In Casey Thompson, Scott Frost gets what he needed most
It’s no secret that Nebraska desperately needed a quarterback out of the transfer portal after Adrian Martinez left for Kansas State. Even if Martinez stayed, the Huskers, who were 3-9 last season and haven’t been to a bowl game since 2016, probably should have considered one.
On Friday, 3 weeks after Martinez committed to Kansas State, Nebraska finally landed one: Texas transfer Casey Thompson.
While the search seemed to drag on a bit, I think it will all work out, because this is exactly what Nebraska needed. Thompson started for the Longhorns and led the Big 12 with 24 TD passes. He will reportedly be on campus for the spring semester. He’s not perfect, no, but save for a guy like Caleb Williams or Justin Fields hitting the portal, few are slam-dunk sure things. Often, they are guys like Jalen Hurts or Joe Burrow, looking to make a name for themselves after losing a starting job or failing to win one. Thompson would appear to be the former after his performance fell off after suffering a thumb injury on his throwing hand in the Oklahoma game and super recruit Quinn Ewers transferring in.
Thompson has exactly what Scott Frost was looking for: experience. Remember, Frost basically has a 6-game audition in 2022, which will be his fifth season in Lincoln. His buyout is cut in half from $15 million to $7.5 million after Oct. 1, when Indiana comes to town. After that week, Nebraska has a bye, which could potentially be the time to make a switch if 2022 goes like 2021. Frost is most certainly on the hot seat after taking a pay cut for next year and needing an announcement from new athletic director Trev Alberts that he is coming back.
That’s why Frost absolutely had to have a guy like Thompson, who has starting experience and has put up monster numbers against Big 12 opponents. Frost can’t afford to be patient and get off to a slow start, especially against a very soft early-season schedule that features only 1 FBS opponent that finished above .500 (Oklahoma). Nebraska very well could be favored in its other games, against Northwestern, North Dakota, Georgia Southern, Rutgers and Indiana. With the meat of the schedule on the back end, Nebraska needs to be at 4-2 or 5-1 heading into the bye week.
And the best way to do that is to hit the ground running with a guy like Thompson, who already has lit up Oklahoma once in his career, throwing for 388 yards and 5 TDs against the Sooners last season. And by the way, his dad played for Oklahoma, so you know he won’t be intimidated when the Sooners come to town Sept. 17. Thompson threw for 5 or more TDs in 3 games last year. He has a big arm and can also run, though Steve Sarkisian didn’t dial up many run plays for him at Texas.
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While Logan Smothers looked good against Iowa in his first career start to close the regular season, he is an unknown in terms of how he’ll develop and perform. For example, with it being the last game and Smothers being fresh, he ran the ball 24 times. That’s way too many on a week-to-week basis for a QB, but that’s the strength of Smothers, a former track athlete whose ability as a passer is relatively unknown. Smothers could absolutely win the job and start the opener against Northwestern in Dublin, and if he does, that should give fans a ton of confidence knowing he beat out a former starter in the Big 12 rather than just being handed the job when Martinez left.
There’s still the possibility that Nebraska will add another QB through the portal, as Florida State transfer Chubba Purdy has an official visit next week. But Purdy is also relatively untested with just 58 career pass attempts, which isn’t much compared to the 290 of Thompson.
The more QBs, the merrier for new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, the architect of Pitt’s dynamic offense this season. There’s no telling which QB will develop best and fit Whipple’s offense in the long term. That could even be redshirt freshman Heinrich Haarberg.
But in terms of the best thing right away for Frost and Nebraska, that would be the arrival of Thompson, who should be given every opportunity to get this thing in Lincoln turned around.