Over the past few weeks we’ve been running a handful of Nebraska football over-under polls for the season ahead to get a sense for how fans felt about the Huskers in 2019.
Now it’s our turn. Below members of the Hail Varsity staff offer their picks on a few key numbers for Nebraska this season.
Will Adrian Martinez have over or under 34.5 combined touchdowns (rushing and passing) in 2019? Martinez had 25 in 2018.
Derek Peterson: Over. I typed roughly a 75-word reasoning for initially taking the under and then changed my mind. Here’s the thought process: the ground game should be more dynamic in 2019 with way more ball-carriers than last season and eight of Martinez’s 25 touchdowns came on the ground so I don’t expect there to be much improvement in that area, he probably hits 10-12. But that only means his touchdowns through the air need to jump from 17 to 25 to hit this over. That is perfectly reasonable. I don’t think he’s touching 50 but getting in the high 30s feels about right.
Greg Smith: Over. At first, I immediately thought over. I’m sticking with that. I like Martinez to have double-digit rushing touchdowns this season. It worries me a bit to peg him for over 25 passing touchdowns, but I agree with Derek that a jump from 17 to 25 isn’t out of the question. The offense should be a good deal better this season and Martinez powers that.
Jacob Padilla: That is a really good number which makes this a tough call. Dwayne Haskins led the Big Ten in touchdowns last year with 54 (50 passing, four rushing). Who was second? Trace McSorley with 30 (18 passing, 12 rushing). Nate Stanley was second behind Haskins with 26 passing touchdowns (27 total). So, Martinez could hit the under on 34.5 and still be more productive than almost every quarterback in the conference last year. As a sophomore at UCF, McKenzie Milton jumped from 13 touchdowns in 10 games to 45 touchdowns in 13 games. Martinez was better as a freshman than Milton was, but the defenses in the Big Ten are much better than in the AAC, so expecting that kind of leap might be a bit much. As good as we expect Martinez to be, touchdowns depend as much on the guys around the quarterback as they do on the quarterback himself and there are just so many question marks on this offense. I’m going to be conservative here and take the under, but not by much.
Erin Sorensen: Under, albeit barely. Jacob mapped out the reasons, which were a lot of what was keeping me from enthusiastically taking the over. The key here is that I could see Martinez having 34, or 35. I don’t think he hits 50, or even 40, but whoever ends up getting this one right will do so by the slightest of margins.
Brandon Vogel: Over. If Martinez gets to 35 he’ll be in the top 15 nationally. If he gets to 37—the shot I’m calling—he'll be in the top 10. It seems somewhat absurd; that’s more than three touchdowns per game over a 12-game schedule. It will take good overall health for the Huskers and, of course, Martinez missing any time is out of the question for hitting this number, but I think we’ll see a big improvement in touchdown passes, particularly of the big-play variety. Almost have to have those to hit the over here.
Nebraska's secondary accounted for 8 of the Huskers' 11 interceptions in 2018. In 2019, do you think Nebraska's DBs will have over or under 13.5 combined interceptions?
HailVarsity.com Poll: 80% over
DP: Over. Nebraska defensed 69 passes last season. Nicely done; that ranked third in the Big Ten. And the Huskers got takeaways on 15.9 percent of those takeaway opportunities. Which wasn’t terrible by conference standards but not great either. The entire goal for this defense is to take the ball away from the opponent and give it back to the offense; there’s just such an emphasis on creating turnovers and the defensive backs have been aggressively hunting picks all offseason long. With athleticism and experience and talent in the secondary, I don’t think a six-interception improvement from the secondary year-over-year in an extra two games is a tough thing to ask.
GS: Over. I have Lamar Jackson with eight interceptions this season by himself. Dicaprio Bootle is good for a handful this year as well if opponents keep testing him.
JP: Five teams in the Big Ten finished with 14 total interceptions or more last season, and only two had more than 15. Expecting 14 interceptions by the defensive backs alone is another big ask. I do think Nebraska will get better pass rush, and I also think Bootle will actually be able to catch a football this season. Still, I’m taking the under on 13.5, although once again, not by much.
ES: Over, over, over. I was talking to a former Nebraska defensive back earlier and while discussing the depth of the defensive line, he had one thing to add about the Blackshirts: “Watch out for those DBs too. .” He’s right. Keep an eye on this group. They’re chirping a lot in practice, and they’re even being asked to tone it down. If I’m pushing my chips in on any category, it’s this one.
BV: Under. The Huskers’ were in the right neighborhood a year ago with the number of passes defended. Cal led the nation last year with 21 interceptions, Iowa was second with 20, and both had the same 69 passes defended as the Huskers. Nebraska needs to keep that number high but convert more pass breakups into interceptions. I think they will be a little more fortunate (and skilled) in that regard, but with two new safeties I’ll cautiously say the secondary comes up just short.
Will Nebraska's leading receiver in 2019 have over or under 925 yards receiving?
HailVarsity.com Poll: 73% over
DP: Under. I think JD Spielman will top out in the 800s and he’ll be the high-water mark amongst the receivers.
GS: Under. This year I think we are going to see a much more spread out distribution of receiving yards. I also don’t think Spielman gets to 1,000 yards with increased defensive focus on him from Week 1.
JP: Spielman was on pace to surpass that total last season before he got hurt and missed a couple games, and that was with Stanley Morgan Jr. drawing so many targets. I think Nebraska's receptions will be spread around a lot more than last year, but I think those extra catches for the rest of the group will come from Morgan rather than Spielman seeing less passes thrown his way. If I knew Spielman was going to play 12 or 13 games this season, I’d take the over for sure. Even without that reassurance, I’ll still take the over and hope for good health.
ES: Even Martinez called the wide receivers a “committee” this week, which doesn’t give me a lot of faith that one person is going to do what Stanley Morgan Jr. did last year. JD Spielman has the potential, of course, and he’ll likely get the closest. But I’m taking the under.
BV: Over. I think there are going to be a lot of catches to go around and those catches will be spread out, but the key is the yards. How many do you think the Huskers can average in 2019? They were at 456 per game last season, can they be 20 yards better this year? Fourteen teams averaged at least 475 yards per game last year. All but two of them—UCF and Utah State—had at least one receiver go over 925 yards. It’s hard not to have one and average the type of yards that should be in play for Nebraska this season.
Will Nebraska's leading rusher in 2019 have over or under 850 yards rushing?
HailVarsity.com Poll: 77% over
DP: Under. During that magical 2017 UCF season we all keep referencing, the Knights were exactly what Scott Frost wanted them to be on offense. And what that was on the ground was a team that saw eight guys average a carry a game while the leader of the room ran for 795 yards on an average of 9.5 carries a night. Here’s the list of Huskers I think will end the year with at least 14 runs (a carry a game): Dedrick Mills, Maurice Washington, Rahmir Johnson, Wan’Dale Robinson, Miles Jones, JD Spielman, Adrian Martinez and Noah Vedral. That’s eight. It’s just really hard to have one guy go for 851 yards in a year when the distribution is that spread out.
GS: Over. I’m buying up all the Dedrick Mills stock that I can before the season starts. I have Mills at about 175 carries on the season with a 6 yard per carry average. That puts him at 1,050 yards for the season. That would be 20 more carries than Devine Ozigbo last season but slightly below Ozigbo’s yards per carry. Assuming my math is right.
JP: There are still so many question marks in that backfield and the Greg Bell Experience has me a little gun shy about projecting JUCO transfers as immediate difference-makers. Ryan Held said this week that ideally he’d like to have a rotation of three to four backs getting the majority of the carries in addition to the quarterback run game. If Maurice Washington plays most of the season and guys like Rahmir Johnson and Wan’Dale Robinson show enough to be a significant part of the running attack, I don’t see someone cracking 850. Give me the under.
ES: I’ll take the under. Like how I felt about the wide receiver position, the “by committee” approach gives me a little too much hesitance to take the over. There’s a lot of potential in that running backs room, so someone could get close but I think they fall short of 850.
BV: Over. It’s s similar argument to the wide receivers. Of the 14 teams to average at least 475 yards of total offense per game last year, 13 of them (all but Texas Tech) had an 850-yard rusher. I guess it’s apparent that I think Nebraska’s ceiling on offense is pretty high. If the Huskers can improve by 20 yards per game, they should have a good shot at hitting the over on both the receiving and rushing categories.