Nebraska's offensive coordinator and QB decisions will be fascinating
If Nebraska fans were hoping for an indicator on Friday as to whether Logan Smothers is going to be the team’s quarterback in 2022, they didn’t get it.
Smothers played well enough in the 28-21 loss to No. 16 Iowa to be modestly optimistic about him potentially taking over for Adrian Martinez, but not well enough to definitively say that he’s the guy moving forward.
Whether the Huskers trot out Martinez, Smothers or someone who isn’t yet on the roster probably ultimately depends on who Scott Frost hires as the next offensive coordinator. The person Frost tabs to take over for Matt Lubick will be a window into Frost’s vision of the next QB.
Martinez and Smothers are obviously both very strong runners. In his first start, Smothers carried the ball 24 times, which was more than Martinez ever has in a college game. Part of that was probably due to Smothers being fresh and this being the last game of the season, so why hold anything back? But those 24 rushing attempts tell you where the coaching staff believes Smothers’ strength is. Obviously if Smothers is the guy moving forward, the next offensive coordinator will have to be able to work with a running quarterback.
But it’s certainly possible Frost will opt for a completely different direction. Kentucky’s Mark Stoops pivoted away from a run-heavy offense and brought in Rams assistant Liam Cohen and Penn State transfer QB Will Levis to open the offense up, and it’s worked; Kentucky is 9-3.
At this point, it’s hard to believe that Martinez will be back. He’s had 4 years as the starting QB, and the Huskers haven’t even been to a bowl game. Is the fifth time really the charm? I don’t think so.
So, is Smothers someone that Nebraska can build around? Well, I’ll say this: there wasn’t a huge difference between Martinez and Smothers. The latter had Nebraska in position to beat the eventual West champions, just as the former had Nebraska in position to beat the East champions. But both made huge mistakes in the fourth quarter to sink Nebraska’s chances. You have to wonder, was it really worth it to keep playing Martinez through a broken jaw and an ankle sprain if a fresher Smothers could play at a similar level?
So if Smothers can already play at Martinez’s level, it may make sense to give him a chance and see if he can grow and exceed Martinez. He has 3 years of eligibility remaining, and he did show some promise. He was 16-of-22 for 198 passing yards, plus 64 rushing yards and 2 scores. Keep in mind, this was against a very good Iowa defense.
Obviously, Smothers can’t run the ball 24 times per game in the Big Ten. He won’t last a month playing that style, especially in the West. So the question becomes whether he is a good enough passer to keep teams honest? I’m not sure. He doesn’t have a very strong arm, and he was labeled a dual-threat QB out of high school; he was a very good sprinter in high school, too.
Surely, Frost is monitoring which QBs could potentially transfer this offseason and be a fit. I’d bet at least one of those Ohio State QBs hits the portal, and it’d be wise of Frost to not pass on an Ohio State transfer again considering how that went the last time. Maybe Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler would like to come to Lincoln and get a shot at his old team in 2022. Or maybe Frost can dig into his UCF roots and land Dillon Gabriel.
Anyways, Smothers showed he has some ability, and conventional wisdom would mean he’ll get even better next year, though it hasn’t always worked that way for Martinez.
Whatever Frost decides to do at QB, we’ll probably get an inkling soon enough with his offensive coordinator hire.