huge*. She’s an elite high school prospect who can handle the ball and create. If they get healthy, I think Nebraska can make a run. They’ve proven they have the talent to do it. They’ve got to get healthy, though.  

What are the chances Markeese Stepp gets immediate eligibility? Do you think Nebraska is committing to be more of a downhill running team now? What’s the latest on Avante Dickerson? (@tschmidt723) 

GS: The feeling is that Nebraska will get some type of waiver. Either a traditional immediate waiver or the NCAA could elect to give a blanket waiver for transfers this year. I think the Huskers should commit to more of a downhill running game but we’ll see if that happens. There isn’t a lot to report on the Dickerson situation. The Huskers are still recruiting him hard and remain in the mix. 

Do the Huskers add a special teams coach full time? Any more shake-ups to the staff? (@CarnesRegg) 

Erin Sorensen: The only way Nebraska adds a full-time special teams coach is if one of the current assistant coaches leaves. That would require a shakeup of some kind, of course, but we don’t have specifics on that as of now. What we do know is that Nebraska listed a job for a Senior Special Teams Analyst, which was Jonathan Rutledge’s role. Could Nebraska just be covering its bases here, while actively looking at other options? Sure, but the job listing is out there. We’ll see what happens. 

Jacob Padilla: At this point I’d be somewhat surprised if they do, though anything is possible if some attrition happens within the staff. Nebraska can choose to invest more time within practice to improving special teams even without hiring a full-time coach, but again, that’s a choice that Frost has to make. 

Clearly our QB room has underperformed under Frost. What’s the biggest cause of that: scheme, coaching, recruiting, lack of great WRs? What’s the realistic chance that changes this year? (@InDaWilderness) 

ES: Maybe a little of each? I think you could break down every possibility you mentioned and make it make sense. I also think they all play a role within one another, at least to a certain degree. As for how it changes, I don’t really have a good answer for that right now. I think some of this is also related to how weird the last year has been. There’s really been a weird consistency in practice, conditioning, all of it. If 2021 looks a little more normal as far as winter conditioning, spring football, summer workouts, fall camps, etc., then maybe we’ll have a better understanding about what exactly is the root cause specifically. 

JP: The quarterbacks certainly haven’t had an ideal situation around them with the protection at times, the lack of a complementary run game, and the lack of consistency and variety in the receiving corps. That being said, at this point I think the struggles are more on the quarterbacks themselves than what’s around them. Whether it’s a lack of development or simply poor evaluation, that position just hasn’t been good enough the last two years. I’ve just seen too many missed throws or poor decisions at this point to put the brunt of it on anyone else. Now, if any of those other areas improve significantly, it could lead to somewhat improved quarterback play. I wouldn’t bet on a huge leap by Adrian Martinez in year four and while Luke McCaffrey is still young, I think we saw he wasn’t ready this season and I’m not sure how many of his issues he can correct in one offseason. We haven’t seen anything from Logan Smothers yet and Heinrich Haarberg just got to campus, so it’s too early to say it’s all on the development/coaching rather than individual faults with their first two guys.  

Do you think we will see a woman coach a Power 5 conference men’s basketball team in the next decade? (@dmhusker1) 

DP: I actually think we’ll see a woman coach an NBA team first, which should make it much, much easier for a woman to earn a head coaching job at the collegiate level in the next decade. Becky Hammon is going to get an NBA gig here in the next few years. She was my (Thunder fan) first choice for the open Thunder position this offseason, and with the way Pop has kind of delegated of late, it kinda seems like he’s preparing either her credentials for a job elsewhere or her for his job when he’s ready to leave it. And I think once the NBA does it, and Becky shows she can do it at a high level—which I think she will—then that door should be opened at the collegiate level. So, to answer your question, yeah. I do. 

MB: Derek presents it well. Yes. 

ES: Derek said it all, because Becky Hammon would have been my example as well. It’s only a matter of time, so yes. And I can’t wait for both her and the women we don’t yet know to lead the way. 

Frost has said a number of times how young the team is. However, several times during the Fiesta Bowl it was mentioned that Iowa state has the youngest team in FBS. Why is being young such an issue here, but not there? Or is it just a bad excuse? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

MB: In the day and day, I’d say youth is something of an excuse. It the youngsters are talented, first off. Alabama had some young players. The young players need to fit a system and have the coaches’ confidence. Regardless, the focus should be on improvement, not finding reasons for lack of it. 

GS: It’s an excuse at this point. Being young or having to rely on young players in this era of college football isn’t unique. It’s also Frost’s job to get those players ready to roll. 

DP: I’ve looked at it as an excuse. They have had plenty of experienced guys at key spots where you need old dudes. Wideout isn’t one of those spots. And youth played over vets elsewhere because they were deemed better. It’s also tough to point to youth when there have been older players who left and the reaction was “best for both sides.” 

Has anyone asked B1G rationale why no non-conference baseball games, while they allowed hoops, which plays inside to have non-conference games? (@GBRCaddyshack) 

MB: Haven’t asked. Good question. If I were to speculate, numbers might be a factor in travel, more student-athletes going on the road. And early non-conference baseball is played on the road, in states such as California, which, right now, isn’t where you’d want to be—or could be, probably. In retrospect, conference-only might’ve been the way to go in hoops, too, though the Big Ten doesn’t necessarily have a lock on carefulness. 

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