Casey Thompson returned to practice on Wednesday and took “some” reps, offensive coordinator Mark Whipple confirmed on Wednesday. Nebraska’s No. 1 quarterback is still considered day-to-day and a game-time decision. Whipple said he’ll make the decision on Friday if Thompson could play against Minnesota with his limitations in practice.
On top of Thompson’s injury in Saturday’s loss to No. 17 Illinois, Whipple said backup Chubba Purdy was limited in practice last week due to an injury of his own. Purdy improved in practice this week, showing few lingering symptoms.
Whipple’s encountered quarterback injuries during his decades of coaching experience. Be it at UMass where two quarterbacks went down in the first quarter or when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger played in a constant state of game-time decision. So Thompson and Purdy practiced within their limitations on Wednesday. Then there’s Logan Smothers, who’s been relatively injury-free and worked his way to possibly seeing more game time against Minnesota.
“Yesterday was good, today was better than yesterday, for those guys,” Whipple said. “For Logan and Chubba. Then you go to the next guy and that’s the one you worry about.”
Whipple admitted he wasn’t sure who the option would be beyond Smothers and Purdy because an injury among that group threw the depth chart into flux. He isn’t comfortable with another quarterback seeing the field beyond Purdy, Smothers and Thompson.
The offensive coordinator was disappointed in the offense’s production against Illinois. Whipple said that might have been unfair to Purdy, given his lack of reps late in the week. That’s why Smothers went in initially when Thompson went down.
Smothers looked his best in the last two days of practice. Whipple said there’s “a good chance” both Purdy and Smothers could play against Minnesota. He feels better about playing both of them now than when Thompson initially went down.
Nebraska’s offense needs to execute better and Whipple’s encouraged by what he’s seen in the week so far but stressed the importance to finishing the week of practice strong. He didn’t think they did that last week and felt a drop off on Thursday. Tight end Chancellor Brewington said the same thing on Tuesday.
Purdy’s full week of practice helped his confidence, something players and coaches are mindful of but haven’t doubted. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph said he’s talking to Purdy after every play to reassure him. Whipple has conveyed similar confidence.
“I believe in you, this whole team believes in you,” Whipple told Purdy. “There’s a good chance you’ll be the starter, so take it that way. One game doesn’t make a career.”
Minnesota poses a separate challenge from Illinois. The Illini are a top-5 defense, listed atop the country in some statistical categories, with a bruising front and an opportunistic secondary. While Minnesota played a lot of its opening winning streak with a large lead, the Huskers know what they’re getting into. He called the Gophers a “structurally sound” defense. The Huskers will need to execute blocks and assignments to move the ball and score.
Joseph said on Tuesday that Nebraska will, in all likelihood, rely on the run game and execute in the air when needed. Whipple said Gabe Ervin Jr. is closer to returning but still isn’t sure. Until Ervin’s return, Jaquez Yant remains Nebraska’s go-to No. 2 running back option for the moment. Rahmir Johnson is still an option but his game reps at running back are well behind the others.