Photo by Aaron Babcock
Nebraska Football

Love or Hate: SEAL Talk, Sneaker Love, Bench Usage and More

January 25, 2019
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It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another edition of Love/Hate. Here’s five things from the Husker-verse I either liked or... wasn’t too fond of. There’s a good deal of love early with some ugly late.

1. J’s on J’s

Saturday morning at 11 a.m. CT (is that still morning? I’m on my college sleep schedule still so I’m going with yes), Nebraska takes on Ohio State at home, but you’ll be seeing head coach Tim Miles and the rest of the Husker coaching and support staffs wearing sneakers with their suits instead of dress shoes.

That’s because this week is Coaches vs. Cancer week and coaches everywhere are swapping brogues for Ultra Boosts and Air Force 1s.

It’s about awareness and fundraising. If you’re going to the game Saturday, wear a suit and your best kicks. Tweet a picture with the hashtag “SuitsandSneakers” and support a damn good cause. Since 1993, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, through Coaches vs. Cancer, has raised over $100 million dollars for cancer research for the American Cancer Society. You can get more info here.

I’ll have a pair of Jordans on. Come find me and try to beat them.

2. SEAL Love

The U.S. Navy is currently running a video series titled “Faces of the Fleet” and documenting sailors’ lives off the battlefield. They’ve done 10 episodes so far (scroll all the way down) and sophomore defensive lineman Damian Jackson was featured in the 10th.

Maybe one of the more gripping parts of the mini-doc is when Jackson is talking about being behind everyone else in terms of his football IQ. He called the playbook “gibberish” and said everyone was better than him. For a guy who was not only willing but able to just join the Navy SEALs on a snap decision, I can’t imagine he’s been in too many situations in his life where everyone was just better than him at something he was trying to accomplish.

And then for Jackson to say he did not and will not use his background in the military for preferential treatment, it spoke a lot about the guy’s character.

“I don’t care about my past, I just throw that out the window. I don’t use that in the locker room. I don’t use that anywhere I go,” he said. “Hopefully everybody can just see I’m just another man trying to do my job and be the best he can be.”

A bunch of coaches are quoted in the video, too. Jovan Dewitt, Nebraska’s outside linebackers and special teams coach called Jackson’s ability to join some of the best athletes in the country and compete “incredible.” Jackson’s position coach, Mike Dawson, said he has committed himself to trying to learn the game as fast as possible.

Strength coach Zach Duval is in there, too.

“It’s kind of the toughest sport in the United States. You can be a real tough guy but you have to have the athleticism,” Dewitt said. “He’s using the qualities he has — work ethic, toughness, mental fortitude — and he’s breaking through some of those barriers.”

And then there’s Frost.

"A lot of our players on our football team, in the history of Nebraska football, are treated like heroes. I'd tell the kids of Nebraska if you want a hero to look up to it's Damian,” he said.

Jackson has three years of football eligibility left. I certainly can’t wait to see what the guy can do with them.

3. Stay on Stoll

SB Nation recently wrote a piece titled “6 reasons Nebraska will get (not totally ridiculous) 2019 hype.” One of those reasons is junior tight end Jack Stoll.

One thing to watch is if Nebraska gets its 6’4, 260-pound junior tight end, Jack Stoll, more involved in the passing game. At UCF, Frost had a tight end of nearly identical size, Jordan Akins, who made a big leap in his second year in Frost’s system after being in the second tier of the Knights’ receiving targets in Frost’s first year. 

The Akins comparison is one I’ve made a couple times and I’m glad Stoll gets his own bullet point in all this. In the search to replace all that Stanley Morgan Jr. did for Nebraska’s offense, I think Stoll could be a sneaky solution to help lessen the burden on any one wideout. He’s a big-bodied receiving target whose downfield and perimeter blocking improved a great deal as the 2018 season wore on. 

Stoll’s numbers don’t wow you but neither did Akins his first year with Frost and look at what he did in Year 2.

  Stoll (Frost Year 1) Akins (Frost Year 1) Akins (Frost Year 2)
Targets/Catches 37/21 35/23 47/32
Yards 245 347 515
Touchdowns 3 2 4
Yards/Catch 11.7 15.1 16.1

Tight ends coach Sean Beckton told me later on last year he felt quarterback Adrian Martinez wasn’t quite comfortable throwing to Stoll early, but their chemistry really took hold late. Given his ability to be inline blocking one play and flexed out as a wideout the next, I think Nebraska has something on its hands if Stoll can take that next step. 

If he comes anywhere close to that 16.1 yards per catch number that Akins produced, Nebraska’s offense could do wonders. Morgan was the Huskers’ big-play threat downfield and J.D. Spielman isn’t a guy you can just throw the ball up to and have him go get it. Stoll is. With the questions over who takes a leap at wideout, Stoll could become a pretty big deal in his junior year. 

4. Use the Bench

Talked about this on this week’s podcast but it bears repeating here where I can provide some statistical context. Nebraska really hurt itself in the nonconference by not using its bench more in bigger games. 

Against Seton Hall, Texas Tech, Clemson, Creighton and Oklahoma State, Nebraska’s starting five played 82 percent of available minutes. In those five games, a member of the bench saw more than 15 minutes on the court twice. (The Oklahoma State game where Nana Akenten started for a sick Thomas Allen but only played 16 minutes while Allen played 27? I’m counting Allen the starter there and Akenten with the bench. That would have been the perfect game to get Akenten run and it didn’t happen.)

In conference play, the starters are getting an average of 84.3 percent of available minutes. 

The bench just isn’t being used and yet we’re continuously talking about whether fatigue is playing a factor in Nebraska’s struggles to close out these Big Ten games.

Freshman guard Amir Harris has the second-best PER on the team in conference play at 20.6. James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson Jr. and Thomas Allen Jr. are all under 20.  Harris was out for a bit with mono but he’s back and needs to be utilized. Twelve minutes in four games since Dec. 5 is not the way for someone to get adjusted to college basketball and develop properly. It’s not like Nebraska can afford to have him sit and not play, it needs him and he has produced when on the court.

Freshman big Brady Heiman should play more. Tim Miles says he’s trying to bring Heiman along but Friday forward Isaac Copeland pretty much said enough of that.

“I think he should have been playing already,” Copeland said. “The only way to get somebody ready is to throw them into the fire. So I’m happy [Miles said he wants to involve him more].”

Nebraska has seven Quad 1 games in its last 12 on the schedule. After that there’s the Big Ten Tournament and hopefully and NCAA Tournament. None of that ends well if the stars of the team are driven into the ground before they get to the postseason. 

5. Same Old, Same Old

Rebounding was an issue for head coach Amy Williams all last season. This year has been no different. Thursday night, the disparity between Husker women’s basketball and their Big Ten opponents was at it’s most glaring.

Northwestern outrebounded the Huskers 51-41 overall, grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and converted those for 18 second-chance points. Mostly, it was senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah doing the damage. She had 10 rebounds before halftime and finished with 10 offensive rebounds all by herself (19 overall).

“When you give up 10 offensive rebounds to one player, I don’t really care how special she is — I mean, she’s a very special rebounder — you’re probably not taking care of business,” Williams said after the game.

The Huskers have been out-rebounded in nine games total this year and six of their last eight. Center Kate Cain leads the team with 6.3 a night, but she’s the tallest woman on the floor most nights and has been even more inconsistent this season than during her freshman year in that department. She had four total against Northwestern. It’s not all on Cain, obviously, as perimeter players need to be better about rebounding in their areas.

In general, there needs to be better awareness when the shot goes up of who’s boxing out who, who’s got what spots and who’s going after the ball. The Huskers need better effort on the glass. Thursday night was decided by a few possessions late. Both head coaches after said that’s how you can typically describe most nights in the Big Ten.

Well, take away any number of those 17 extra possessions Northwestern got and how differently does the game look? Apply that over the course of the season and how differently does the record look?

 
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