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Nebraska Football

Mailbag: What One Sports Outcome Would You Change?

May 15, 2019
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The full Hail Varsity staff is back for a new mailbag. Let’s get into it.

The Huskers had 16 punt returns with an average of 3 yards per punt return. Yes. 3 yards. Who do you project will be the Huskers' leading punt returner and what will be the team's average this season? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: This is a tough one to answer. We saw Cam Taylor back there during the spring game. I’m intrigued by that. He’s obviously a pretty dynamic athlete and if he looks up for the job it might allow the Huskers to use him, at a position where the depth is a little better, over JD Spielman, which is probably the default option. I could see Wan’Dale Robinson getting a long look, too. Whoever it ends up being, I would look for improvement here. The staff wants the return teams to be a weapon and I don’t think that’s just standard coachspeak. If the Huskers were to get up to around 11 yards per return that would land them in the top 40 most years, which would be a pretty nice jump. 

Mike Babcock: Brandon has the three top candidates. I think they’d prefer to find someone other than Spielman because he’ll be so involved in the offense. No idea what they’ll average, but that has to improve dramatically. It’s not all on the returner, far from it, but it takes a special mentality to wait for the ball with guys barreling down on you. 

Jacob Padilla: Regardless of who is back there (and they have a few guys with some speed and shake as Brandon mentioned), it’s not going to matter unless everyone around the returner improves in their roles. You can’t return the ball if the other team is right on top of you as soon as you catch the ball. Nebraska hasn’t blocked punt returns effectively in a long time. 

Derek Peterson: Brandon said everything I was going to say. Brandon is smart. 

Watching Adrian Martinez highlights and I see a glaring flaw and surly someone else notices! Where are the deep balls? I'm not talking about the 50-yard touchdowns on 18-yard passes. Where are the 30, 40, 50-yard completions where the ball traveled in the air for most of the yardage? Other than one to JD I can’t find any. (@LieglNicholas) 

BV: I don’t know that I’m willing to call it a flaw just yet and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, this offense is pretty heavy on quick completions and when you throw a true freshman quarterback into the mix, even one as good as Adrian Martinez was, it makes sense to try and keep things manageable for him by creating easy reads and short passes. Two, in most ways I think a 50-yard touchdown on a ball that travels 18 yards is preferable to a 50-yard touchdown on a ball that travels 38 yards. Why? Because the 18-yard pass is a much higher percentage play. The truly deep balls are often one of two things, either a bust by the defense (where there’s little pressure on the QB to make a perfect 40-yard throw) or a 50-50 situation (where the QB has some responsibility to put the ball where it can be caught but a big part of the success of the play is determined by the wide receiver’s ability to beat the defensive back one-on-one). I’m far from ready to say Martinez doesn’t have that ability at this point, but even if he didn’t, I think the impact of that would be managed and minimized in this particular offense. 

MB: Agree with Brandon, and Larry the Cable Guy: git ‘r done. Martinez was extremely productive in what he did. We won’t argue that. So I don’t see a reason for concern about whether he throws deep balls or not. In fact, I’d prefer the focus on short passes with a higher-percentage of completion. Martinez doesn’t have to be the “Mad Bomber,” Daryle Lamonica to be an effective passer. 

DP: The M.O. for this scheme, at least in the passing game, is misdirection and getting playmakers the ball in space to make something happen. That means a ton of RPO action — which limits timing — and a ton of quick-hitters to the smaller, shiftier skill players. I think we’re always going to see more of the 50-yard touchdowns that begin as 8-yard passes than the 50-yard bombs. Martinez can spin it, that’s not the issue, he’s just not being asked to. And given the makeup of the wideout room this upcoming season, I don’t expect that to change. 

Which position (group) do you expect we'll be talking about in two-three years as being absolute beasts because of the recruits over the last two seasons (Besides QB)? Either from pure talent or simply massive improvement from where we were? (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: Defensive back. I really like the talent level there after two years of recruiting. Cam Taylor is going to be really good. Braxton Clark and CJ Smith have shown some promise. (I really liked Cam Jones as a high school player, too, before that didn’t work out.) And I think I might like the 2019 class of DBs a little bit better. I’m really high on Myles Farmer and Noa Pola-Gates isn’t far behind. It’s always tough to project high school prospects, but I look at the secondary and see a lot to like in the near future. 

Greg Smith: Defensive back is a strong pick. I’m going to pick one that will make a lot of Husker fans happy. Offensive line. I think there will end up being massive improvement based on talent and coaching. I’m very high on Greg Austin’s style and they are getting a good mix of lineman. Bryce Benhart and Turner Corcoran will get the headlines but a technician like Micheal Lynn could end up being special. Then Matthew Anderson and Jimmy Fritztsche are balls of clay for Austin and strength coach Zach Duval to mold. I love the way the future of the offensive line is shaping up.  

JP: Defensive back and offensive line are both strong answers. I’ll go with defensive line for some variety. Ty Robinson is a heck of a piece to build a future defensive line around. Brant Banks, Tate Wildeman, Casey Rogers, Mosai Newsom each bring something different to the table and if we’re looking at this two years down the road, Damion Daniels and Deontre Thomas will both be seniors. Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti has been traveling across the country the last couple of weeks looking for future Blackshirts to add to that room as well. 

What are the chances that uniforms get an updated look in the future? Or are we stuck in the 90s for eternity? I’m starting to think it’s no longer just the blue hairs that hate any change whatsoever. (@AlpineAddiction) 

Erin Sorensen: I have no reason to believe Nebraska moves away from its traditional uniform any time soon. I think there will be updates, like we’ve seen with the removal of the stripe on the pants, but I think the basic elements will stay the same. There are certain uniforms in college football that have an “iconic” feel to them (Alabama, Penn State, etc.) and Nebraska’s uniforms are certainly in line with that conversation. With that said, I’d be willing to bet we start seeing more alternates (as in multiples in one season) and trendier alternates. Scott Frost spent time at Oregon and is friends with Phil Knight. We know he appreciates the culture around alternate uniforms and what they can do for recruiting. So, let’s say it’ll be a little of both worlds. Keep the tradition of the uniforms, while adding something new to the fold. 

MB: Last I checked, my hair wasn’t blue. It was receding. Still, I’m not sure why folks want to break tradition and mess with uniforms. One game a year, alternates; OK. But schools with football tradition ought to stick with their uniforms (certainly Nebraska has made often subtle changes over the years), but they’re pretty much the same, as Erin points out, so are others: Alabama, Penn State . . . Oregon didn’t have a deep football tradition when Phil Knight took charge, and if Phil Knight wants different uniforms each week, Oregon will have them. Part of the push for alternates comes from the companies that outfit schools; Nike, adidas, Under Armour, and so forth. It’s simply marketing. And money. I’d guess in some ways, it can draw attention away from lack of success. Oregon is an exception, certainly. But I don’t think Maryland has jumped into the national discussion in football with Under Armour’s help. If programs are nationally relevant, most fans probably won’t care so much about alternate uniforms. Otherwise, without the fun of winning, fans can have fun seeing how imaginatively different their team looks from one week to the next. And again, I do not wear alternate hair. 

If we don’t see the Huskers’ staff active in the portal for o-line help, can we assume the staff is happy with who they have? (@DougOchsner) 

BV: I think we’ve seen with the graduate transfers Nebraska has brought in that “fit” is a pretty big consideration. Tre Neal had a connection to this staff. Darrion Daniels had a connection to his position group. Kanawai Noa, the latest addition, obviously had Tony Tuioti in his corner. The portal isn’t limited to graduates, of course, but there are so many considerations in play here that I don’t think you can take Nebraska’s absence or presence in the portal as any sort of absolute reading for their overall concern or lack of concern with a particular group. Sometimes there’s a good fit and sometimes there’s not. 

GS: I’d agree with Brandon about fit. I would also say different needs have different priorities. Offensive line help isn’t the same glaring problem as wide receiver, linebacker or even running back depending on how things shake out. The mix they have on the offense line currently can get the job done. They just need to find the best five.  

JP: I think Nebraska not being involved with immediately eligible transfer offensive linemen tells you they prefer what they have to what is out there. Whether or not they’re totally happy and confident with what they have is another story. At this point, it seems like they’re invested in fast-forwarding Cam Jurgens’ development, taking on the growing pains in the short term in order to get the payoff down the road as he gains experience.  

If you had to pick a front-seven for huskers current defense playbook with players from the last 25 years, who would you have? (@ScNOTty_Frost) 

MB: First off, the kind of talent you’re talking about would fit in any defensive system, so that doesn’t exclude guys who would’ve played in another system. Just identify a system and put ‘em on the field. Here’s how I would go: 

Outside linebackers: Grant Wistrom and Jared Tomich or Demorrio Williams or Randy Gregory 

Inside linebackers: Lavonte David and Barrett Ruud 

Defensive line: Jason Peter, Ndamukong Suh and Christian Peter or Jared Crick 

Trev Alberts just misses at outside linebacker, so he’d be with Wistrom otherwise. He was a key figure in the switch to a 4-3, played 3-4 base (50 front) prior to his senior year, 1993. Glad you said 25 years. All-time would require more “ors.”  

You can change the outcome of one play in any sports ball game ever. What would you change? (@tklim2430) 

Kyle Kardell: As a typical Husker football fan, there are two plays that come to mind. The 1984 Orange Bowl two-point conversion and the 2009 Big Twelve Championship finish. I was not alive for the ‘84 Orange Bowl, but I vividly remember the pain of the Big 12 Championship so I will go with that. Time expires and the Huskers win their first conference championship in 10 years.  

MB: I’ll keep Nebraska the focus, too. First, the two-point conversion pass to Jeff Smith in the 1984 Orange Bowl game with 48 seconds remaining. Second, Byron Bennett’s 45-yard field goal, which went wide left, after the field had to be cleared with 1 second left in the 1994 Orange Bowl. 

GS: The first thing that came to mind for me was also the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game. Does that win allow Pelini to break through and go to another level? How differently would we talk about him if he had a conference title under his belt?  

ES: I’d change the outcome of the 2002 Rose Bowl between Nebraska and Miami. I was at that game and it was miserable. I only want to change it for my own selfish reasons. 

DP: I’m not going to stick with the Husker theme. When Pat Beverley hit Russell Westbrook’s knee in the 2013 playoffs and tore his meniscus, we lost a championship. I firmly believe that. If the Thunder had been healthy through that playoff run, we would have won the title. That season remains the only time the Thunder won 60 games in a year — the season right after we traded James Harden. That injury remains the biggest what-if in Thunder history. Bigger than Harden’s trade. Bigger than 2016’s collapse. How differently would we feel about Westbrook if they had won a title? Would Durant still be around? 

What are the summer rules for coaches to interact with players in hours per week? (@CoryHonold) 

DP: They can do eight hours of required weight-training, conditioning and review of practice and/or game film. Film review is limited to two hours a week. If that answers your question. According to the NCAA.

When will Xavier Watts commit, and will we offer Isaac Gifford or give him the chance to walk on? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: On Watts, sometime between June 21 (his ND official) and the end of September. The reason is that would allow him to use all of his officials is he needs to. I think the decision is made before we get too far into the season. I do not see Gifford being offered a scholarship. I’m sure he would be given the chance to walk on but he may have other opportunities.  

Should we expect this much turnover year in and year out? Or every two years? (@ChuckandM) 

BV: Good question and one that’s a little tough to answer. Normally I would think that it would slow down some from the early years of any coaching tenure. The staff gets better at knowing which guys project to fit the best, there are fewer holdovers from previous regimes, etc. But I don’t know yet how much bigger Nebraska’s roster is going to get (or can get). With bigger numbers it’s fair to expect a little more turnover (which is part of the reason you need to bigger numbers to absorb that). We may have to get used to looking at attrition not as the total number of players who left, but as a percentage of the total roster. And I think in a few years when we do that Nebraska’s percentage will probably be in line with most of its peers. 

DP: On the basketball side of things, I’ll say you can expect some greater-than-average levels of turnover every two years. That’s just the nature of things when you build off transfers. This complete overhaul in Year 1 likely won’t be replicated again because they’re just laying the foundation right now, but I think it’ll be safe to expect maybe five or six new major pieces every two years. 

Nebraska basketball has had quite a recruiting run. Predict the starting 2019 five and will UNL have a better result next season than they did the previous one? (@Shortguy1) 

JP: I still have no clue how to project a starting five for this team. One, Isaiah Roby still hasn’t made his decision (I think it’s safe to assume he won’t be back but we don’t know for sure); he’d either start or free up a scholarship for Hoiberg to use and I don’t know if he’d target someone who could play right away or just pocket it for a potential mid-year transfer. Two, we don’t know yet whether Shamiel Stevenson will get a waiver to play right away or if he’ll have to wait until after the first semester ends. The frontcourt is still tough to figure out. Is Hoiberg going to play four guards? Is Kavas going to start at the four, pushing one of the four main guards into a sixth-man role? There are so many questions still to answer. I think it’s safe to project Cam Mack and Jervay Green as the starting backcourt. At least one of Dachon Burke and Haanif Cheatham will start. Beyond that, I have no clue. Either way, I think Hoiberg has a good shot to at least get the Huskers to the NIT again next season. 

DP: I would peg a starting lineup of Mack-Green-Cheatham-Kavas-Ouedraogo at the moment. I don’t think Roby is coming back, but if he does he’d obviously displace the French forward in the starting five. I think Dachon Burke’s blend of scoring and playmaking is better utilized with a bench lineup rather than putting him on the wing and telling him to play off Mack and Green for the majority of his minutes. Nebraska is not going to have a better season next year than it had in 2018-19. The Cyclones went 16-16 in Hoiberg’s first year in Ames, I'd put that as the bar given all the change. These guys need time to gel and learn how to play together and you can only accomplish so much in practice.  

If you could compare Nebraska basketball’s current roster to an NBA team, what team would it most resemble? (@JJStark8) 

DP: There isn’t really a great direct comparison. Maybe Boston? Which isn’t great because that team is imploding but from a purely aesthetic standpoint, that might be the closest one. A ton of ball-handlers. A ton of multiple-position guys who can space the floor on offense and guard several spots on defense. A ton of athleticism. Not much depth when it comes to traditional big guys; though if Hoiberg had someone with Al Horford’s frame and skillset it would be dangerous. 

 
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