Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Quarterback Position Unclear Again Going Into Nebraska’s Matchup With Michigan

November 08, 2022

It seems as though Casey Thompson’s return to the field for Nebraska may have to wait another week.

At Tuesday’s press conference, interim head coach Mickey Joseph didn’t completely rule out his starter, but acknowledged that things were trending toward a second straight missed game. Thompson didn’t practice on Tuesday, and still is having trouble gripping the football, according to Joseph.

“Just looking at him today, I probably will rule out Casey if he doesn’t go by tomorrow,” he said Tuesday. “If he don’t go by tomorrow I’m going to have to rule him out. I mean, I look at these kids as my sons, so I’m not going to put them out there if they can’t go. Casey’s going to say he’s feeling better, but I got to be smart with Casey and not put him out there if he can’t perform at a high level.”

If Thompson is out, there’s no clear answer yet on who will start between backups Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers. Joseph said he’ll likely make that determination on Thursday.

Last week, the coach said the two split first-team reps, but there was reason to believe Purdy was the expected starter. He played the entire second half against Illinois after Thompson got hurt, and coaches praised him as a better thrower. He ended up getting the start against Minnesota, and it was one that further complicated the conversation.

Purdy completed three of his eight passes for 15 yards and an interception against Illinois, and had similar struggles against the Gophers. While he had a strong first two drives highlighted by a touchdown run and a couple other successful scrambles, he ended the game with six completions on 16 pass attempts for 41 yards and another interception.

The pick forced a change to Smothers for the final two drives, where he cleared Purdy’s yardage and led the team’s first scoring drive since the opening quarter. Given the difference in on-field performance, Joseph received questions in both the postgame press conference and on Tuesday about what he had seen — or not seen — from Smothers in practice.

“I think Logan’s more of a gamer, but he’s got to practice better,” Joseph said Tuesday. “He understands that and Logan is really going to attack this week trying to be a better practice player. That’s his goal this week.”

Between Thompson, Purdy and Smothers, the Huskers have had three quarterbacks play in key situations this year and Smothers has the chance to be the third to start.

Offensive lineman Ethan Piper said he’s confident that no matter who the quarterback is this week, they’ll be ready to play.

“Here at Nebraska if you are one, two, three deep, you’re expecting to play. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you’re named the starter here,” Piper said. “I know even me when I wasn’t playing at the beginning of the year, I treated every day like it was my starting spot, so when it was my time to come up and my name was called, I was ready. I think the quarterbacks have the same approach.”

He said it’s not particularly challenging to have a number of different quarterbacks to block for, since they block for multiple in practice and build relationships with them off the field. Because of that, it’s easier to adjust in game and they just have to know who is in.

There’s the chance that both Purdy and Smothers play on Saturday, as the latter came in for a drive against Minnesota well before he came back in to finish the game. Joseph stuck by his judgement that Purdy is the better thrower of the two, while Smothers is better with his legs. That’s one of several things that will continue to be evaluated throughout the week as the team decides who will start.

“Who’s making the throws, who’s getting us in the correct run plays,” Joseph said. “They are competing right now and we will look at each practice and say, ‘He performed good this day and he performed really good this day,’ and on Thursday we have to make a decision. So we’ll just look at their reps.”

Outside of evaluating their football ability, though, Joseph will also be providing his quarterbacks emotional support ahead of this week’s game. It’s a difficult situation for them, according to Joseph, because they haven’t had much starting experience.

“It’s tough on them because you’re asking kids that have been backups,” Joseph said. “… You have to put your arms around them and give them some support and show them that you believe in them because they are in a tough situation.”

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