Khalil Davis Earned the Opportunity to Represent Nebraska in Chicago
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Mega-Mailbag: QBs, Statistical Bumps, Surprises, Turnovers & So Much More

September 12, 2018

It's a mega-mailbag so let's just get right to it. Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson are here to answer all the questions.

Since the next issue of Hail Varsity will be a food issue, what is your go-to tailgate food? (@Rawker8)

ES: I haven’t tailgated in a long, long time but I like your traditional items like seven-layer dip, queso dip, lil’ smokies, meatballs, etc. I’ve actually made those things for myself on a Sunday just because. Tailgating in your house for NFL games. Totally normal.

DP: Don’t complicate things. Give me chips, give me queso, give me football, leave me alone.

GS: Give me some pigs in a blanket with cheddar smokies and I’m good to go.

Big statistical improvements were made in sacks, rushing defense, and rushing yards. What is the next step that will be improved from last year? (@Corn_Huskers)

JP: The next big step is turnovers. The defense didn’t have any against Colorado and Erik Chinander’s system thrives on the kind of chaos that result in takeaways. Nebraska almost had an interception on an underthrown ball that Dicaprio Bootle couldn’t haul in, but almost isn’t going to cut it, especially if the offense isn’t where it needs to be in terms of ball security as we saw in week one.

BV: What Jacob said. That’s the big one. Though special teams as a whole wasn’t anything to write home about. Barret Pickering will make kicks. Kick return is sort of out of any team’s hands to a large degree. Kickoff can be that way if Nebraska opts to just take the touchback most of the time. That leaves punt return. I’ll be looking for some gains there, which shouldn’t be hard given the Huskers’ average after week one is -0.7 yards per return. It will improve, but can it be a weapon?

DP: I’ll be a little cheap and just use both what Brandon and Jacob said and go with field position (also because that’s what I’ve been looking at the last couple days). Nebraska ranked 92nd in the country in average starting field position on offense last year and 83rd on defense. The offense typically started on its 28-yard-line while the defense was starting on the 30. I expect both of those standings to improve because I expect Nebraska to get a little better in the return game and a little better (hopefully a lot better) in the turnover department. Combined, those would help field position tremendously and everyone knows if you start closer to the goal it’s easier to get there. Now, Game 1 things went the other direction; Colorado averaged drives at the 33 and Nebraska at the 27. Those have to get better, but I still think they will. The reasons for why they weren’t against Colorado were largely self-inflicted.

How good do you think Scott Frost is gonna be? I saw Tim Brando tweet some predictions for Frost and I was very surprised by what he said. Hadn’t really been said before. (@ApolloSolace)

BV: Really good. He will make Nebraska a factor in the Big Ten and if you’re playing for conference championships consistently, most years you’re in the Playoff discussion. Beyond that? I won’t go there yet, but stay in the conference title/Playoff hunt over multiple years and you’ve got a chance.

GS: I’m convinced that he will be really good. I think starting next year, Nebraska will be annual contenders to win the West with a chance to go to Indy. If the Huskers are doing that every year, they can make some real noise. I think it begins with setting your sights on the conference title. It would not surprise me if Nebraska makes the Playoff within Frost’s first five seasons.

What can Coach Chinander do to help the defense improve in their third-and-long game? Colorado had third-and-10-plus or fourth down 10 times & converted six of them (to include third-and-13, 15, 19 and 24). Seems like we ought to be holding that percentage down to 25 percent or less. More blitzing, tighter coverage, or what? (@md_schmidt)

JP: I think a big part of it is the team continuing to improve communication and becoming more comfortable in Chinander’s system. The Huskers admitted a couple of the big plays to Laviska Shenault Jr. were a result of the safety rotating over late, and that stuff should only improve. One of those conversions was the dumb penalty on Reed as well, so I wouldn’t consider that in the same category.

GS: I agree with Jacob. Communication is the key here. Also keeping disciplined in your zone. Nebraska played more zone than I expected on Saturday. If they are going to continue doing that, they have to stay disciplined because not doing so hurt them at least twice on Saturday.

With the poor season start, is there a bigger opportunity for the BIG West to gain some respect than a Purdue win at home this week? (@CoryHonold)

ES: A Purdue win over Missouri? Sign me up for that. And to your question, that win definitely wouldn’t hurt the Big Ten West at all.

BV: Yeah, that’s the one. Purdue needs that one, too. The Boilermakers have played two decent teams (yes, I’m including EMU) and are averaging over 8 yards per rush (1st nationally) yet they’re 0-2. Illinois beating USF would also be a boost to the overall perception of the division, but that ain’t happening.

Assuming Nebraska wins on Saturday vs. Troy, it will have been 322 days between wins (last Oct. 28, 2017 vs. Purdue. Is that the longest stretch between wins in program history? (@pdscallywag3)

BV: Going by days, no. The 1957 team won its last (and only) game of that year on Oct. 5. The 1958 Huskers won their opener on Sept. 20 for a stretch of 351 days. There was also a 358-day stretch spanning from the 1942 season to 1943. I didn’t go back beyond the 1940s, but I’m guessing there aren’t any longer unless you get to the early, early days when teams were playing three or four games a season.

What’s the feasibility of Nebraska playing UCF after it was announced it’s been canceled due to the hurricane? (@402primetime)


UCF just canceled their game at UNC this weekend. Guess who they share a bye week with?!? Under/over 0 percent chance of this happening? (@TheWeeksy)

ES: I don’t see this happening for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I imagine UNC and UCF will try to reschedule if able. Aside from that, I don’t see Scott Frost being particularly fond of this idea. There would be a lot of pressure around this, and it’s really too soon (in my opinion) for the two programs to meet. He’d be coaching against some of his own players and that just feels odd. Anyway, I guess I’d take the over if the percent you’re giving it is 0 percent, but that’s only because it could be 0.05% and I’d still be right.

JP: I feel confident enough pushing here (how can you go under 0 percent in terms or probability?) because there’s no way in my opinion that Frost would let it happen. He’s not going to coach against his former players. Beyond that, though UCF has a bye on Oct. 27 it has to play a Thursday game on Nov. 1 which would be a pretty quick turnaround. Nebraska is going to be looking for an easy win with that 12th game, and Central Florida won’t be an easy win for anyone this season.

DP: I have a better chance of starting at quarterback for Nebraska on Saturday than this hypothetical game has of being scheduled. 1) No one on this staff will want to play their old players, not just Frost. 2) Athletic Director Bill Moos is looking at FCS opponents for an Oct. 27 game, not one of the country’s best teams. 3) Scheduling this means both teams will play an entire regular season without a bye week, UCF for the second year in a row. No one wants that. 4) Moos does not want to turn a home game into a road game. 5) UCF Athletic Director Danny White does not want to come play in Lincoln. National media is going to push this and it’s a fun possibility for something like a video game simulation, but… no.

GS: I’ll keep it simple. Zero percent chance.

After all the offseason hype and good feelings and what not around the football program, do you think losing the first game is what they needed to kinda remember just how much work it’s going to take to get this team back on track? (IBeLionsBeats)

ES: Yes and no. I think plenty of fans understood the challenge ahead and were not that disappointed in the loss because they saw improvement from the team. There are some fans that were pretty upset (which we saw mostly on Twitter) and I’m not sure those individuals learned anything from it. I would say it reinforced my preseason prediction of 6-6, though. A good reminder that six wins and a bowl game are great achievements in Year 1 of this rebuild.

Are the corners and safeties taught to play the player or the ball?  It seems they never turn and look for the ball. (@mike_ehmke)

DP: A little of both. It’s a development thing, too. And Nebraska just doesn’t have a ton of overly experienced corners. The guy with the most is Lamar Jackson and everyone knows how I feel about him. I think you saw improvement here, though, in Game 1. Dicaprio Bootle jumping that ball at its high-point in the second half was something I wasn’t seeing much of last season and Deontai Williams’ perfect coverage and pass break-up in the back left corner of the end zone was a sight to behold. It's getting there.

What player surprised you in a good or bad way against Colorado? (@tklim2430)

ES: I was surprised in a great way by Khalil Davis. What a game for him. I was also pleasantly surprised by Adrian Martinez. I’m not saying I didn’t think he’d be great but he definitely exceeded my expectations.

JP: Besides the obvious in Martinez, I’ll go with Tyrin Ferguson as a pleasant surprise. Jovan Dewitt talked him up all preseason, but even so he was a guy who had seen quite a bit of playing time but hadn’t necessarily produced all that much. Well, he produced on Saturday. Ferguson was all over the field, rushing the passer, playing the run and dropping into coverage. He finished with 10 tackles including two for loss with a sack.

DP: I need to see more from Tyjon Lindsey. He’s got the chance to impact the game in three different ways — receiving, running and returning punts — and I was a little surprised he didn’t have a bigger impact. He finished with no catches, two runs for nine yards and three punt returns for negative-2 yards. I was expecting a little more. I’ll be watching him closely against Troy.

What are the chances Martinez plays on Saturday? (@_LilBigRed12_)

ES: Considering he hasn't practice all week so far, I’m going to say the likelihood is not great. I think it’s probably best to rest him against Troy (unless he’s really 100 percent) and let him get ready for Michigan.

BV: It strikes me as unlikely, too. I’m not comfortable just penciling Nebraska in for a win over Troy no matter who is at quarterback. This is a program with a good coach and a recent history of winning. But I view it as a sort of logic problem: If you had to give your team the best chance to win two games, games against Troy in Lincoln and Michigan on the road, and could only use one quarterback in each game, which do you choose? You chose Bunch against Troy and Martinez against Michigan, of course. In this case, that extra week gives Martinez more time to heal so there’s even more of an incentive.

If Frost plays keep away and runs an extra minute or so off the clock (drop pass and penalty aside) and CO still scores NU has zero chance of having time to mount a scoring drive.  Am I the only one that doesn’t see a problem with the philosophy of constant pressure applied? (@vern_monty)

BV: I don’t have a problem with it because it’s the philosophy Frost has built into his scheme and the program. Clock management is a thing that is always easy to second-guess in hindsight, I get that, but it only comes about if the clock manager’s team doesn’t execute. And I fully believe that Frost believes his team is going to execute at a really high level most of the time.

GS: I don’t have a problem with it at all. If they execute, it’s a non-issue. One of the reasons why playing for this coaching staff is fun is because they are always wanting to apply pressure. That’s going to pay off in the long run.

Does the Blackshirt Defense finally get a turnover against Troy? (@Sal_Vasta3)

JP: Like I answered above, I think creating turnovers is the next step for this team and I think it will happen on Saturday. I’ll call my shot and say Dicaprio Bootle picks one off. He should have had an interception last week but couldn’t bring it in. He won’t drop the next one.

DP: Yes, an interception, and a safety gets it.

Why is the volleyball team so good at being down 0-1 or 0-2 and coming back and winning? Are in they in better shape? More mentally tough? It's amazing how many times it happens over the years. (@thawildbunch)

JP: I think the simplest answer is culture. John Cook has become a master of instilling a winning culture in his program no matter who is wearing the uniform. The Huskers are almost always good at serving, defense and passing, and it’s those areas of the game that translate to winning against any opponent. The Huskers always believe they’re going to win regardless of the score and Cook really stressing trusting their training. That serves them well in comeback situations. I’m sure Husker Power and their offseason conditioning helps as well.

Who do you think mystery quarterback No. 3 might be if Martinez is out this Saturday? (@md_schmidt)

ES: Me. Or Cam Taylor.

JP: Ethan Cox and Wyatt Mazour were both dual-threat quarterbacks in high school, so maybe they’d be options. I’d throw Lamar Jackson in the mix but I think he has enough on his hands simply trying to grasp everything they’re asking him to do at corner.

DP: I see Cam Taylor being the emergency guy. Hopefully we don't get to the point where this conversation is necessary.

Is [Maurice] Washington an every down back? He’s like watching Ameer [Abdullah] again. Man, I just watched in amazement at what he can do and he’s a true freshman. Does he end up starting at all this season? Mad props to all the backs, [Greg] Bell, [Devine] Ozigbo and others looked great. Also to the O-line. Big holes. (@huskerpower5904)

JP: I think he has that potential but I don’t know if he’ll reach it this season. He’s still rather slight and I don’t know that you want to give him a heavy workload right now. The other big thing is I don’t yet have a good grasp on what his blitz pick-up is like. To be an every-down back you have to be able to protect your quarterback, and that’s not something a lot of young backs are good at. He’s a dynamic runner and will be good as a receiver out of the backfield. I still don’t see him passing up either of the upperclassmen this season. I think he’ll continue to be the change-of-pace guy this year.

GS: Eventually, he will be as much of an “every down back” as you get in this offense. That time just isn’t now. He’s not working from the full playbook yet and he’s not to the point where he is consistent in blitz pickup. However, you see the flashes of what made him a special recruit. I think he’s their second-best running back right now. He’ll continue to get better as the season goes along.

How many bunches of passing yards will the quarterback have this week? (@CoryHonold)

ES: I appreciate this question because it speaks to my longtime goal of a “Bunches of Touchdowns” story about Andrew Bunch. So, let’s say all the passing yards. For the headlines.

JP: If Bunch is behind center, I’d imagine we’ll see quite a few run plays called. Bunch isn’t nearly as dynamic a runner as Martinez so the threat of the quarterback run won’t be there the same way, but Nebraska’s revitalized offensive line should still be able to consistently win in the trenches.

When is Lexi Sun hitting the Floor? (@RET1SGT4NE)

JP: My thought was they might try to get her into a match this weekend to give her a chance to work off some rust before the Big Ten begins. Before the season started I was told they’re going to be very cautious with her and might wait until the Big Ten season. Cook said they put her through the trash can drill, which is a great sign that she’s close and that she hasn’t suffered any setbacks. I think it will be soon, whether that’s this weekend or not.

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