It’s the last Wednesday of 2020, which means this is also the last mailbag of 2020. The Hail Varsity staff is here to answer your questions one last time for the year.
What needs to happen in order to increase the productivity of the wide receivers? Better players? Better/different route concepts? Better QB play (passing)? How much of this falls on the coaching, specifically in-game play calling? (@Corn_Huskers)
Jacob Padilla: The quarterback play is certainly a big part of this. Adrian Martinez has missed a lot of open receivers the last two years (sometimes he didn’t see them at all, others he couldn’t put the ball on the money). But beyond that, whatever the problem is, Scott Frost and Matt Lubick need to get it figured out. Whether it’s evaluation, development or just bad luck (in Omar Manning’s case, perhaps), this simply can’t continue. If Nebraska can’t get more dynamic transfers into the program (like Manning was supposed to be), then Lubick has to find a way to get the young receivers on the field. No matter what happens, Zavier Betts needs to play a much bigger role in 2021.
Brandon Vogel: It’s hard to say this with complete confidence without consistent access to all-22 film, but I’ve felt like the scheme and play-calling have gotten receivers open for three seasons now. That’s not part of the issue for me, but almost everything else you mentioned is. How much does the group of receivers that took the bulk of the snaps in 2020 resemble what you thought that group would look like? We all would’ve pegged Wan’Dale as the leading receiver, but would anyone have tabbed Levi Falck for second on the team in receptions? Betts had more yards, and that was promising, but he was the only receiver outside of Robinson to average as many catches per game as Dedrick Mills. Nebraska’s staff has been trying to to upgrade its receiver room since it arrived, and it is very much still a work in progress. That isn’t to downplay the improvements needed from the QBs, but Jacob already covered that pretty well.
What seniors do you think are coming back? (@CarnesRegg)
Now that 3 seniors have made decisions, what are your expectations for the remaining seniors with the extra year of eligibility? (@tschmidt723)
When do the seniors have to make the decision if they want to stay or enter the draft? (@tchristensen43)
BV: The NFL hasn’t even officially set the deadline for underclassmen draft declarations, but it will likely be about a week after the national championship game on Jan. 11. We’ve never needed a deadline for seniors before because, well, they were all automatically done, though I suspect most coaching staffs would like to know if anyone is planning to return by the time the spring semester starts. That will be later in January this year, too, at many schools. Of course, I’m sure some staffs would be willing to wait for key players to sort things out. Point is, I don’t think there’s really a hard deadline for seniors unless the college coaches put one in place. My default setting with any senior, not just Nebraska’s seniors, is that they’re not coming back. It’s just a big ask, particularly for those that redshirted. You’ll have some that opt to return, but I think they’ll be pretty rare across the country.
Who wins in the post season first, Frost or Hoiberg? (@TwinTwisterDad)
JP: This is a tough call. Based on the wording of this question, though, I’ll take Hoiberg. At this point it’s hard to feel good projecting a bowl game for Nebraska in 2021, and even if the Huskers get there a win is anything but guaranteed. With the talent Hoiberg has coming in next season and the way their skill sets fit his system, I think Nebraska could have a chance to at least make the NIT next season if they bring back a solid core that jells better over the last 18 games of this season.
Mike Babcock: As frustrating as it probably is for football, I agree with Jacob, for the reasons he offers. The basketball team could make the NIT, if not the NCAA, and win a game there. Nebraska has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game, so that would be special. I’m thinking more the NIT. Football has some work to do.
Which recruits from the 2021 class will be enrolling early and in Lincoln for the offseason? (@GoBigRedcast)
JP: If you check out the “Commits” page of our Recruiting section, Greg does a great job of tracking down which guys plan to enroll early.
Are the current kickers unable to kick the ball out of the endzone or is it a directive by coaches to kick short and try to cover? How can Nebraska be one of the few schools that can’t find a kickoff “specialist”? Isn’t it worth a scholarship at this point? (@Corn_Husker)
JP: I’ll start with this: if Nebraska had a kicker who could consistently kick the ball out of the back of the end zone, I’m guessing the coaches would go that route considering how hit-or-miss the shorter directional kicking was for the Huskers this season. However, Nebraska isn’t the only team that lacks an automatic touchback guy. Penn State recorded touchbacks on 84% of its kicks this season. The next six teams were all in the 40-59% range. Nebraska was at 30%, which was better than Northwestern, Minnesota, Ohio State, Rutgers and Maryland. Despite being ninth in touchback percentage, the Huskers were 13th in average kickoff yards, which points to how much work Nebraska has to do on its kickoff coverage whether they find a kicker with a bigger leg or not. Missouri led the country in kickoff percentage at 88.5% and only 41 teams had touchbacks on more than half their kickoffs, so nobody sends all of their kicks out of the end zone.
How would you grade the assistant coaching changes from 2019 to 2020, especially at OC?(@RandallKolman)
BV: Didn’t see enough out of the offense for me to go higher than C for the change at offensive coordinator so far, but I also wouldn’t go lower than that. Nebraska’s offense remained a lot the same as the previous two years, appealingly efficient most of the time but done in by the handful of plays when it is disturbingly inefficient. It remains bizarre, and I don’t know that I expected Lubick to “fix that” all on his own, particularly not in a strange year against a conference-only schedule. Outside linebacker was a little more encouraging, so I’d go B there, though there’s still plenty of work ahead for that group.
MB: Seems to me, the offense is ultimately Frost’s responsibility, regardless of “coordinator.” So was there improvement in the play of wide receivers? Not in my opinion. I’d give that a C as well, for treading water, staying pretty much the same. And again, I don’t know how much Lubick did as offensive coordinator other than being a better complement to Frost. I didn’t see a lot of difference at outside linebacker, either. So C+ maybe? But there’s a transition period (in both cases). I did think replacing two coaches after two seasons here was too quickly, even if they had been together at UCF—especially because of that.
Do you expect any coaching staff changes this year? Either from someone leaving for a different role or someone being let go? (@tschmidt723)
Erin Sorensen: I think it’s always possible that we see some changes, but that’s true of any year. Someone may move on to a different program, someone may move into a new role. We’ve seen both happen for Nebraska during Coach Scott Frost’s tenure. I don’t want to speculate because I don’t have any information to share at this time.
MB: I hope there aren’t. Two seasons-plus here? Not sufficient for anyone to adjust. As I’ve said, I’d like to see two coaches working with the offensive line, but that’s not going to happen. Besides, staff unity is an important component of success, I think, though Dawson bailed and came back. The solution isn’t to replace assistants constantly. The head coach has to be accountable as well.
Chances the players graduating/forgoing the extra year get drafted? Guess as to the highest draft pick we have this year? (@tschmidt723)
JP: I think Brenden Jaimes is the surest bet to hear his name called. He’s put four years of pretty solid to really good pass protection on tape, and protecting the franchise quarterback is high on the list of needs for every NFL team. Assuming the Combine happens, I think Dicaprio Bootle will have a chance to run a pretty good time in the 40-yard dash to back up his tape at Nebraska. I don’t see Ben Stille getting drafted coming off an injury-limited 2020 season. Perhaps he can get a camp invite as an undrafted free agent.
Do you have any updates on player injuries, e.g. Myles Farmer, Nadab Joseph, etc.? (@bethanyadw)
MB: I’m not as on-top of this as others. What I do know is, Frost isn’t particularly forthcoming on such things. And with limited access, finding out such things is even more difficult.
What’s the best press box food spread you’ve ever had? (@danwitte)
BV: That I didn’t have an immediate answer to this probably tells you the scale of “best” we’re working with here. The best bet is usually when the press box food is catered by a local restaurant, which happens every so often. I’ve had pretty good food from a local barbecue restaurant when at Northwestern more than once. I recall that Oregon’s food was pretty good as well. Also, having access to Chik-fil-A biscuits in the morning and sandwiches at lunch certainly wasn’t a bad deal while covering the Peach Bowl.
ES: The Peach Bowl will always take the top spot for me. They spoiled us from the moment we woke up until the moment we went to bed. There was so much food and drink. I couldn’t believe it. As for some other favorites, I’ve always enjoyed the Dilly Bars at Minnesota, the McDonald’s smoothies at Ohio State and the Valentino’s breakfast pizza at Nebraska. In 2020 though? Iowa was the best. We had prime rib and pulled pork, cookies on cookies on cookies and popcorn. It was unexpected but appreciated.
MB: The Orange Bowl back in the day, with orange juice dispensers everywhere, including the press room. Kansas State had a great press box spread, like a regular steak dinner. UCLA charged for its press box lunch, which freaked out most people. So did Missouri later on, a free sack lunch or pay for a regular spread. I’ve never understood why sports writers thought they should be served free food, so I didn’t have a problem with either, The cost just went on the expense account anyway. Couple of footnotes: the Alamo Bowl folks took a group of sports writers out to eat one night, then a sports writer had to pay. He offered, thinking it would be just a gesture of kindness, and was told, “thanks.” Otherwise, everyone would have paid for their own. On the Friday before the game, the Auburn SID took me and a couple of colleagues to lunch—at the training table, with the football team. Auburn and Oklahoma were as welcoming as any places to which I traveled. Nebraska has always treated the media well, with a great pre-game buffet.