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Mailbag: Plug and Play Freshmen, New Coaches, Super Bowl Thoughts

January 08, 2020

It’s Wednesday. Wednesday means it’s time for the mailbag. 

As we saw in 2019 with Wan'Dale, he was a 'Plug and Play' recruit for the coaches. Are there any incoming freshmen who fit the "Plug and Play" mold, where the coaches are already coming up with ways to use them next fall? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: Zavier Betts is my top choice. I think he’ll be prepared as if he’s playing right away from the moment he shows up this summer. Linebacker Keyshawn Greene could fit the mold as well. 

Greg Smith: What a great way to phrase this question. It eliminates the easiest answer, Omar Manning, by keeping it to freshmen. I’m going to go with Keyshawn Greene. There has to be a way to get him on the field next season. A good problem to figure out if you are Barrett Ruud.  

Jacob Padilla: I’ll toss out two more names: wide receiver Alante Brown and running back Marvin Scott III. Brown is enrolling early and is a year older than most freshmen coming out of prep school, and he looks like he has the talent to see the field early. As for Scott, I could see either running back commit seeing the field early, but Scott Frost himself said Scott is ready to go physically so I’ll give him the nod here. I don’t know that Nebraska will have a freshman who makes as big of a difference as Wan’Dale, but I do think there are some guys who can help. 

This year's CFP semifinal had Clemson, fourth at 7.2 yards per play, and Ohio State, fifth at 6.8 yards per play. Nebraska was 59th with 5.6. In 2017, UCF was 2nd with 7.4 YPP. That obviously translates to success. What is the key for the Huskers to increase their YPP in 2020? (@Corn_Huskers) 

BV: Explosive rushes. When I calculate this I use runs of 10-plus yards (simply for ease of calculation). The 2018 Nebraska offense, which averaged 6.3 yards per play, had an explosive rush on 19.4% of run plays. That was 90 explosive rushes on 464 total runs. This year the Huskers ran it 80 more times (544 total)—Scott Frost’s heaviest rushing year as a head coach—but had just 79 explosive rushes (14.5%). This offense is built to be ground-based. Oregon was a heavy run team. Frost had leaned a little more to the pass, comparatively speaking, until this past season, but it’s still meant to rip off big gains on the ground. The explosive passing play number was actually up over 2018. That’s why my focus is squarely on the run game. 

Mike Babcock: The key is strong play from the offensive line. 

What player from the past would you like to bring back from a past era to the current era in any sport, college or pro, and why? (@JJStark8) 

Erin Sorensen: I would love to bring Ndamukong Suh to play for Nebraska now. With the number of questions on the defensive line for next season, he’d be a huge help. 

GS: I would love to take Warren Moon in his prime and place him in today’s NFL. With the protections for quarterbacks and other rule changes, he would be unstoppable. Plus it’s an excuse to think about those fantastic Houston Oilers uniforms.  

MB: I’d bring back Jim Brown and let folks see just how good of a running back he was, at Syracuse (where he also played lacrosse and basketball, and competed in track and field), as well as with the Cleveland Browns. 

JP: I’d like to see how Michael Jordan would adjust to the modern game of space-and-pace and 3-point shooting. It would also be pretty cool to see him play at the same time as LeBron James.  

Could 2020 be the year all Husker athletics show significant success? Football, volleyball, basketball? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

ES: I don’t want to pump the brakes on anyone’s excitement for the new year, but I’m not ready to say Nebraska football shows significant success in 2020. I guess it depends on what “significant” means. The Huskers have a tough schedule ahead (including nonconference) so I think it’s better to temper expectations there just a bit. Nebraska should be improved, yes, and that should lead to enough wins to be bowl eligible. Is that significant success though? 

MB: I see significant success for the volleyball team in 2020 but not football or men’s basketball. I figure the football team will be bowl eligible, at 6-6, and maybe men’s basketball is more consistent. But significant success for either? Not how I would define it. Baseball, maybe? I think Will Bolt will build on what Erstad set up. 

Will NU women’s basketball team be ranked soon? How far can this team go? (@Sal_Vasta3) 
What do you think is the upper limit for the women's basketball team this year? (@Cty2CtyLyle) 

MB: We’ll know more about the women here shortly. After Wisconsin, they go on the road for games against Rutgers and Maryland, then play Michigan at home. There’s a logjam at the top of the conference right now, and Nebraska’s in it. The overtime loss at Michigan State was a toughie. Anyway, we’ll have a better idea of what we’re going to see from the Huskers. They’ve looked as if they might be ranking-worthy. If not for the Michigan State loss they might be. But the Big Ten has only, what, three ranked teams and none higher than Indiana at 12? Maryland’s 17 and Michigan’s 24 (in the AP poll). So the Big Ten’s not getting much love right now. 

Which teams go to the Super Bowl and who wins? Also, which artist do you most want to play halftime? (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: I pay so little attention to the NFL that I had to look up which teams are involved in the divisional matchups, so I’ll just spare you my pure guesses. The halftime show, however, is something I have some thoughts on. The base-level requirement seems to be that you have to be a megastar. Vampire Weekend (or the equivalent) need not apply. The pursuit of mass appeal frequently make things pretty bland (Maroon 5, Coldplay, et al), and I’m also not a huge fan of bringing back old favorites (the Rolling Stones, the Who, etc.). What you’re looking for are megastars who are also a little weird and out there, which is why Prince and Lady Gaga were great picks. That makes my top two picks, right now, Kendrick Lamar or Rihanna. Probably Rihanna. 

MB: I’d like to see the 49ers and Chiefs, but I’m expecting the Ravens and the Packers. To show how much I know, I thought the Saints would be there. The 49ers have long been my team (and the Raiders) but I don’t think they can get past the Packers, even at home. As for the Ravens, Lamar Jackson has had a remarkable season. Jackson vs, Mahomes would be a good show. I won’t pick an artist for halftime because I’m too old to know the hot acts these days. Garth Brooks swinging from the roof? Bring Jack Johnson in from Hawaii? 

GS: I have nothing when it comes to predicting the NFL since I barely know who is still in it. However, my answer for the halftime act is that Bruno Mars should play it every year until he gets bored with it. =

Got any hot takes (positive or negative) on specific players leaving for the NFL early? (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: All I’ll say is this is looking like a ridiculously stacked wide receiver draft and any wideouts who have not yet declared might want to consider that while making their decision. 

What are your guys' thoughts on hiring a full-time special teams coordinator and assigning OLBs to Coach Chinander? (@Go_Big_Red) 

BV: It sounds like a good idea, but I think you’re looking at a pretty narrow pool of candidates. I also can’t forget that the last time Nebraska had a special teams coordinator all everyone did was make jokes about his salary every time there was a shanked punt. In reality, most special teams coaches have additional responsibilities even if their title is “coordinator” so I’m guessing Nebraska will end up with someone similar. I’d be pretty surprised if they brought in someone who only worked with special teams. That doesn’t mean, however, that the hire also has to coach outside linebackers. The staff has some flexibility there. 

MB: Don’t think a team benefits from an assistant that only works with special teams. I think everyone should be involved. If all an assistant does is special teams, what does he do during much of practice when players are with their position coaches? Kickers typically have their own routines and wouldn’t require that much involvement. The coordinator needs to be involved in some other area. How about the offensive line? Osborne always had two offensive line coaches, one of which also worked with special teams. With five positions in the interior, two offensive line coaches always made sense to me. 

Who do you think will be the next OLB/ST coach? (@zaneserhan) 

JP: I don’t necessarily think they’re set on hiring someone to fill both roles. A return for Mike Dawson seems like it would make sense since he was coaching the outside linebackers for New York and he brings he northeast ties that the rest of the staff doesn’t really have covered in recruiting. Then perhaps they reassign the special teams duties to someone else or spread it around among different coaches. 

Is there any potential we go after Mark Helfrich? If so, what position/job would he have for the Huskers? (@ATH_EDITS) 

ES: You’d have to have an open position on staff for him, and I’d assume it would have to be offensive coordinator. As of now, Troy Walters is still in that role so I don’t know how much potential is there until that changes. From there, would Helfrich want to come be a coordinator for a former assistant? Maybe enough money would persuade anyone, but I don’t know if it’s as simple as that. 

BV: Nebraska does have a job posting for an “Offensive Analyst.” I don’t think the listed salary ($36k) would be much in Helfrich’s range, but you never know. All of those former head coaches that did a residency at the Nick Saban Home for Wayward Coaches were in a similar spot and chose to stay involved in the game, even at an analyst’s salary/involvement level. If Helfrich were to be an option, I think it would be in that sort of role. 

MB: Erin and Brandon have the bases covered on Helfrich, I think. I can’t see him coming to Nebraska as an assistant. As an analyst, maybe, until the right head coaching opportunity comes up maybe. Also, I’d guess that $36K is negotiable (or could be increased in some other way) in Helfrich’s case. 

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