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Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: Nebraska Volleyball Snags Difference Maker, Bryce McGowens’ Future and More

February 02, 2022

While the second edition of National Signing Day is upon us, and the Huskers grabbed two more recruits for their 2022 class, the mailbag never takes a day off.

This week we touch on a key addition to the Nebraska volleyball program, Bryce McGowens’ future and who will start at running back in Dublin?

Let’s get into it.

Will we still be able to view the mailbag answers for free or will it count as an article given the new policy? (@dmhusker1) 

Brandon Vogel: Given that the questions are reader submitted, that’s a post that will remain open to all readers. If you’re reading this, the meter ain’t running.

What’s the addition of Penn State transfer Kaitlyn Hord mean to Nebraska’s volleyball program? (@Steve_Marik) 

Jacob Padilla: Middle blocker might have been the deepest position on the team this past season, but with Lauren Stivrins’ eligibility running out, Kayla Caffey’s status up in the air, Callie Schwarzenbach’s transfer to Long Beach State and Rylee Gray’s retirement from the sport, Nebraska was down to three bodies at the position, including two true freshmen and a junior with 13 career sets played. Hord not only gives Nebraska some much-needed experience in the middle, she gives the Huskers an All-American talent to replace the one they lost in Stivrins. Hord was one of the best blockers in the Big Ten this past season, as well as one of the most efficient hitters. She raises this team’s ceiling in 2022 significantly.

Which running back will be on the field for the first snap against Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland, and why? (@Steve_Marik) 

Drake Keeler: This may be one of the most impossible questions to answer. The rotation was fairly unpredictable for the majority of this past season, and now we’re adding a few running backs into the mix and a new position coach. However, I’ll go with Rahmir Johnson, who I feel is the safest option. He was solid enough last season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and is entering his fourth year in the program. I expect multiple backs to play in the first game, but Johnson probably has the biggest advantage right now.  

Mike Babcock: Drake’s right. New arrivals, new position coach, interesting spring (and probably fall camp). Rahmir Johnson has experience, but with a new offensive coordinator, too, there are no guarantees. I’m going with Anthony Grant for the start, although he played in a run-heavy offense at New Mexico Military and run-heavy might not be Mark Whipple’s offense of choice. Also, as Drake says, expect multiple backs to play in the opener, limited only by the number who make the trip to Ireland. 

Steve Marik: If fully healthy and confident on his knee, I’ll go with the best blocking back in pass protection on the roster: Gabe Ervin Jr. He knows what it takes to win the job because he’s done it before, becoming the first true freshman to start at running back in the modern era. Sure, this spring and fall will have more competition—Rahmir Johnson is a solid pick for this question, and so is Anthony Grant, the top-ranked junior-college back in the 2022 class. But I like what a fully healthy Ervin brings to the table. He’s a three-down back who you can leave on the field on passing downs and he’ll help keep the quarterback on his feet.

What’s the likelihood that Bryce McGowens gets drafted after one season in Lincoln? (@Steve_Marik) 

Mike: He probably has a chance since he’s indicated that’s his intention, and if not the NBA then the G League, one-and-done. He needs to develop and probably put on a little weight to hold up at the professional level. But again, intent likely will play a part.  

Jacob: Very. There’s no denying that McGowens’ season has been up and down, and there are a few areas in which he needs to make significant strides in order to reach his potential. But he just scored 20-plus in four straight games, something no freshman at Nebraska had done before him, and he’s done it without a lot of help around him. Though the jump shot hasn’t been as consistent as I’m sure he’d like and he needs to continue to add strength, his combination of length and scoring ability will keep him firmly on the draft radar if he keeps up his recent level of play. One-and-done was always the plan for McGowens when he chose Nebraska, and I don’t think anything has happened to this point that has changed that path.

What would a 4-0 homestand mean for the women’s basketball team? (@Steve_Marik) 

Drake: It’d be pretty important. The team is 3-0 in the stretch already, with the final opponent, Penn State (9-11, 3-7 in Big Ten play), having lost four straight. That’s a game you’d like to win. None of the wins in this stretch are super impressive, even put all together, but it’s more important considering that the competition gets much harder from here on out. This momentum could be big, as after the Huskers play the Nittany Lions, three of the next four teams they go up against are currently ranked. 

Mike: Gotta win the games you should and build some momentum for the upcoming tougher opponents. Get ‘r done any way possible, as with the 50-38 win against Rutgers, now 0-11 in the B1G. Take nothing for granted. 

Steve: This four-game homestand is important for the Huskers because it gives them a chance to get much-needed conference wins under their belt against teams that aren’t the best in the conference, like No. 21 Iowa and No. 5 Indiana, which make up three of Nebraska’s four Big Ten losses. It’s good to play some of the cellar-dwelling teams in the conference because if you win those, which Nebraska is doing, the players gain confidence and find out what works and what doesn’t. And you’re better for it when the tougher opponents come around, like No. 17 Maryland this Sunday and No. 23 Ohio State next Thursday. 

Wordle seems to be having its time in the sun…do you play it? Is it addicting? (@Steve_Marik) 

Drake: Yes. I don’t know if I’d say addicting for me, but it’s enjoyable. The only thing I’ll say past that is that using one statistically optimized starting word every day is lame. I pick my first words off the vibes and go from there.

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