Another Wednesday means it’s mailbag time. Let’s get to it.
As a fan, it’s hard to stay levelheaded when talking about expectations. With what you’ve seen the first 6 weeks, what do you think realistically happens the last 6? (@tklim2430)
Mike Babcock: I’d say 3-3 is realistic, but 4-2 is within (reasonable) reach. It’s going to be a scrap down the stretch. A win Saturday night would be huge.
Brandon Vogel: Well, in the interest of levelheadedness, let’s start with what should be a fairly objective measure—FPI. Based on Nebraska’s remaining win probabilities the Huskers expected win total over the final six games is 2.3. (Note: Those probabilities change a little each week, so this week’s number isn’t necessarily next week’s number.)
After the Ohio State game, I wrote that Nebraska’s most immediate goal was to go 4-0 against Northwestern, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue. That would keep the Huskers in contention and set up a November where they could decide their own fate. It wasn’t going to be an easy task, but as a best-case scenario—a realistic goal—it felt attainable. Going into last week’s game, again based on FPI’s win probabilities, Nebraska had an 8.8% chance of winning all four games. Despite not playing that well and dropping in FPI, getting one win was important. The Huskers’ chances of winning all of the next three is up to 11%.
Personally, I would give Nebraska a slightly better outlook than 2.3 wins over the next six. Three wins feels closer to me. Going 4-2 over the final six would be an absolute success in my mind.
Derek Peterson: Nebraska beats Minnesota. Nebraska beats Indiana and Purdue after the bye because Nebraska is the better team. Nebraska beats Maryland. Nebraska wins one of Iowa and Wisconsin. I said 9-3 before the season, and I considered Colorado a potential loss in there. I thought Nebraska was going to be in a position to beat Ohio State, but it wasn’t going to surprise me if they lost. The offensive open to this season has been shocking, yes, but I didn’t even expect this level of play from the defense and I was one of the few on the more optimistic end of the spectrum. I think this defense is good enough to carry the team and betting on Martinez to stay this cold for an entire season is not a bet I’m willing to take just yet.
Jacob Padilla: I said 8-4 before the season and I’m going to stick with that, though I think 7-5 is much more realistic than 9-3 based on what I’ve seen so far. They’ve got to find a way to make some real strides offensively or the second half of the season is going to continue to be a bumpy ride.
Erin Sorensen: I’m not going to re-hash everything Brandon said above, but the two more wins feels safest. Going 6-6 seems as possibly to me as 9-3. I think Nebraska can beat Indiana, Purdue and probably Maryland. I’m less certain about Minnesota. I don’t feel great about Wisconsin or Iowa. So if I’m being realistic, I think this team ends 7-5. The positive? That’s a bowl game.
Seems like the coaching staff is waking a fine line between building for the future (redshirting and development) and trying to win now (throwing young guys into the fire, like the O-line). Should (rational) fans share this mindset for the future? (@Sal_Vasta3)
MB: Best way is to build for the future, though you don’t want to short-change the seniors.
BV: “Fine line” is a good way to put it. It’s a tough call right now. Could Nebraska win the West this year? It could, though it’s certainly not the favorite today. So, how do you respond to that reality based on how the first half of the season has already unfolded with injuries, development, etc.? The Huskers certainly aren’t out of it, but do you devote all the resources available right now to a division push if you know the odds are relatively long? Or do you try to reserve some resources for a better shot down the line? That’s a tough question to answer. And to be clear, everyone is trying to win every game. That’s not a question. But for borderline decisions when you’re trying to “build this the right way,” I think maximizing potential gains is part of the discussion. So far I think the staff has done a good job straddling that line and it still could go either way. The Minnesota game, I think, will tell us a lot.
DP: I think the best example of this is in what Scott Frost said about Rahmir Johnson. He’s ready to help right now, but they’re still trying to preserve his redshirt. I think that should tell people all they need to know about how Frost views this. So, I’ll say you just need to acknowledge that fact. You’re still allowed to be optimistic, though. That’s part of being a fan. That’s why every fanbase everywhere holds up a single finger when a TV camera pans in front of them. Like I said above, it’s still within the realm of possibility that this group of Huskers can see plenty more wins this season
The wide receiver unit has been very lackluster so far this season (aside Wan’Dale and JD). Why? Lack of O-line protection so quarterback can’t get it to them? Bad route-running/inability to get open? Lack of development from that group? Can it change this season, or does recruiting need to fix it? (@Sal_Vasta3)
MB: It’s unfair to put every problem on the offensive line, though granted, it needs some work. Not sure there’s the necessary confidence in the other receivers, though Frost has been extremely complimentary of Noa of late (for example). Woodyard is also a head-scratcher.
Greg Smith: I don’t think recruiting is the answer here. Better coaching, development and more trust to put guys into the game would be my fix. Could you recruit better players? Sure but at some point you have to let them get on the field and do something.
JP: I don’t get to see the All-22 angle of the game film, so it’s hard to focus in on what exactly is happening with the receivers on a play-to-play basis. I definitely think the overall offensive issues (line and quarterback play) have something to do with it, but the receivers certainly have to play better. One thing I noted before the season is that it looked like Nebraska had a lot of the same type of receiver, with most of them being slot guys. Wan’Dale Robinson, and Mike Williams (three of the four guys playing the majority of the snaps) are all 5-foot-10 or below. Kanawai Noa, listed at 6-foot, is the only bigger receiver who has seen significant playing time. Spielman and Noa are both playing primarily outside (though Spielman does move around), and both of those guys have had their previous success playing in the slot. Darien Chase (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), Kade Warner (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and Jaevon McQuitty (6-foot-, 200 pounds) are the bigger receivers, yet none of them are really playing (Warner’s been hurt, but he’s also a natural slot receiver). Williams and Jaron Woodyard (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) are supposed to be your speed guys, but Woodyard isn’t playing and Williams hardly ever gets targeted (and it’s hard to win downfield at his size anyway). Demariyon Houston and Jamie Nance are supposed to be pretty fast as well, but neither one appears close to sniffing the field. All of this is to say that it seems like Nebraska is trying to fit a lot of square pegs into round holes with its wide receivers this season and it doesn’t appear to be working.
DP: Can I say all of the above? Martinez needs time to survey his options and he needs a snap that allows him to start on the primary receiver. The non-JD guys need to quit dancing/quit dropping/start getting open when targeted. I think it can change this season, but it’s going to require giving Darien Chase and Jaron Woodyard and Jaevon McQuitty and Jamie Nance a chance. (I will continue saying this because I think it’s true, not having Andre Hunt threw a wrench into things.)
At what point does Frost and Co. start putting the more "unproven" players on the field at those wideout spots or on the O-line (center), just to try to make something happen? (@InDaWilderness)
MB: Given their commitment to Jurgens at this point, I think they have to stay the course with him, allow him to continue to develop. I think they’ve considered getting unproven players on the field to no avail. Anyone who might help would/has been given a shot.
DP: See my answer above for the receivers, I think it’s time. As for the offensive line, Jurgens isn’t getting pulled. Nebraska has committed itself to him at this point. So, the only other guy getting moved would be Matt Farniok inside for Bryce Benhart, which isn’t happening.
When Frost & Co. took the job there needed to be a dramatic shift in culture. Now that we’re halfway through Year 2 where would you say the culture stands now? What has had the biggest impact on the culture of the program thus far? (@brooks_layne)
DP: I think starting 0-6 had a profound impact on the team. It showed guys they weren’t going to just waltz their way to wins because Scott Frost was on the sidelines. It showed guys it wasn’t going to be easy. If you missed my Hail Varsity Yearbook feature on this, I would point you there, as it’s mostly just about where the culture was at and what guys did to fix it. I know the changes those guys made last year are still in effect this year. I know Damian Jackson now leads the morning punishment sessions. Culture is no longer an issue. I think it’s a little bit of a moving target with senior leaders graduating every year, but I think Frost is happy with where the team is at in that respect.
A lot of people are questioning play-calling with regards to the offensive struggles. I’m leaning more towards execution. Which do you think it is more of based on your observations? (@JJStark8)
MB: I don’t put everything on the players, but given the choice, I’d say execution. The system worked at UCF, although as I’ve regularly said, the Big Ten is more demanding; a team can’t just expect to roll up a bunch of points and out-score an opponent week in and week out—though Ohio State is scoring points, and playing good defense. When the defense is on the field a lot, with an up-tempo offense, the offense needs to provide some points as a trade-off. And when the offense is three-and-out, that’s no help, of course. I’d start with execution, but decision-making isn’t just on the quarterback.
BV: Some plans are better than others, but at this level most plans are typically pretty good. These coaches get paid a lot of money to be good at it and if they aren’t they don’t get to stick around for very long (particularly in today’s game). That’s why football, in my mind, almost always comes down to execution. An average plan with above-average execution will beat an above-average plan with average execution almost every time. That doesn’t absolve any football coach from responsibility, however. In addition to coming up with a good plan, it also has to be a plan the team is capable of executing at a high level. I’m no coach, but that seems like one of the toughest things to get a handle on—how do you coax consistent execution out of a group of athletes that’s changing every year?
Two questions. 1) When do the snap issues get fixed? 2) At what point in the season does it become concerning that we only have half of a recruiting class? (@nebraskicker)
GS: The recruit class is on track of about where the staff thought it would be. It won’t be a concern until more targets commit to other schools. Right now, I like the Huskers to finish the class strong.
DP: Never. They’re never getting fixed. This will be Nebraska football for the next four years.
ES: The snap issue gets fixed with experience. Jurgens is a converted tight end. Snapping is not easy. The only solution is time and repetition, so settle in.
What would Jonathan Taylor’s production look like if Wisconsin had our offensive line? (@emarintzer)
MB: I like the implication of your question, which is self-answering in my mind.
DP: I always find these questions weird. Taylor would still be a 1,000-yard rusher. He’d still be one of the best running backs in the country. Evidence by the offensive line in Madison changing over and him still being one of the best running backs in the country. Plus, run-blocking is not where this Nebraska offensive line has struggled.
JP: Dedrick Mills is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Maurice Washington is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and Wan’Dale Robinson is at 4.4 per carry. Taylor is at 7.2 per tote, and he’s a significantly better runner than anyone Nebraska has. I think he’d be just fine.
Why does it seem like every other penalty against Neb doesn't get called or is called incorrectly? It does seem to be something SF noticed too, what can he do about it? (@uni_klaus)
DP: Because the Big Ten is out to get Nebraska. Jim Delany’s memo to UNL leadership when they joined the conference was just a post-it note delivered to the stadium with “Shoulda stayed with Texas” scribbled on it.
JP: Because officiating is difficult and there aren’t a lot of people, particularly in the Big Ten it seems, that are really good at it. It is baffling when you see so many non-judgment things (like a snapper getting run over) not called correctly, but so it goes. Also, fans tend to only focus on the flags that affect their side. The officiating was really bad in the Northwestern game, but the biggest missed call of the game went in Nebraska’s favor and basically gave the Huskers a chance to win the game, which they capitalized on.
Do you think coach frost would ever decide to cycle between Martinez and Vedral during games to get Vedral more playing time? I know he’s the backup but it seems he is just as capable. (@Noah_LBZ)
DP: If you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.
MB: What Derek said is the consensus, I think. The only concession I would make to that, and Nebraska hasn’t shown it’s good enough to do this, is as Tom Osborne often did, set a series for the back-up to get in when the game matters. But you stick with the starter.
JP: No, I don’t believe Frost would ever decide to do that. Rarely do you see teams – particularly good teams – use more than one quarterback on a consistent basis, and those that do often have quarterbacks with dramatically different skill sets (think Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter at Northwestern a while back). The better guy is going to play every meaningful snap for which he’s healthy, and Frost has judged Martinez to be the better guy.
Health issues. Is anyone saying anything about status of the players who left Saturday's game with injuries? (@WMahannah)
MB: Frost: “He’ll be all right.” (fill in the name)
ES: Here’s how to decode Nebraska’s injuries with Frost at the helm: A no-mention or a “he’ll be all right” answer imply the player may see playing time again soon. A direct update means it’s season-ending. That’s how it’s been since Frost arrived and that’s how it'll be until injury reports are required.
I know it's mid-season and there are more immediate concerns to discuss, but looking at future schedules, how can the Big Ten justify their scheduling imbalance? (@jsjensen9)
MB: The Big Ten doesn’t justify its actions.
ES: What Mike said.
What’s the best response to another fan base that claims “ThErE iS nOtHiNg ElSe To Do In NeBrAsKa”? (@braun_not_brown)
MB: I wouldn’t try to persuade someone with such tunnel vision otherwise. I’d fail in my attempt.
ES: The best response is bringing the person to Nebraska and letting them see for themselves. However, if this is the person’s response to you, it seems unlikely they’ll make the trip. In that case, best to leave it be. No use in arguing with someone who isn’t interested in being persuaded otherwise.
With the new facilities being planned, any guesses as to where the Lane McCallum statue will be erected? (Justin Taylor, email)
ES: Right next to the Johnny Trueblood one.
DP: Right in front of the main entrance. Just like the Tom Osborne statue in front of North Stadium. Same kind of impact.