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Mailbag: Which Husker Makes 'The Leap' in 2019?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Mailbag: Which Husker Makes ‘The Leap’ in 2019?

November 28, 2018

Hello and welcome to the Mega Mailbag, where there are a lot of questions and the Hail Varsity staff — Brandon Vogel, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson this week — try to look like they know what they’re talking about. Let’s dive in.

Which defensive group will have the biggest improvement thus the biggest positive impact on the field next season? (@Corn_Huskers) 

DP: I really think Nebraska will be a secondary-led defense next year. It makes sense looking at the returning pieces, with more experience in the secondary than most other places. Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson will be upperclassmen with loads of experience, Cam Taylor will have another offseason to work, Deontai Williams will get more playing time and guys like CJ Smith and Cam Jones will be healthy. I think having the same position coach two years in a row will greatly benefit a few guys in particular. 

JP: I’ll go with the defensive line. I think that’s the group that needs to take the biggest step forward because I personally think there was and still is more talent on that line than the production showed this year. Another offseason under Zach Duval should do wonders for those guys and Mike Dawson has more time to figure out his players’ skill sets and how to put them in the best position to succeed. Another year for those guys in the scheme should help as well. 

GS: I’ll say the linebackers. Mo Barry is still getting better. A healthy Tyrin Ferguson will be very productive. Caleb Tannor with a full offseason of Zach Duval is going to come back looking like a different player. They need a steady running mate for Mo on the inside but I see this group taking a big step forward in 2019. 

BV: Does this make me the deciding vote? I’ll go secondary as well. I like the talent there, including all of the guys Derek mentioned, but I also think this specific defense will be at its best with elite secondary play. It’s sort of built that way with its emphasis on negative/havoc plays and DBs probably control that part of the game to the greatest degree. Next time we get to talk to Chinander we’ll have to ask him this: If you could have one of the following (and only one) –– an elite defensive lineman, an elite linebacker or an elite defensive back –– which would you choose? I think the answer would tell us a lot about Nebraska’s defense as a whole.

In Year 2 of the Frost offense what type of numbers do you think we will see? Is the potential there for a UCF type jump? (@tklim2430) 

DP: A couple interesting tendency numbers to note here.  

Central Florida in Year 1 under Frost: 55.7 percent run rate on standard downs, 36.1 percent run rate on passing downs, 73.6 percent of tackles occurred in space, average starting field position at the 30.2-yard-line. 

Nebraska in Year 1 under Frost: 55.6 percent run rate on standard downs, 36.2 percent run rate on passing downs, 71.0 percent of tackles occurred in space, average starting field position at the 26.4-yard-line. 

So Frost was basically calling the same type of stuff and running the offense the same way with the difference being Nebraska was better. The Huskers were more efficient (47.7 percent success rate compared to 35.2 for UCF), more explosive (18th in 20-yard gains compared to 96th for UCF), more successful on third down (37.2 percent compared 29.7) and more effective when in scoring range (4.7 points points per trip inside the 40 compared to 4.2). Nebraska also has the single most important piece to make the jump — an elite quarterback. The foundation is there.  

If the HV staff had a chance to coach under SF, which coordinator or position coach would you each be best at? (@Jeremy_J_KCSR) 

DP: When I played ball, I was a wideout so that’s probably where you’d want me. But even then, this is one of those best worst-case scenario situations. 

JP: I can’t coach a lick when it comes to football. Give me a spot on Tim Miles’ staff though. 

GS: Would it be cheating to say I’d want a job on the recruiting staff? If it is, then I’d like to be swapped out for Troy Walters. Not because I could outcoach him but because in NCAA Football, I ran the Frost offense but with more passing. Run the ball guy would hate me.  

BV: Since I don’t want to force out new wide receivers coach, Derek, I’ll volunteer to be the offensive coordinator. Do I know a ton about scheme and Xs and Os? No, but I do think I have a decent understanding of how football works from a statistical perspective and I think that would be of most service to the play caller (i.e. Frost) since defense is reactionary to a greater degree. 

JP: I like how Brandon didn’t want to push out Derek but had no problem doing so with Greg. 

BV: Greg really wanted to be recruiting coordinator, so I helped him get there. 

What are your thoughts on the new NET rankings replacing the RPI? (@3rdLargestCity) 

JP: It’s way too early to draw any meaningful conclusions because the sample size of games is so small, but Nate Silver’s comments certainly have me hesitant about how it’s going to look even at the end of the season. 

BV: I like it better than RPI already because the calculation includes margin of victory, and I think that’s about all we can say at this point. Silver raised some valid concerns, but it’s worth noting that the NET rankings don’t include any preseason weighting (as things like KenPom, Sagarin, etc. do). That certainly contributed to the first set of rankings. Let’s see how these new rankings look at the end of the year. It wouldn’t shock me in the least of the NCAA came up with another flawed metric, but almost anything is better than RPI.

Was there a trend between arriving in the spring semester and playing time for new additions including JUCO? (@CoryHonold) 

DP: Nebraska had eight early enrollees. Adrian Martienz, Deontai Williams, Mike Williams, Will Honas, Barret Pickering, Greg Bell, Justin McGriff and Will Farniok. Four of those guys played in every game. Honas and Bell were on pace to play in every game before injury (Honas) and transfer (Bell). McGriff and Farniok never made it into a game. For the 14 guys who weren’t early enrollees only Maurice Washington, Caleb Tannor and Cam Taylor appeared in 10 or more games. Jaron Woodyard got eight, everyone else redshirted. Some of the guys who saw meaningful time were at positions of need, but it’ll be important to note moving forward how much of a head start offensive guys will have as early enrollees. This offense can be a bear.

Do you see Luke McCaffery having a wider role in the offense than just back up QB? (@hotovy) 

GS: No. Not in 2019. He will redshirt and learn from Adrian, Verduzco and Frost. He needs time to develop at QB, understands that and has some dang good coaches to learn under. 

JP: Yeah, I’ve seen this talked about a lot recently because Martinez has the job locked up for as long as he’s in Lincoln, Vedral is a capable back-up and Logan Smothers is coming in 2020. That being said, they wouldn’t have recruited him as a quarterback if they didn’t believe in him and his potential at that spot. Like Greg said, he’ll redshirt next season, go through the Verdu School of Cubes and look to battle Vedral for the back-up role as a redshirt freshman in 2020, when Smothers will likely redshirt as well. After Martinez moves on, McCaffrey and Smothers will battle it out for the job. There’s no reason to look ahead and just concede that McCaffrey will never play quarterback at Nebraska. If at some point it’s not working out, then go ahead and move him there. But it’s a fall-back option, not why they recruited him. 

Do you think the coaches would consider moving Maurice Washington to wide receiver? He seems a natural at that spot (of course he seems natural at many spots), and everyone knows we need more wideouts. Looks like we have some stud RBs coming in next year. (@thawildbunch) 

DP: No, I don’t think this happens. Washington on a linebacker in coverage is a lot different than Washington on a corner in coverage. When Nebraska can flex him out wide from out of the backfield, he’s getting matched up on a linebacker and that’s the whole reason for moving him out of the backfield. Nebraska wants position-less skill guys who can run it and catch it and Washington fits that billing as well as anyone on the roster, but I would be shocked if he made a position change. He’s also too dynamic a runner to just stick him out on the edge and tell him to run routes.  

GS: No, I don’t see this happening at all. His versatility at running back makes him special. Also ditto on everything Derek said. 

Is Nebrasketball going dancing this year? Big win on the road Monday has drastically increased my hopes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s still early and we haven’t had any conference games, but still. (@nicklincoln19) 

JP: Monday was a big step forward for the Huskers. That was the kind of win they simply didn’t get in the nonconference last season. That being said, the Texas Tech loss was a glimpse into the old Huskers and it certainly gave me pause as all the issues they needed to clean up from last year reared their ugly heads all at once. So far, I haven’t seen anything to change my feeling that the Huskers should make the NCAA Tournament. They just have to take care of business and keep the Texas Tech-esque offensive performances to a minimum.  

Where do we stand with who actually redshirted in 2018? (@navymousel) 

DP: Here’s the list for scholarship guys: Braxton Clark, Breon Dixon, Will Honas, Deontre Thomas, Katerian Legrone, CJ Smith, Andre Hunt, Miles Jones, Cam Jurgens, Casey Rogers, Noah Vedral, David Alston, Jaylin Bradley, Will Farniok, Cam Jones, Justin McGriff, Tate Wildeman. All the redshirt-eligible walk-on kids did so as well. 

What happened to Wisconsin? Paul Chryst? (@thawildbunch) 

BV: The defense had a lot to replace coming into the season and struggled to keep teams off schedule (struggle here is relative and means they were about average instead of top-five nationally). That was Key Difference No. 1. The defense also had some of the worst starting field position in the country, which is probably due in part to Key Difference No. 2: The Badgers’ special teams S&P+ ranking plummeted from 28th a year ago to 117th this season. Key Difference No. 3: The passing game tanked, too. Alex Hornibrook threw almost half as many TDs as last season, but nearly the same number of picks. Wisconsin’s team passer rating went from 23rd in the country in 2017 to 92nd in 2018. All of that was too much for the run game to bear, even though the rushing stats were better in Madison than they were a year ago. 

I noticed that at his current pace Martinez will shatter the total career yardage record. How high do you think he will actually get, and what other records will he claim along the way? (@InDaWilderness) 

DP: Given the offense he’s going to be playing in, Martinez has a chance to own every Nebraska passing record if he stays healthy and stays for four years. I don’t think that’s too far-fetched. 

Do you think we’ll win the B1G next year? Because I do. (@jenzeppelin_) 

DP: Maybe the Big Ten West. Maybe. Depends on what happens with Jeff Brohm and Louisville and what happens in Madison, Wisconsin. And health, that matters too. And what happens with this recruiting class. Actually, there are a lot of variables. Nebraska has the quarterback and the coach and the offense to make a run at things but I think we’re way too early to know how good a chance that is. 

JP: Maybe last year was an anomaly in Madison and the Badgers will bounce back to their normal standing, but barring that I don’t see any team setting up to be a juggernaut in the West next season. Nebraska should have as good of a chance to win the division as anyone if they can plug a few key roles, make some strides in important areas and grow into Frost’s and Chinander’s systems. 

What has to happen this offseason for the Huskers to beat the teams that have had their number in recent years (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa)? (@brooks_layne) 

DP: War. Daddy. Up. 

JP: What he said. The newness to the system should be gone next year and I think the schemes are good enough to win. Now it’s about the players and the players playing the plays and not necessarily the plays.  


Now that NU's coaching staff has played Big Ten teams, do you think there are any defense changes they will make for next season? Or is it just getting better players and better conditioning to start with? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

DP: I think it’s more the latter. Frost said from Day 1, “I’m hoping the Big Ten has to modify its system for us.” I don’t expect schematic changes after just a year. That wouldn’t be who these guys are and they’ve got plenty of confidence in what they do. Tweaks? Maybe. But you saw tweaks this season. Nebraska was criticized for playing so much base against Michigan’s heavy sets and then when Wisconsin tried to do the same thing, Nebraska threw out a few more defensive linemen. Stuff like that? Yes. Wholesale changes? No. 

JP: I agree with Derek here. Before they consider making wholesale changes to what they do, I think they’re going to give the players they have a chance to do what’s asked of them, and if they can’t they’re going to go look for guys who can. Dramatic scheme changes won’t come until there’s proof what they’re doing won’t work, and struggles during the transition year isn’t close to strong enough evidence for that. 

What players take the biggest leap from 2018 to 2019? Domann is an easy choice. Who else? (@atingwald) 

DP: I’m back on the Cam Taylor hype train (I never left but he didn’t play as much as I thought he would.) I think he’s got a chance to make moves this offseason. I think Deontai Williams will be one of Nebraska’s best defenders next season. And I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see what Zach Duval does with Maurice Washington. He’s got all-conference potential next year as the main guy if Duval can accomplish what I’m thinking he can. 

JP: I agree on Deontai Williams. I think Tyrin Ferguson is set to take a big leap next year if he can stay healthy. For the sake of the offense, one of those receivers better make that kind of leap as well. Also, can I say Adrian Martinez? Because I feel like he’s going to be a lot better at reading defenses and finding open guys (hello tight ends), which is kind of scary considering how good he already was as a true freshman. 

This question has been asked a ton, I'm sure, but who do you see stepping into Stanley Morgan's shoes? My gut says Jaevon McQuitty. Similar size/speed, stud in high school, now fully healthy after his knee injury. Thoughts? (@jmccarter71) 

JP: See my answer to the question above: I really don’t know who the answer will be but it has to be somebody. I was high on McQuitty coming out of high school and I definitely saw some Stanley-esque qualities in him, so I thought he’d be a guy that could step in after Morgan moved on. However, we simply haven’t seen much of him and I don’t know where he stands with this staf. I hope he can make a leap because I think he has the potential to be a very good player. I think they’re going to ask a lot more out of Mike Williams (not necessarily a direct fill-in for Morgan) and Jaron Woodyard. Sometimes it takes a year for junior college players to adjust to D-I ball, and I think the coaches are hoping that’s the case here and that those guys will be ready to make a big impact, at least enough of one to let JD Spielman do his thing. 

Size up the competition for starting running back next year between Dedrick Mills and Maurice Washington? Both will play but who will get significantly more carries? And where does Greg Bell play next year? (@Shortguy1) 

JP: I think Washington will take the first snap of the season in the backfield, and how many touches he gets will depend on how much War Daddying Up he does this offseason. If he can handle a bigger load without getting banged up, then he’ll get it. That being said, we’ll see plenty of Mills and I think his carries will increase as the season goes on and he re-adjusts to Power 5 football and finds his niche in the offense. No clue about Bell. 

Predictions for the volleyball tournament? (@OnceYouGoZac92) 

JP: I think Nebraska will take care of business this weekend then win in the Sweet 16, but barring a crazy upset on the other side of the bracket it’s going to be incredibly difficult to get past Minnesota in Minneapolis. The Huskers lost to the Golden Gophers in four sets in both of their meetings during the regular season, which is an accomplishment in itself as Minnesota didn’t lose many sets at all throughout conference play. Unless Lexi Sun and Jazz Sweet significantly raise their level of play, I don’t know if they have enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Gophers and come out on top. 

Who was the better freshmen wheels: Taylor Martinez or Adrian Martinez? (@sweetermanders) 

JP: I think Martinez had more top-end speed but Martinez is a more functional runner whereas Martinez was more of a sprinter. See if you can sort that out. 

BV: Agree with Jacob, Martinez is the clear answer. (OK, fine, Taylor Martinez was faster. His first-three-steps quickness was some of the best I’ve ever seen in college football. Adrian gets you close to the same big-run potential Taylor had, but is the better overall runner.) 

How many confirmed recruits do we have? How many are likely to sign in the early period and enroll? How many does NU sign in the spring, for a grand total of? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: Nebraska has 21 commits currently. Eighteen of them are locked in, in my opinion, and will sign in December. Let's say Nebraska adds four commits before the early National Signing Day. So, I’ll say 22 or 23 will sign in December. I think they end the 2019 class with 28 players. Hickman, Henrich, McCaffrey, Nelson and Nance are the current early enrollees from high school. Any JUCO player they sign will be a January enrollee as well.  

Editor’s Note: If you submitted a recruiting question other than the one Greg just answered, don’t despair. We received enough recruiting questions –– it is that time of year –– that we’re splitting those out into their own recruiting mailbag. Look for it later this week. 

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