Another week, another mailbag. Let’s jump right into it.
It seems like Martinez isn't running as much, but he's on pace to have 15 more rushes this season than last season. Unfortunately, his average is about 40% lower per rush. Is it the type of runs? Is he more hesitant? Have they coached him to not be as aggressive with his feet? (@Corn_Huskers)
Why does #2 look so indecisive out there? He appears to lack the same explosion he had last year. I thought it could have been the play-calling but they were much more aggressive last game and he wasn’t nearly as good at making the first man miss. (@tklim2430)
Martinez hasn't seemed to be nearly as explosive and all-around B.A. this year as last. What could be the cause of that? Sophomore slump, bad play-calling, OL struggles (etc.). Is that going to turn around as we get into B1G play? (@InDaWilderness)
Jacob Padilla: Greg and I were just discussing Martinez’s running in the HV office on Tuesday. I’ve seen a lot of people saying he doesn’t look like the same runner, some positing that the weight he’s added has slowed him down. I don’t know that I agree with that. It’s true he hasn’t had the same success on the ground overall. Excluding sacks, Martinez carried the ball 9.8 times per game last season at 6.7 yards per carry. This year, the attempts are up to 11.7 but the average is down to 4.7, which is still decent. I’d say he’s been up and down more so than he hasn’t been the same guy, because he’s been awesome in stretches. Against Colorado, he ran the ball 13 times for 99 yards. He’s showed he still has the speed, and he’s added some power too (see the rushing touchdown against Colorado). I think part of the issue here is that teams are defending Martinez differently. We heard a Colorado player basically give away their game plan against him – teams don’t want to let him beat them on the ground. I do think he’s hesitant at times, but part of that might be the rushing lanes aren’t quite as open as they were last season. Ultimately, I think he’ll be fine as the offense continues to find some rhythm and he does a better job of figuring out what defenses are doing to him.
Brandon Vogel: Jacob hit on a key point—teams had an offseason to prepare for Martinez this time around. Not only do they have a better idea of what he wants to do, but they also have a better picture of how damaging it can be. When it comes to devoting resources and structuring the defensive game plan, would you put more towards the known or the unknown? Well, the known, of course, and that’s Martinez. The unknown in this equation, entering the season and still now, was the run game without Devine Ozigbo. If teams are willing to focus on the QB run, then they’re giving up something somewhere else and without the run game as a whole running as smoothly as it did last year those defenses haven’t been burned too badly by what it decided to live with (i.e. everything non-Martinez; handoffs, bubble screens, etc.). If Dedrick Mills, Maurice Washington, Wan’Dale Robinson, et al can make teams pay for that more often than they have so far, I still think you could see some big rushing games from Martinez. Right now, however, Nebraska isn’t quite at the pick-your-poison level it was a year ago.
Greg Smith: Teams are hell-bent on not letting him beat them with his legs and he’s been indecisive because of the additional attention he is receiving in my opinion. The next step he has to take is figuring out a counter punch so to speak to adjust. If teams are going to use a spy or two on him, there will be more favorable passing lanes but Martinez has to see them and take advantage. He will be fine, he’s just growing as a football player.
On a scale of 1-10, how concerning is it we’re finding some offensive rhythm but mainly through Maurice Washington, who, come middle of the season, may not be able to play anymore? (@sweetermanders)
BV: I’m at a four on that. It’s not a concern for me yet, but it’s worth monitoring. Washington is making a good amount of plays with his ability in the run game. You’ll take those, of course, but in a perfect world he wouldn’t have to make so many things happen on his own. That said, if you knew he was going to be available, I think his usage rate would be even higher. He can do a lot of things and is a perfect fit for this offense. But because this offense is still young, as is the season, I look at it as “whatever it takes” at this point. If the Huskers have to play their trump card, so to speak, to find some rhythm early maybe that helps them down the road.
Derek Peterson: I’d put my level of concern at a two because this was to be expected, and because I don’t believe Washington’s going to suddenly become unavailable once the calendar rolls around to October. He and Wan’Dale Robinson are their two most dynamic players on offense, so if they’re finding their offensive rhythm through one of those guys, I don’t necessarily see that as a concern.
It’s early, but what team in the Big Ten has been the most surprising to date with its performance? (@dmhusker1)
BV: I’d look to the top of both divisions. I had Wisconsin atop the West in my offseason power rankings, but it has looked even better than anticipated through two games. This week could be really telling as Michigan comes to Madison. I feel similarly about Ohio State. I didn’t think the Buckeyes would fall off the map by any means, but there were at least reasons to pause when considering a coaching change at one of the steadiest programs in the game. So far Ohio State doesn’t look like it has missed a beat either. I guess that means the most surprising thing through two weeks is that it isn’t more surprising at the top. Also, Maryland putting up a billion points through two weeks made me take notice. Losing to Temple on the road, in the specific way the Terps lost, isn’t a bad loss by any means.
JP: I’ll go with Wisconsin as well, mostly because Jack Coan has been really good and I was not expecting that. If he’s legit, the Badgers are going to be an absolute handful to deal with offensively, and they haven’t given up a single point defensively yet either.
DP: I, for one, am completely shocked that Michigan State, facing its first true test of the young season, looked so uninspiring on offense. Against Arizona State, the Spartan offense produced seven points in 74 plays. They’re struggling to run the ball and penalties have been a serious issue. Shocked I tell you. That this side, which was abysmal offensively last season and dealt with that by playing a new-fangled game of musical chairs with the coaching staff where no one was left out but everyone ended up in a seat that doesn’t quite fit, hasn’t had more offensive success. Shocked.
Offense is getting better but still seems to be boom or bust. Wondering what the "stuff rate" looks like for the NU Offense and what they can do to start consistently getting 3 yards per rush while waiting for the big play to boom. (@edreas)
BV: Football Outsiders has stuff rate listed under its offensive line stats if you’re ever looking for it. Those o-line stats are not pretty right now. The Huskers’ stuff rate is at 23.3%, which ranks 107th nationally. Last year it was 18.5% (58th). Nebraska also ranks in the triple digits in line yards and sack rate, too. I don’t know if there’s much you can do other than hope that group continues to jell and improve as the season goes on—the uncertain status of Brenden Jaimes does not help—but that won’t be easy in the Big Ten. Nebraska might be in a spot where it has to work around that to a degree via the quick passing game. Not ideal, but maybe the best bet.
Do you think the Blackshirts will average closer to 74 plays a game or closer to 81 plays a game at the end of this season? (@Sal_Vasta3)
JP: Through three games, Nebraska’s opponents are averaging 79.3 plays. Unless Nebraska’s offensive line just doesn’t improve, I think the offense will continue to improve as the season plays out, which means Adrian Martinez and his crew should be on the field more and the Blackshirts should be out there less. The range you gave made it tough, but I’ll say they’re closer to 74 than 81, though not by a ton. For reference, Nebraska was at 74.5 plays per game faced last season.
DP: And UCF was at 74.5 in 2017.
UCF has scored 62, 48, and last week 45 against Stanford. How long will it take Frost and Co. to start getting the offense consistently humming? Next year (with potentially all o-line back)? Two years when he only has guys he's recruited and walk-on program strong? Longer? (@Sal_Vasta3)
BV: It feels like Year 3 is the year that really has Frost salivating about what the offense could do. He mentioned multiple times this offseason that Nebraska might not start a senior on that side of the ball. We’ll see how the rest of this year goes before making that determination, but Nebraska should have a pretty high ceiling on offense next season. Still could be true this year, too. While the sky-high point totals haven’t been there yet, the Huskers’ efficiency and explosiveness numbers aren’t far off what they were in 2018.
ES: Year 3 feels like the year to me too. Again, we need to see how this year plays out before we can be certain, but a lot of these growing pains should work themselves out by 2020. The offensive line will be another year older. Adrian Martinez will have had more time to settle into his role (which see the first question above and the answers to understand why experience will be crucial for him). Time is important, and another year of experience should serve this offense well.
GS: I’m going to hold out hope for a jump in points per game this season. We haven’t seen the offense play close to its best football yet. The explosion is there but the consistency isn’t yet. If those get closer to meeting, we could still see some big numbers this year.
DP: Frost is optimistic about next year, and for good reason, as Brandon has pointed out, but everyone was optimistic about this year, too. I think it’s still too early to rule out an offensive jump in Year 2.
Any sense of how the coaching staff is using the redshirt rule? I thought we'd see more of the younger guys getting a chance to play (understand they have to prove it throughout the week). However, there's an argument to throw them in a see what spark it could provide the offense. (@Sal_Vasta3)
JP: It’s important to take advantage of that rule, but like you said, the freshmen have to go out there and show they’re ready to play. The coaches aren’t going to throw them out there to fail. So far, Wan’Dale Robinson, Garrett Nelson and Quinton Newsome have played in every game and it looks like all three will burn their redshirts. The coaches have worked Noa Pola-Gates in on special teams the last couple of weeks. Darien Chase saw his first action on offense against Northern Illinois, as did Rahmir Johnson and Bryce Benhart. I think we’ll see a few guys continue to work in as the season plays out. The coaches have to think about the future with this rule, but they also have to keep in mind the present and reward the guys who have put in work over the last one, two, three, four or even five seasons. Regarding the “spark” part of the question, the coaches aren’t going to play guys unless they show they can actually help based on how they do in practice. I don’t think Scott Frost is the kind of guy who’s going to just throw stuff at the board and see what sticks.
GS: I actually don’t think there is an argument for throwing guys in just to see if they provide a spark. Coaches don’t really think that way. As Jacob said, those young guys have to prove during the week that they are capable of handling game reps before the staff will put them in. Could those guys be brought along faster? Perhaps. But the way things are now I don’t see many more young guys getting real time that haven’t already.
Who is the unsung hero of the defense? (@THINKMULE)
JP: That’s a tough one. We had the opposing coach specifically highlight Darrion Daniels after last week’s game, so I don’t think it can be him. I don’t think Mohamed Barry has played as well as he’s capable of yet, and he’s certainly not unsung. Everyone knows about the corners and Cam Taylor-Britt has been the talk of the defense so far. I’ll go with JoJo Domann if he qualifies. He hasn’t had a huge start to the season, but I think he’ll continue to become more important as the season rolls on and as his snap count continues to rise. Taylor-Britt potentially being out makes Domann and his ability to both cover and play the run even more valuable.
Who is the fastest guy on the football team? (@THINKMULE)
ES: According to Rahmir Johnson, he is in the top two on the team. He credited both Mike Williams and Dicaprio Bootle for their speed too. We know Maurice Washington is fast. I’d throw Cam Taylor-Britt in the race too. I think Washington is the safe bet on speed, but I believe Johnson when he says he’s up there. I wouldn’t count Taylor-Britt out either. Maybe we just need to make this race a reality?
GS: I give the nod to Rahmir Johnson. The player I think needs more consideration is Luke McCaffrey. I would be really curious to see where he actually ranks on the team because I’d bet it’s top 5.
DP: The Jaron Woodyard disrespect here is criminal.
Give me your most pessimistic take about our Huskers. (@TheWeeksy)
BV: The offensive line could struggle in Big Ten play. A so-so offensive line is never a good way to win a bunch of games and Nebraska hasn’t proven otherwise yet. That’s concerning because the Big Ten is a tough league against the run and usually full of strong defensive lines and star defensive linemen. (The Huskers will see one this week.) I do think there’s a chance this line’s best football is still in front of it, but this is a tough league to do it in.
DP: Big Ten teams aren’t going to be able to show the Husker offense completely new looks in the same way the non-conference teams on the Huskers’ schedule have been able to these first three weeks, but what those defenses have done is provide the blueprint for how to fluster Adrian Martinez. He’s still not able to drop that ball in over the top of a guy and has really lacked that touch through the first three weeks. (Think: the deep shot to Wan’Dale Robinson against South Alabama down the right hash that he overthrew, Robinson was walking in for six. If the run game is more Weeks 1 and 2 than Week 3, and the onus is on Martinez to beat teams with his arm alone, things could get dicey if he can’t make those kinds of throws in-between zones more consistently.
Offense took a BIG step vs NIU, Defense has been pretty stout, and the team overall LOOKS a lot better. Compare and contrast the second year Huskers with the second year Knights, three games in. It's not a fair comparison I know, BUT that is the litmus we have to go on. (@ChuckandM)
BV: It’s not quite at UCF’s 2017 level, but maybe closer than you’d think? (I guess that would require knowing how close you thought it might be. UCF’s offense averaged 0.612 points per play on offense through three games (FIU, Maryland, Memphis) in 2017 and the defense allowed .205, for a difference of .407. That’s a damn good differential. Nebraska in 2019 is at .562 on offense and .265 on defense. That’s solid, and a lot better than last year, but not what the Knights showed early in their run to 13-0.
If college gameday comes, who do you think would be the guest picker? (@Peyton51533)
ES: Gabrielle Union would be my choice, and I’d bet she’s high on the list.
GS: I love the Gabrielle Union pick. John Cook would be my 1a and Union is my 1b. Darkhorse pick: Bud Crawford.
DP: Gabby Union.
How is Jahkeem Green coming along? Close to seeing action? (@sells_tom)
DP: The four-man rotation of Darrion Daniels, Khalil and Carlos Davis and Ben Stille is playing so well right now I think that has as much to do with Green’s lack of run as anything. The situation he finds himself in now is basically one where he has to beat out Deontre Thomas for snaps. As the season wears on, Nebraska could go with seven or eight guys consistently up front, but I think Thomas is the first guy he’s got to jump.
Chances of landing Omar Manning, Brian George, and the WR/TE hybrid guy? Also, we will be short on DT next year. We have Nash and Damion, but who else do we have a shot at? (@Go_Big_Red)
GS: The chances of landing Manning are good but keep an eye on Oregon. I don’t love the chances with Brian George but that would change if Nebraska can get him on campus. It’s tough to get JUCO players on campus during the season because their schedules are so packed. I assume the hybrid player you mean is DeShawn Hanika. Landing him will largely depend on if the Huskers have space for him and a bit of what happens with other targets. Damion and Nash are probably all Nebraska needs considering they mostly play nose tackles now. However, Alex Harrison and Marquis Black are names to watch.
We havent seen Miles Jones play. Any thoughts of him possibly going into the portal after the Illinois game? (@btran0524)
Coming up on Game 4, who is possibly eyeing the transfer portal? (@lredeugene)
JP: Miles Jones actually did play in each of the last two games, he just hasn’t cracked the box score yet. Troy Walters talked about him before the Northern Illinois game.
“He’s one of the guys that has had a good week of practice and has done some good things throughout fall camp and can provide some more depth, especially with Wan’Dale playing some more running back. Miles is a guy that needs to get in there and get his feet wet, so to speak. He’s an explosive playmaker and so he’s one the guys that should see some time this week.”
There are only so many snaps to go around right now, and Nebraska is having enough trouble getting its starters touches. Would I be shocked at some point if Jones or any of the other players not getting playing time entered the portal at some point? No. But I don’t get the sense that Jones specifically is looking to get out of town three games into his redshirt freshman season.
What is needed specifically to pull out a win against a #6 Ohio State team (@Jumpshotbroke)
DP: Adrian Martinez’s best performance of the season. The run defense needs to continue to hold up because JK Dobbins is an entirely different animal than anyone NIU has to offer. The Huskers have to win the turnover margin and get a 100-yard day from one of Maurice Washington, JD Spielman or Wan’Dale Robinson. Notice how none of these are particularly out there? Nebraska just needs to play its game to have a chance, if that game is clean and in top form, I like the Huskers’ odds.
I’m trying to think positively, so hear me out…What if Nebraska’s only loss in the Big Ten is Ohio State? What are the chances of a NY6 bowl (assuming OSU wins the Big Ten and gets a playoff bid)? (@nicklincoln19)
BV: If that happens, go ahead and put Nebraska in a NY6 bowl. Write it in ink. Even if Michigan were to go 11-1 with its only loss to Ohio State, I think both the Huskers and Wolverines get in. The Big Ten had two non-playoff teams in NY6 bowls in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
How many songs will Rick Ross sing at The Opening Night next Friday? Will Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade bring anyone else with them? (@Dustin_Huber)
ES: I’m going to say 3-4 songs, maybe a medley with the songs shortened (and edited, as we know). I think it’ll be a quick performance, maybe 15-20 minutes? It’s hard to assume, but I just can’t see it being a long performance. Although we did just get the evening’s schedule and he is set to perform last in the evening’s events, so I suppose it could be a longer performance than I’m suggesting and assuming. I’ve also been asked if Wade would bring LeBron James for the weekend, and I have no idea. But maybe?
DP: If Ohio State-Nebraska is GameDay and Wade is in town, LeBron should come, too. Please.
Mike Leach was asked in a presser which mascot in PAC-12 was toughest. Which B1G mascot does the HV staff feel is the meanest, baddest SOB out there? (@md_schmidt)
BV: The wolverine. Easily. I mean, you have to remove the humans from the equation, of course, because that’s no fun. Once you do that, and because there are no wolves in the Big Ten, the notoriously ruthless wolverine is the pick. Could it take down a wildcat or mountain lion? Eh, probably not, but there have been reports of wolverines taking a kill from bears and big cats. A bear, staring down a wolverine, knows it could probably win the fight, but it also knows it’s going to suck and in some cases at least decides it’s just not worth it. That’s why the wolverine wins.
DP: OK, but, like, what is Purdue’s mascot? Purde Pete or a train? Because the train wins and contest. . . Nothing can kill a train but a train can. . . you know. I like Brandon’s pick of a wolverine but a spartan has armor and a sword and is probably better on the offensive than the team he’s representing, so that would be my pick.
Are black cleats going to continue to be worn? Who’s making the uniform decisions? (@KGOneNine)
ES: I would assume we’ll continue to see them, and I'm guessing that’s a decision being made by Frost. He probably doesn’t make all uniform or gear decisions, but if he says, “We’re wearing black cleats,” well, the team is wearing black cleats.
DP: College football fans care about some strange things.
In what games will the home & away alternate uniforms be worn in? (@HuskerChocolate)
ES: I was pretty set on Nebraska wearing the black uniforms for Ohio State, but I could see Frost not wanting to put any added noise on that game. It feels like maybe they’ll opt for the traditional red jersey with white pants for that game to just stay focused on the “nameless” opponent. So, maybe Northwestern and homcoming get the black uniforms? Without knowing what away alternate is on the table, I’m not going to guess there.
Who are your top three coaches to never win a championship? Any sport (@IBeLionsBeats)
BV: I’ll stick just with college football. Bill Snyder tops that list for me. Bo Schembechler is on it. I’ll put Frank Beamer on there as well.