You know what time it is. It’s time to be a hater. (There’s a little more fire in this week’s love/hate than last week.)
1. Center of Attention
We’re starting this off with a “hate” but it’s more concern than any kind of real hate. I’m concerned about the center spot for Nebraska.
Despite the grade I gave the offensive line when we ran positional reviews earlier this month, Brenden Jaimes, Matt Farniok and Bryce Benhart on the edge has me optimistic. Farniok improved pretty significantly as the season wore on both in his lateral agility and his reaction off the snap; if he moves inside to guard I would bet it’s because Benhart pushed him there. But who here is actually snapping the ball?
Whether Cam Jurgens is fully healthy from the broken foot last year or not is immaterial at this point, at least to me. He’s still a blank slate we know nothing about, therefore can’t realistically expect anything from. And he seems to be the guy. The other options are a JUCO lineman who might make it but might not, a third-year sophomore with two half-games of experience, a redshirt freshman who is more guard than center and a JUCO walk-on.
I’m not saying none of those options aren’t good. I’m saying I don’t know what any of those options look like. Just like with Jurgens, how do you put expectations on a group in a situation as fluid as that? And that concern gets compounded further by what seems to be already-creeping expectations for next year.
Nebraska will be a trendy pick to win the Big Ten West, especially with all the hype and buzz of another top-25 signing class. That doesn’t really mix well with nothing but a giant question mark at the center spot.
I thought Nebraska needed a true center in this class or the next. Not a guy who could play center or guard, not a guy who could move around or become a center, an actual center who earned whatever pedigree he has by dominating at center. I obviously could be wrong in that assessment (I often am) and Jurgens could turn into a Rimington winner, which would be great for Nebraska. But that true center currently isn’t a part of this class, so I’m going to continue to think about what the position will look like until we get to April.
2. Sit, It’s Fine
Stop criticizing players for sitting out meaningless bowl games.
The story of Jaylon Smith shouldn’t be forgotten anytime soon — a consensus top-10 NFL draft pick at linebacker before an ACL/MCL tear with nerve damage in a non-Playoff bowl game dropped him to the second round and cost him millions of dollars.
Because these bowl games that aren’t part of the playoff are about nothing. Coaches get bonuses and athletic programs get some extra money from the extra game but what do players get outside of a backpack with the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl patch on it?
Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette both sat bowls last season and NFL teams didn’t care about it one bit, they were both top-10 picks. Ed Oliver will not see his draft stock fall because he didn’t play in the Armed Forces Bowl. If Dwayne Haskins wants to sit the Rose Bowl out and be the first quarterback taken in the draft then by all means go for it. All it takes is one Colorado defender getting fed up with you running over them a couple times and twisting your leg and costing you games and money.
So, seeing someone like Clemson’s Dabo Swinney belittle the situation by saying players should just walk around in bubble wrap, or seeing Doug Gottlieb ask West Virginia’s Will Grier when the last time was a quarterback got hurt in a bowl game three days before North Texas’ Mason Fine gets hurt in a bowl game is slightly ridiculous. The adults in the game do everything they can to protect their futures, players should have the right to do so as well without criticism.
3. The Slide
Jacob Padilla wrote extensively about this play in Friday’s Padding the Stats and you should go read his look at it, so I’ll keep this brief.
Lauren Stivrins is going to be really good for Nebraska in the future, but Lauren Stivrins is already really good for Nebraska because she has perfected a move that’s almost a kill every time. Against Stanford, Nebraska ran the slide 17 times, ran it to Stivrins 14 of those 17 times and Stivrins blasted it for a Nebraska point 11 times.
(Shouts to Jacob for the charting, that’s from Padding the Stats. Seriously, go read it. This will be here when you get back. We’ll wait.)
That’s a 79 percent conversion rate. That’s incredible.
Stivrins has so much momentum she’s either firing it past one blocker or smashing it off the second. Either way, she’s getting the kill.
And doing it opened Nebraska up in other ways. Stivrins could begin her run to the edge while setter Nicklin Hames fakes it to her and passes back to the other side of the court for an awaiting Mikaela Foecke. Or Hames can dump it, which she did against Illinois three times and against Stanford once late for a crucial point. Either way, you’re stretching the defense’s front line and forcing them to make faster reactions from less-than-ideal positions
As Stivrins continues to develop into a larger piece of Nebraska’s puzzle, having that in the back pocket to draw from should help tremendously. Need a point? Draw that up for Stivrins a couple times. Too much attention to Stivrins, fake it and let Lexi Sun rip one from the opposite side.
4. Lightning in a Bottle
So I’m writing a story about wideout signee and early enrollee Jamie Nance for Hail Varsity, in case that wasn’t clear. And within an hour of meeting the young man from Blanchard, Oklahoma, he impressed as one of those “great player, better person” types the Husker coaching staff loves. There are a number of stories to be told about him and hopefully our readers enjoy them, but for now we’ll stick to the football field so as not to spoil anything.
There’s a YouTube video of Nance in the third grade taking a handoff and beating a defender to the edge and then beating everyone to the end zone. The announcer at the game yells “lightning in a bottle” as a young Nance races through the back of the end zone. Nance’s mom, Alexis, remembers that and watches the video all the time.
Nance has been faster than everyone for a while.
His Hudl film is just one highlight after another of exploding past people.
And he’s not the only member of the 2019 class signed Wednesday you can say that about. Luke McCaffrey is lightning fast, maybe deceptively so given the reputation of quarterbacks. Wandale Robinson is a blur. Nebraska was already quick and got even quicker. Pair the vision these guys possess with the get-out-of-town quickness and Scott Frost has even more at his disposal to take the tempo to another level in Year 2.
5. The Shot Selection
James Palmer Jr. has scored 59 points in his last two games.
James Palmer Jr. has shot 52 percent from the field in his last two games.
James Palmer Jr. has shot 82 percent from 3 in his last two games.
It’s the shot selection right now. Palmer is taking twos at the bucket and 3s when open. He hasn’t thrown up heat-checks while contested and he isn’t taking those pull-up jumpers from the nail or elbows with a hand in his face.
He got cooled later on against Oklahoma State but the game had already been put to bed by that point. Palmer was 6-for-11 shooting in the first half and when it became clear the shots weren’t falling in the second half he put his head down and drew 14 free throws in the final 20 minutes. That’s heady, efficient basketball.
And he’s creating more. After a three-game stretch against Texas Tech, Western Illinois and Clemson with three total assists, Palmer has 15 in the four games since.
Keep doing that and Nebraska will keep winning.