Photo Credit: John Peterson

Thoughts On A Whirlwind Wednesday For The Nebraska Fan Base

December 09, 2021

What a whirlwind week it’s been for the Husker fan base.

On Wednesday morning, Nebraska announced Mark Whipple would be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach while Donovan Raiola—the brother of Husker great Dominic—will coach the offensive line. Whipple is coming to Nebraska from Pittsburgh, where he just won an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and coached Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett. Raiola had spent the past four years as an assistant offensive line coach with the Chicago Bears.

Things moved quickly with Whipple, which is right on par with everything else going down in the college football world. On Monday he was recruiting Chubba Purdy—a 6-foot-2, 215-pound former four-star quarterback who put his name in the transfer portal after two seasons with Florida State; he’s Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy’s brother—to join the Panthers. On Tuesday, he was resigning from his position at Pitt, where he had been the past three seasons.

The addition of the 64-year-old Whipple brings over 40 years’ worth of coaching experience to Scott Frost’s staff. More than anything, having a seasoned veteran on staff—someone who’s been around and seen some things in a coaching sense—should help Frost develop as a head coach.

When Frost was asked during the season about the offensive coordinator search, he said he wanted to pick someone who’s done the job before. Someone who he could trust.

“If I’m going to turn it (the offense) over to somebody, I just need somebody that’s done it and that I can trust to put our heads together and put the best of what they do with the best of what we do and let him run with it,” Frost said on Nov. 10.

Whipple checks those boxes. He’s been an OC at Pitt, Miami (Fla.) and New Hampshire in the 80s. He’s been a head coach, too, with two stints at Massachusetts, where he’s the winningest coach in Minutemen history. He’s worked with quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and oversaw the development of Pickett. Whipple knows offense and quarterback play.

The 2022 season is an important one for Frost and the program. Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts is giving Frost a chance to coach the team next year despite his 15-29 record in four seasons. Alberts wants to see Frost take a step back from being so invested in the offensive side of the ball to instead act like more of a CEO-type head coach. That way, he can worry about all aspects of the team, and not focus all of his efforts on calling the plays.

“Frankly, I’ve been wearing myself thin trying to run the offense and call the offense. It’s not just game day, it’s all week long,” Frost said. “There are probably areas of the program that I could spend more time with if I wasn’t so occupied with that. He (Alberts) talked to me about that and I agree. I appreciate his advice on that, and I’m going to do my best to put together a team that allows some of those things to happen.”

That situation will be interesting to watch unfold. Offense and calling plays are what got Frost his two head coaching jobs in the first place, first at Central Florida and then Nebraska. Without four of his offensive assistants, Frost’s offense still racked up 452 total yards against one of the best defenses in the nation at Wisconsin. The Huskers led rival Iowa by 15 points late in the third quarter before an avalanche of mistakes cost them the game. It can’t be easy for Frost to simply hand over the play-calling duties to Whipple on Saturdays.

While gaining yards is fun and looks good on stat sheets, scoring points is more fun and looks even better. That’s where Whipple can come into play—especially in the red zone. Pitt had the second-most red zone touchdowns in the nation among Power Five teams this season, trailing only Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Utes, who had 48.

Whipple’s offenses have done well passing in the red zone, something the Huskers haven’t been good at. This season Pitt threw 24 touchdown passes against zero interceptions in the red zone. Since 2019, Whipple’s first year, the Panthers have thrown 41 touchdowns in the red zone with only two picks. Nebraska has thrown a combined 14 touchdowns with four interceptions since 2019.

Whipple can help in that area. But it begs the question—a capable quarterback makes it possible to throw 41 red-zone touchdowns in three years. Does Nebraska have one of those on its current roster?

Raiola set to take over the offensive line

One day he’s helping coach the Chicago Bears. The next, Raiola is tasked with fixing one of Nebraska football’s biggest problems—the offensive line.

Hail Varsity’s Greg Smith got the chance to interview Donovan’s brother, Dominic, who’s also the father of highly-touted 2024 quarterback prospect Dylan Raiola. Dominic has an idea of what Donovan will bring to the o-line room. It was a great and fun discussion that any Husker football fan would enjoy. Read it here.

Of the many issues to work out, Raiola needs to find an answer on the most pressing: what’s center Cam Jurgens going to do? Will the Beatrice, Nebraska, native declare for the NFL draft with eligibility remaining, or come back and lead the Husker o-linemen for one more season?

Jurgens showed improvement from a poor 2020 and turned himself into a good offensive lineman. Convincing the athletic center to return would be Raiola’s first win of the season if he could pull it off.

What Raiola can do with the other positions will be a key as well. It’s no secret that the two tackles—Turner Corcoran and Bryce Benhart—struggled to defend Adrian Martinez this season. The development needed at those spots just never happened when former o-line coach Greg Austin was there. Will it be different with Raiola?

Mickey Joseph isn’t wasting his time getting to work

After being hired away from LSU, Joseph hit the recruiting trail immediately and is slinging out offers to talented recruits in Louisiana like nobody’s business.

There are going to be many names to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses and the early signing period begins on Dec. 15. But maybe the most intriguing is three-star receiver Decoldest Crawford. Crawford, a 6-1, 178-pounder from Green Oaks High School in Shreveport, decommitted from his hometown Tigers on Tuesday following last week’s head coaching hire of Brian Kelly.

Crawford wasn’t the only LSU decommitt. Kelly lost both Johnson brothers, Max and Jake. Max is LSU’s 6-5, 215-pound starting quarterback who has thrown for 2,815 yards and 27 touchdowns this season as a sophomore. Jake is his 6-5, 225-pound four-star little brother who happens to be the top-rated tight end recruit in the 2022 class according to the 247Sports Composite.

Joseph is an ace recruiter and respected. He was able to get an in-home visit with a highly-touted quarterback in the transfer portal and is already generating buzz through social media, which you have to believe recruits are watching. His hiring opens all kinds of recruiting opportunities that may not have been open to Nebraska previously.

Will these relationships Joseph has made in the fertile recruiting grounds of Louisiana pay off with commitments down the road? Can Joseph find the next Stanley Morgan Jr., a Louisiana native who picked the Huskers over offers from Georgia, Florida and Ohio State?

It’ll be fun to watch play out.

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