Mailbag: What Will It Take for an Upset of Michigan?
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Mailbag: What Will It Take for an Upset of Michigan?

September 19, 2018

Besides scoring more points, what has to happen for Nebraska to upset Michigan on the road? (@Corn_Huskers)

JP: A minor miracle?

DP: Yikes, Jacob… I’m not as doom and gloom. Nebraska has a chance in this game if it doesn’t turn the ball over and wins the line of scrimmage. The front seven for the Huskers looks legit this season; this is a chance for them to actually prove it and I think they can. The offensive line is a different story. They will need to be perfect. Communication issues have troubled the team through two games and against an active, aggressive and, frankly, great defensive line for Michigan, that can’t happen in a third game. Turnovers are self-explanatory. You need all the scoring chances you can get.

GS: Yeah Michigan isn’t exactly Alabama. If Nebraska plays a clean game turnover wise, minimizes penalties and hits a few big plays, they can hang in this game. The problem with that is they haven’t shown the ability to do that yet. Prior to the season starting, I picked this game as the upset for Nebraska though.

BV: I'm reasonably confident in Nebraska's ability to stop the run. That's good, a key to any game. But the Husker corners are going to have to win some battles against some really talented receivers, and I'm less confident in that. Also, how does Nebraska move the ball consistently against this defense. Those are my two biggest questions coming in. To win Nebraska has to find some efficiency on offense, which it has had but not against this type of defense, and its corners have to play really well.

Would Nebraska be 2–0 right now if Gebbia had stuck with the program? (Justin Taylor)

ES: Ah, hypotheticals. In short, I have no idea. Gebbia and Martinez were neck-and-neck for the starting job for a reason so I think he could have been a huge help against Colorado and Troy. He’s not a mirror-quarterback to Martinez though, so there would still have been challenges. We knew Gebbia’s arm was stronger than his legs, so the game plan would have likely needed to look a little different from what would’ve been put together for Martinez. It’s just hard to tell if he would have been the X-factor to win those games or not.

JP: I don’t know that Gebbia would have been able to win the Colorado game in Martinez’s place – that was a pretty tough situation for any quarterback to come into a game at that point – but I do think they game plan against Troy would have been dramatically different had Gebbia been the starter in that one, and it likely would have resulted in a  win.

DP: No. Spielman dropped a third-down catch that would have extended Nebraska’s drive against Colorado. Antonio Reed was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Jack Stoll fumbled the ball against Troy. Special teams missed tackles on the punt return touchdown. Bunch has made mistakes but he’s made throws too. Gebbia was a freshman with no game experience either. And he lost the job to Adrian Martinez.

BV: No. Maybe 1-1, but Nebraska played well enough to win both games really (certainly Colorado). Gebbia may have given them more options offensively against Troy, but the real difference in that game was a special teams touchdown and the defense, which played well 95 percent of the time, giving up back-breaking big plays.

If you simulate the game on NCAA Football between 97 Nebraska and 97 Michigan, who wins and what stats stand out? (@Rawker8)

BV: I didn't turn to NCAA Football, but What If Sports' simulator and simulated a 1997 Nebraska-Michigan game. Here's what stood out: Nebraska won 14-9 while completing 2-of-6 passes for -1 yard. Run the ball!

Michigan State vs. Indiana and Minnesota vs. Maryland, who you got? (@CoryHonold)

JP: Michigan State has not been particularly impressive while Indiana is sitting at 3-0, but I think the Spartans have too much of a talent edge for the Hoosiers to pull off the upset. As for the Gophers and Terps, yikes. Last week was a rough outing for Maryland, but I’ll still take them over Minnesota who has a 3-0 record despite not being particularly effective in the run game or pass game.

BV: Agree with Jacob. Maryland still has a great chance to beat Minnesota despite last week's loss to Temple.

ES: Michigan State and Maryland.

GS: Michigan State and row the boat.

DP: Indiana and Maryland. Just to play devil’s advocate.

How long until Washington beats out Bell as the starter? Or do they keep a thunder and lightning approach. Bell has looked great don’t get me wrong. I see you Bell. But Washington reminds me of Adrian Peterson in college. That kid is special. (@huskerpower5904)

JP: I think you’re going to continue to see a pretty even split between the backs in an effort to keep everybody fresh and healthy. Ryan Held talked after practice on Wednesday about how Washington needs to continue to mature as far as doing everything it takes (proper sleep and nutrition, cold tub, etcetera) to take care of his body and be consistent. He also needs to continue to find the balance between executing plays as called and going off script; those cut-backs aren’t always going to be there against good defenses. Washington is going to have a very good career at Nebraska; no need to rush it.

GS: I believe Bell will continue to see lots of action and he should. He is averaging 6.2 yards per carry so he should keep getting the ball. I think Washington is special but he is probably operating with 40 percent of the playbook at this point and isn’t in the shape Zach Duval will eventually have him in. His time is coming but for now, the split is good. Washington will likely keep eating into Ozigbo’s opportunities.

DP: They’ll keep the thunder and lightning approach. You’ve heard coaches talk about the offensive line and the wideouts getting tired because they haven’t been able to rotate guys in. Ryan Held doesn’t want the same happening in his room. Plus, Washington is still just a freshman. No need to rush things.

Is Nebraska really the 10th worst team in college football like CBS seems to think? (@ApoloSolace)

JP: If people want to go at a writer for something he publishes, they should probably actually read all the way through and understand what that writer is doing. That bottom 25 rankings post that Tom Fornelli publishes every week is based on a statistical formula, not his personal opinion, and the fact is that Nebraska is 0-2 against two teams that aren’t exactly going to be competing for a CFP berth. If Nebraska starts to win some games, they won’t be in there any more. It’s as simple as that.

BV: As someone who has been accused of "going in" on that initial ranking, I will say that what Jacob wrote is accurate. I will also say that I'm not that interested in résumé rankings, particularly early in the season. I'm interested in how well (or not well) teams are playing, regardless of outcome, and that's tough to ascertain after two games, much less one. Do I think Nebraska is one of the bottom-10 programs in 2018? No. Not at all. And if I had a model that showed that, I'd reevaluate the model.

With the news of potentially playing an FCS team on Oct 27, which team do you think we play? I say South Dakota State or North Alabama. (@_LilBigRed12_)

DP: Tennessee State.

BV: Tennessee State.

Are we saving players for Big Ten play?  There hasn’t been much rotation with the WR and DB positions. I know coach Frost said players need to step up. (@btran0524)

AND

Who are some guys on the team who could redshirt this year but are able to get into four games? (@IBeLionsBeats)

JP: I, too, am curious about the heavy usage of so many players. I don’t know what this staff’s standards are in terms of where a player has to be before they’re willing to put him in the game, but it does seem like they could probably stand to spell a couple of their guys more than they are without losing out too much. Running back, defensive line, inside linebacker and safety have all seen significant rotation, but that’s about it. I think you’ll continue to see more rotation at the tight end spot through natural progression of a young group, but I think they probably need to bite the bullet on a few snaps here and there for guys like Stanley Morgan Jr., Luke Gifford and the offensive line. Travis Fisher has already said he doesn’t rotate his cornerbacks.

As for the redshirts, I wouldn’t be surprised to see guys like safeties Cam Jones and CJ Smith, cornerback Braxton Clark, tight end Cam Jurgens and linebacker Breon Dixon see the field at some point this season while maintaining redshirt status. A few of the guys like David Alston and Tate Wildeman aren’t dressing right now so I would expect them to sit out the whole year, and a few other guys are buried at positions of depth to the point where it might be tough to get some of them in, especially with the non conference games going the way they did.

GS: The fact of the matter is the coaching staff doesn’t trust the players beyond the top line guys at wide receiver and defensive back. Outside of Cam Taylor none of them have shown the consistency the staff wants to see. Until that happens, more guys won’t see the field. Troy Walters in particular isn’t happy with the lack of guys stepping up to be able to spell Morgan and Spielman. Long term, they have to find options beyond those two.

Due to injuries, Cam Jones and Tate Wildeman will redshirt. I like Jacob’s call on Breon Dixon redshirting and that has been hinted at. I’m surprised Justin McGriff hasn’t been able to get time since he enrolled early. That extra work usually translates into some sort of role early.

DP: Travis Fisher tried to say all offseason he won’t be rotating much at corner. The proof has been there through two games. They’ve got safety depth so they’ll get those guys on the field in different sub-packages but he just doesn’t rotate his corners. As for the wideouts, it’s the same situation as the offensive line. Guys have to prove in practice they deserve to play in games; to this point, the guys we’ve seen have done that and the guys we haven’t seen haven’t.

When is Nebraska going to win? (@pdscallywag3)

DP: Eventually. And soon. Maybe. (Full transparency: I picked Nebraska to win this game in the offseason. I’ll stick with that pick this week, either out of sheer stubbornness or something else. Nebraska can hang with Michigan.)

JP: Never again. Fold the program.

BV: Jacob is sassy today. It's a good question. I think Nebraska has a way better shot at Michigan than the 18-point line would indicate. But the Wolverines should win that game most of the time. So it better be Purdue. Not based on my own feelings –– it's certainly not a must-win in my mind –– but I'm not anxious to see what things look like if the Huskers are headed to Wisconsin at 0-4.

Narrative has shifted from total unity to needing more buy-in in less than a couple months. Have some players lost faith in the process after working harder than before but still losing twice? How important are these next few weeks in the big-picture view of the rebuild? (@ao3rman5)

ES: I’m guessing there were players that weren’t fully bought-in all along. We just didn’t hear about them, because that’s really not what a new coach wants to peddle to the media in his first year. We’ve heard enough now to know there is a player (or multiple players) not showing up for practice and meetings on time, not showing up to meals when they’re supposed to, etc. I don’t think it’s a common problem across the entire team, but it’s bound to happen with any new coach. Some kids buy in. Others don’t.

As for the next few weeks, it’s important Nebraska gets a win sooner rather than later. Morale will improve if they can, and it’ll help them on that whole “learning to win” thing. It would be pretty hard to stay positive if you’re losing constantly, so I think it’s important for that win to come soon. I don’t think it will make or break the big picture, but it’ll be helpful in the short term.

Why are special teams so hard to get right? (@thawildbunch)

DP: It’s more important with this staff than it was with the last staff. It has taken time to get every guy that goes out there to feel the same way. That’s my take on the situation, at least. Guys like Tre Neal and Cam Taylor and Collin Miller have been flying around, but like Tanner Farmer said, it only takes a few guys…

Did anyone find out what made Frost so upset with the officials at the end of the half? (Justin Taylor)

DP: They weren’t happy about the targeting call. I think that had something to do with it.

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