Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

Love or Hate: Farmer and Ozigbo Shine, Amir's Promise and More

March 8, 2019
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Last Friday, I went more of the film review route. Ideally, that’s the kind of space I’d like this weekly feature to live in, but considering there isn’t much film outside of basketball right now and that’s mostly negative, we’re going a different route this week. 

Farmer Killed It

Tanner Farmer got himself on some NFL whiteboards Thursday. I believe that.

No need to get carried away, Farmer isn’t about to be a Day 1 draft pick like some brave souls on social media suggested after Nebraska’s Pro Day wrapped, but for someone who didn’t get a Combine invite, Farmer opened eyes. It’s possible the 6-foot-4 guard gets a late-round grade from a few teams. 

The Illinois native began his day by benching 39 reps (at 225 pounds). Thirty-nine. For the SB Nation crowd, that’s 2.5 hippos worth of weight. He blew through 20 like it was it nothing and had the entire weight room buzzing. Linebacker Mohamed Barry looked on in disbelief. Farmer said he wanted 50 (something only one player has ever done at the Combine) but a pec tear a month ago meant he didn’t start benching again until the week before Pro Day. 

Still, 39 is rarified air. It would have tied him for the most among any player at this year’s Combine.

Personally, what came next was more impressive. Farmer put up a 32.5-inch vertical and a 9-foot, 10-inch broad jump. His vert was six inches better than Jerald Foster and his broad jump matched Tre Neal.  Some of the other numbers, like his three-cone drill and his 40 time, will come out later, but Farmer showcased a quickness that should play well with scouts.

  Measure Rank if at Combine
Bench 39 reps t-1st
Vertical 32.5” t-5th
Broad Jump 9’10” t-1st

“A lot of teams may overlook you for whatever reason, maybe because of our record, politics, whatever. Even if I thought I deserved to be able to go the Combine, a lot of people thought I didn’t, so I didn’t get to go,” Farmer said. “Today I was able to showcase that I deserve to be looked at and I deserve to have a chance at the next level.”

Just Let Fisher Fish

Remember in the winter when Travis Fisher wasn’t using Twitter and the message boards cooked up a rumor that he wasn’t invested or he was thinking about leaving or something crazy along those lines? Well, it turns out those were in fact crazy. Who knew?

During a sitdown with media Tuesday that ran about a half hour, the second-year defensive backs coach actually got a question about whether he considered leaving Nebraska this past offseason. 

“I want to be where I’m at. I’m not going anywhere unless I decide to go somewhere, but everybody will know,” he answered back. “When I’m in the offseason, I’ve got my kids and I want to be a dad. If I want to go fishing and I’ve got a day off, I’m going fishing. I’m not on Twitter. I’m not one of those guys. I’m a real guy. I’m not going to shoot a text when I’m throwing the line out. I want people to know that about me. 

“So, no. I’m 100 percent in. I don’t worry about none of that stuff in the offseason, man. I just hope I don’t get fired. I’m just about as normal as possible. I want to be here and I just hope I don’t get fired and I’m going to work my butt off every day.”

Asked then if kids respond to that kind of transparency and genuine approach to relationship-building, Fisher said yeah, because he’s recruiting guys with the same mentality.

“It’s because I recruit the ones who understand it,” he said. “The ones who understand that are the ones who are going to understand me and I’m going to understand them. If I say, ‘Hey go do this,’ they’re going to go do it. We’re not going to have to go back and forth trying to get a kid to go compete because he’s going to know it from the get-go. I’m not going to have a diva-type kid that needs me to call them five times a day. 

“I’m just an old-school guy. To be honest with you, the Twitter thing, I really like it, but I just don’t know how to do Twitter… so I’m not really on it. One time I tried to make this cool tweet and I was retweeting somebody else’s stuff and everybody was like, ‘Oh Fish you did that,’ and I said, ‘Let me get off this thing, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ 

“I’ll tell kids this, most every kid I recruit, I tell kids I would love to tweet you but I would rather for you to text me and me text you just like we’re family. Call me anytime on the phone, text me anytime on the phone and I’ll hit you right back.”

I know that’s a huge quote, but it’s a heck of a response. 

A Silver Lining

A quick run-down:

  • 6.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes
    • Only three players have put up that kind of line at Nebraska since 2000: Isaiah Roby (18-19), Aleks Maric (07-08) and Wes Wilkinson (03-04).
  • 95.4 defensive rating, second-best among rotation members this year
    • The best individual mark from a freshman at Nebraska in the last 10 seasons.
  • 57.1 effective field goal percentage, third-best among rotation members this year
  • second-best defensive box plus/minus on the team

If the freshman part didn’t give it away, that’s guard Amir Harris. In his first season, Harris has become a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. He hasn’t taken a 3-pointer on the season and has missed 10 of his 12 free throw attempts, so the shot is still very much a work in progress, but Harris made himself valuable. 

Jacob Padilla has written about him a handful of times as Harris is a plus/minus darling on the season. How do you do that when your team is losing a bunch and you’re a non-threatening shooter, you might ask? By providing the kind of all-around production Harris provides. Like I said above, only four players in the last 19 years of data have averaged at least 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes in a single season. 

And it isn’t like Harris is a complete non-factor on offense. If he was standing in the corner not involving himself, you’d be worried, but Harris looks for opportunities to set off-ball screens to free up his teammates and frequently moves around on the floor. 

Also, when he feels his man start to drift, he knows what to do. 

via GIPHY

Like here, when his guy leaves to help on Roby, so he immediately cuts to the hoop, then goes with the reverse to shield his shot from being blocked. Simple stuff, but instinctual stuff. Watch Harris play and you get the sense he’s got a good feel for the offensive end; he just doesn’t have a jumpshot. 

Which needs to change, obviously, if he moves into a larger role. It’s not a killer right now in a more complimentary role but when the seniors are gone and Nebraska needs scoring from new places, Harris is going to have to diversify. And there’s still some learning on defense to be done (he leaves his feet on shot fakes a little too often) but considering how strong he already is on that end, that isn’t much of a red flag.

I like Harris. So, not everything on the court is terrible. 

Ozigbo Backed Up Held

It’s looking as if Ozigbo’s 40-yard dash time from Pro Day might be a 4.54

Oddly enough, the running back’s time was the one that had the biggest range of numbers amongst the scouts in attendance, as some had him in the low 4.6’s while others had high 4.5’s and everyone took a rather lengthy amount of time to sort out what the actual number was. Ironic his should be a source of a mini-controversey considering that was what everyone was there to see.  

“Everybody wanted to see what I’d run and see how fast I was,” Ozigbo said. 

So how good is a 4.54?

It would have been 11th-best at the Combine. There were 28 running backs invited. Ozigbo wasn’t.

"I'll be honest with you, I was very disappointed," running backs coach Ryan Held said of that fact on Tuesday. "Look at what he did. He rushed for 1,100 yards in the Big Ten, one of the best leagues in the country. I'm not an NFL guy, but I can tell you this, when you look at his skill set — 220-plus pounds and a guy who can run and catch the ball — it's impressive.

"I mean, tell me there are 28 better running backs than him in the United States. I just don't believe it."

And you probably shouldn’t. That’s some pretty direct language from Held, but Ozigbo more than backed up his coach at the very first opportunity.

  Measure Rank if at Combine
40-yard dash 4.54u 11th
Bench 19 t-15th
Vertical 37” t-4th
Broad jump 10’4” t-6th

We don’t know his three-cone time or his 20-yard shuttle yet, but Ozigbo showed speed. He said he felt his three-cone drill was the strongest of everything he did and if the results agree with him, his day looks even better. 

Ozigbo makes every other guy in the room cover up the gut just a little bit more when he walks in. From a strength and physicality standpoint, there is absolutely no denying he can hold his own on a professional football field. I think he did everything he could to prove last season he can be an every-down tailback, too. The perception of him coming into the draft process was that he wasn’t fast, which, as far as I can see it, had to be the only thing limiting his options. 

While he didn’t have a Tanner Farmer-like day Thursday, he still had a pretty promising showing. There aren’t currently any private workouts scheduled, but the feedback has been mostly positive.

“I wanted to show I wasn’t slow,” he said. “Just running decent, looking fast, looking quick in and out of my cuts. I think I did a pretty good job on that. So I’m happy with that.”

With his former position coach looking on throughout the workout, he also showed he can back up talk.

Ever-Growing Heisman Hype

On Sunday, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook released early Heisman odds for the 2019 season. Westgate means we’re talking about the real deal here, not CFBsupernerd.com or some idiot like me on Twitter who gets these kinds of predictions wrong three-quarters of the time. 

Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa has the best odds, because of course, but the rest of the top-10 was interesting. 

1. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama — plus-250
2. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson — plus-300
T-3. QB Adrian Martinez, Nebraska — plus-600
T-3. QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma — plus-600
T-3. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State — plus-600
6. RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin — plus-1,500 
T-7. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon — plus-3,000
T-7. WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama — plus-3,000
T-9. QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas — plus-4,000
T-9. QB J.T. Daniels, USC — plus-4,000
T-9. RB Travis Etienne, Clemson — plus-4,000
T-9. QB Jake Fromm, Georgia — plus-4,000
T-9. QB Alan Bowman, Texas Tech — plus-4,000
T-9. RB A.J. Dillon, Boston College — plus-4,000

I wrote about how Martinez is handling his Heisman hype earlier in the week, so I won't really get into that here, but the fact he's got the third-best odds from the major sports book is wild. 

The non-Nebraska teams with representatives on that list averaged 3.3 losses last season. Nebraska had eight. His inclusion perhaps signals the way people feel about a Nebraska team run by Scott Frost and quarterbacked by Martinez. Or it just shows Vegas thinks it can take Nebraskans' money. (Both seem likely given lines for Nebraska basketball recently.)

There are four guys on there who were freshmen a season ago, including Martinez. Lawrence is an obvious inclusion; people are already calling him the next Peyton Manning for some reason. J.T. Daniels plays for USC and USC will get preseason hype — justified or not — until the end of time. Bowman raises eyebrows only if you didn't pay attention to what he did, which was throw for nearly 2,700 yards in eight games, complete a shade under 70 percent of his passes and toss 17 touchdowns against seven picks. 

Outside of Tech and Boston College (sorry Brandon Vogel), every school on there is a college football power house, so no one should be surprised that Nebraska's promising young quarterback has this kind of attention. 

That doesn't mean I have to like it, though. We've gone from back-to-back 4-8 seasons to through-the-roof expectations in a very short amount of time. I'm part of that, I get that, but there's increasingly more and more pressure on Martinez's shoulders. We're almost done watching one team absolutely crumble under similar pressure. 

While two completely different situations and I don't necessarily see the same happening here, it might be time to ease up on the throttle. 

Bonus: Young Love

Give Dedrick Young II some props. The former inside linebacker had the second-best output on the bench of anyone at Pro Day (26 reps), ran a 4.51 40 (would have been sixth-best at the combine) and put up what would have been the best broad jump among combine-participating linebackers by a wide margin (10 feet, one inch). After, when asked if he’s open to playing other positions, Young just laughed and said he’ll do anything it takes to play at the next level. 

His position coach, Barrett Ruud, loves Young. Every time he was asked about the middle backer last season, Ruud talked about the football IQ and consistency the senior displayed day in and day out. There were mistakes on the field that Husker fans point to rather quickly when his name gets brought up, but Young had a really good showing Thursday that shouldn’t go unnoticed.  

 
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