Nebraska football: Huskers have a lot of personnel evaluating to do. Here are some suggestions.
After another disappointing season for Nebraska, the coaching staff should take a good, hard look at everything and everyone in the program this offseason.
Head coach Scott Frost isn’t going anywhere, but he will have tough decisions to make with the personnel of his team. A 4-year bowl drought and a 4-year streak of losing records isn’t going to cut it in Lincoln.
Why not look ahead and take a stab at figuring out some personnel questions heading into next season?
The quarterbacks are going to be the most interesting storyline of the offseason.
How will Adrian Martinez respond to a mentally grueling season in which he got benched? Considering how well he reacted after getting yanked in the Northwestern game, fans should have no doubt about Martinez as a leader and the heartbeat of the team. Sure, fans rightly have their doubts about him, but Martinez should start in 2021 because, from what we’ve seen, there isn’t a better option.
What about backup Luke McCaffrey, you ask? The kid is a talented athlete — too talented to keep on the sideline. But it’s clear that McCaffrey isn’t a Division I passer, at least not yet. Moving McCaffrey to either running back or receiver would benefit him and the team more than if he stays at quarterback.
That leaves freshman Logan Smothers — how good is he? We won’t know that until he actually sees the field against a live defense. If Smothers is good enough to push Martinez for that starting spot, he’ll show it in practice.
Using the quarterback as your main ball carrier is risky business, but it’s the route that Frost has taken throughout his career as a head coach. Sure, they can be your best runners at times, but they usually wind up putting the ball on the ground more often than running backs do.
That’s the case with Martinez, who fumbled 12 times as a freshman in 2018, 8 as a sophomore and 7 this past season. McCaffrey fumbled 4 times in 65 attempts.
Now, it’s true that Nebraska had a bunch of young and unproven backs behind Dedrick Mills this season. Those guys — Marvin Scott, Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins — got a combined 37 carries. That’s not a lot when you look at the combined attempts of Martinez, McCaffrey and Wan’Dale Robinson, which is 202. Keep in mind that Robinson is truly a receiver, but he’s also the player who seems to know what he’s doing in between the tackles.
The coaching staff needs to trust the running backs more than they do and give them a real shot at carrying the rock in games. If Mills returns, he needs to have the most carries on the team next season, not Martinez, who we mentioned puts the ball on the turf and has battled injuries his entire career. If Mills leaves, then the coaches need to pick the best option at running back and stick with him. Scott looked good at times in his limited opportunities. Sevion Morrison is intriguing, too.
One of those guys would take advantage of the opportunity — it just needs to be presented.
Robinson led the Huskers’ receivers with 51 catches for 461 yards and 1 touchdown. After Robinson, though, there was a huge drop-off in production.
Austin Allen, a tight end, was 2nd in catches with 18. Levi Falck, a transfer receiver from South Dakota, was 3rd with 13 while Zavier Betts, a talented but inexperienced receiver, was 4th with 12.
Those numbers need to be better. To be fair, the quarterback play wasn’t solid in 2020 and that has something to do with the low number of catches for the receivers. But fans did notice that the wideouts Nebraska had on the field at times didn’t necessarily scare defenses.
The recruiting class of 2021 might have some guys in it who can potentially help out right away in Latrell Neville and Shawn Hardy (as well as top recruit Thomas Fidone, a tight end). Those are talented receivers. They need to see the field next season, whether or not they block like a veteran.
The Huskers allowed a total of 498 yards on kickoff returns this past season, which was the 2nd most in the B1G behind Rutgers.
LSU transfer Connor Culp handled both the field goal and kickoff duties. He was a godsend in one of those areas — he earned B1G Kicker of the Year honors after making 13 of 15 field goals — but not quite in both as he only had 12 touchbacks on 40 kickoffs.
One way to stop good kickoff returns is to kick the ball through the end zone, and Culp only did that 30 percent of the time. That needs to be better, and Nebraska should go out and find someone who can do it.