As Nebraska football inches closer to its season-opener against Northwestern being played over 4,000 miles away in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27, questions remain on what the new-look Huskers will look like.
Among them is an offense that isn’t coordinated by head coach Scott Frost and quarterbacked by Adrian Martinez. Frost is expected to take a step back in the play-calling department and be more involved in all aspects of the team, not just offense. After four seasons in Lincoln, Martinez transferred to Kansas State and will likely win the job in Manhattan.
Fresh off an impressive season calling plays at ACC-champ Pittsburgh, first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, a veteran coach of 40-plus years, is running the show offensively in Lincoln. And after spending three seasons backing up longtime starter Sam Ehlinger at Texas, quarterback Casey Thompson decided to move on from Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns after a 2021 season that saw him begin as a backup to redshirt freshman Hudson Card and end as a 10-game starter. Thompson now finds himself in the driver’s seat to win the job at Nebraska.
Thompson was brought in through the transfer portal because he’s an experienced quarterback who’s played on big stages in his career. His five-touchdown day against Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown comes to mind. Experience at quarterback is exactly what Frost was looking for as he enters a make-or-break season with a restructured contract that drops his salary from $5 million to $4 million and buyout from $15 million to $7.5 million on Oct. 1, the day of the Indiana game.
But while Thompson is the current favorite to win the job, he wasn’t the only transfer quarterback brought in. Preston “Chubba” Purdy was the other.
Purdy, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound Queen Creek, Arizona, native, spent the past two seasons at Florida State. His career in Tallahassee didn’t go smoothly and got off to a disappointing start after he broke his left collarbone in the first scrimmage of Florida State’s fall camp in August 2020. The former four-star recruit in the 2020 class had surgery shortly after the injury and was able to play in three games that season before needing to have an additional surgery in November to remove hardware previously inserted into his collarbone after it caused irritation and inflammation, according to Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel.
That second surgery, which happened after his first and only start of his career, at North Carolina State in November, ended his true freshman season. It also forced him to go through only four practices of Florida State’s 2021 spring camp, putting him behind in a crowded quarterback room that included Jordan Travis, UCF transfer McKenzie Milton and Tate Rodemaker, a three-star recruit in Purdy’s same 2020 class.
Purdy saw action in just one game last season, a blowout win over UMass, and went 5-of-5 for 98 yards and two touchdowns. He entered the transfer portal in early November last year. Last January, Nebraska beat out new Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby for Purdy’s commitment. The Sooners had already secured the commitment of UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel days before offering Purdy, and Gabriel figures to be leading Lebby’s offense when the Sooners visit Lincoln on Sept. 17.
Thoughts and observations from Purdy’s start at NC State
What does Purdy bring to Nebraska’s quarterback room? Unfortunately, that can’t be answered right now.
Like he did at Florida State, Purdy faced adversity once he got to Lincoln. The quarterback felt discomfort in his foot during early workouts and it slowed his progress and kept him from being a full contributor during spring ball. Following the spring game, Purdy revealed that the scrimmage was just his third practice full-go.
“This was really, honestly, my third practice really,” the quarterback said on April 9. “I was back Monday, Tuesday, full pads, and I got to do some team stuff. Two-minute drill. And it felt great. So today was just awesome, being out there with the boys.”
Spring games should never be used as a tool to judge how a team or player will look in the fall. But for what it’s worth, Purdy may have surprised some for it being just his third practice. Statistically, he was 5-of-10 for 63 yards in the passing game. But in areas that aren’t counted on a stat sheet—the way he looked in the pocket, the zip he had on his throws—Purdy’s performance had to make you wonder what he would be able to do if fully healthy.
That’s why looking at his start against NC State—a 38-22 loss for Florida State—might give Husker fans a more accurate idea of what a Purdy-led offense could look like. Before we do that, though, a few things should be noted first:
>> The 2020 Florida State team was bad. Now, to be fair, that was the COVID year and it’s hard to judge any football team’s performance during it. It was also the first season of the Mike Norvell era in Tallahassee. After winning 70% of his games in four seasons at Memphis, Norvell finished 3-6 in his debut campaign with the Seminoles. His offense averaged 25.8 points per game while the defense allowed a whopping 36. His team averaged 77.8 penalty yards per game, most in the ACC and fifth-most in the country. Four different quarterbacks played, two of them being true freshmen in Purdy and Rodemaker.
>> Knowing the state of the program in 2020, it wasn’t surprising to see Florida State trailing 35-9 at the end of the third quarter. Purdy was thrown into the fire, making his first start on the road against a stronger opponent just three months removed from collarbone surgery. His offensive line consisted of a fifth-year senior, two redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen. Simply put, it was a tough position to be in for the true freshman quarterback.
>> On top of all that, Purdy was playing a rising program in NC State. Dave Doeren is currently the second-winningest head coach in Wolfpack history and, outside of a 1-7 clunker against conference foes in 2019, is 24-10 in the ACC since 2017. One more solid year in Raleigh and Doeren is going to get a higher-profile job if he wants it. NC State came into the game with a 4-3 record while the Seminoles were 2-5. The Wolfpack finished the season 3-1 in their last four.
Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s continue on to the thoughts and observations.
It was clear Purdy was limited in what he was allowed to do in Norvell and then-offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham’s attack. That keeps Purdy largely a mystery and his start at NC State not a great representation of what he’s capable of. Playing it safe with Purdy makes sense, though, because this was the situation Florida State’s staff was working with: you’re an underdog on the road with a true freshman quarterback making his first start.
To give one a sense of how limited Florida State’s offense was that night, the same route concept was used frequently throughout the game. The clip below is one example on a third-and-12 from Florida State’s own 46-yard line. The No. 2 receiver to the field, or long side, runs his route directly at the corner who’s covering the No. 1 receiver. The goal here is to set a pick on No. 1’s corner, or at least get in his way so the No. 1 can get a bit of room to work with.
The concept works, but a crisper route from No. 1 and a better throw from Purdy would have resulted in a first down instead of a fourth-and-1:
Florida State kept going back to that concept. It’s not out of the ordinary for offenses to use plays and concepts they like, but it was getting to the point where someone watching on TV almost expected it when the Seminoles came out with trips to the field on a third- or fourth-and-long
Here it is again, this time on a third-and-11 on NC State’s 30. This one was a drop by the receiver:
Officially, Purdy went 15-of-23 for 181 yards and two touchdowns through the air. But if you take out this drop, a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage and three throwaways where he wasn’t looking to complete the pass, Purdy was 15-of-18. He never made the big mistake you’re always wary of with young quarterbacks, especially on the road:
Even when Purdy was taken out of the game late in the second quarter by Norvell, the backup, Rodemaker, was given the same concept:
Here’s the concept yet again, with Purdy back in the game:
While the Seminoles’ passing game was limited, Purdy did get to show his athleticism. The No. 7-rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of Perry (Ariz.) High School according to the 247Sports Composite rushed for 54 yards in the loss and had a 21-yard gain.
Though there are faster and quicker quarterbacks out there, that doesn’t mean Purdy is slow. When the pocket breaks down, he’s definitely able to make a defender miss and get what yards he can. On the clip below, the protection is fine, but Purdy sees open grass and takes off, making linebacker Payton Wilson—the Wolfpack’s leading tackler that year—miss before coming up a yard short of the first down:
The clip below is another example of Purdy’s athletic ability. He’s flushed from the pocket due to pressure from the second level getting through the A gap. Purdy makes something out of nothing, showing off how elusive he can be when needed. Yes, fumbling the ball at the end of the play wasn’t ideal, but you have to admire the perfect strip from corner Cecil Powell (#4):
Purdy is a natural athlete with the ball in his hands. You can see it when he’s throwing on the run, too. Again, the passing game was a struggle for Florida State that night. Purdy completed all five of his pass attempts in the first half, but only for 29 yards.
In short-yardage situations, however, Purdy showed good accuracy and zip on throws that needed to have a little something behind them. Here’s a first-quarter first-down throw from a designed rollout. Good ball placement:
Here’s another conversion, this time on a fourth-and-2 in the third quarter. Solid execution all around, from play design—motioning to a stack formation to the field to help create space and limit any jamming from the corner—to Purdy’s on-the-money throw.
With Purdy, Nebraska has a young and intriguing option in the quarterback room who Whipple obviously likes—he offered Purdy while he was still Pitt’s offensive coordinator last December.
Purdy understands what goes into competing at a high level. His big brother, Brock, was a four-year starting quarterback at Iowa State and recently signed a rookie deal with the San Francisco 49ers. His father, Shawn, pitched in the minor leagues for seven years before an injuries ended his career.
Purdy is still developing as a quarterback. But with a clean bill of health, he’s one to watch at Nebraska. If not this fall, then in the near future.