10 things we learned from Nebraska's press conference
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and several players met with reporters on Monday for their weekly press conference inside Memorial Stadium to preview this week's road game at Minnesota.
Here are 10 of the most interesting things we learned from the day...
1. Nebraska remains in wait-and-see mode with Martinez, Spielman
The two biggest question marks facing Nebraska entering the week were the injury statuses of starting quarterback Adrian Martinez and top wide receiver JD Spielman.
Both players left Saturday’s win over Northwestern in the third quarter and did not return the rest of the day, and their availability for Minnesota remains unknown following Monday’s practice.
“Well, we have a week to help to see where Adrian is, but we feel comfortable if we have to go with Noah and Luke (McCaffrey)," Frost said. "Both of those guys got lots of reps today, and they have been repping a lot all through the fall, so if it ends up being them we’re fine. But we will wait to see where Adrian is.
"If Adrian is healthy, he will go. If he isn’t, then we feel great about where else we are."
Both Martinez and Spielman were still listed as starters on Nebraska’s depth chart this week, though no changes have been made to the depth chart for the past few games.
Sophomore Noah Vedral said he took the first-team reps at quarterback on Monday and that NU was handling Martinez as “day-to-day”, while freshman Wan’Dale Robinson said he and the rest of the receivers were preparing to take on a bigger workload in case Spielman was held out.
Even though he does not comment on injuries, Frost was asked directly about Martinez and Spielman’s status during Monday’s press conference. His answer to both questions was: “He’ll be alright.”
2. Vedral ready to roll if he’s the starter
Depending on what happens with Martinez’s injury this week, there’s a chance that Vedral could make his first career start at Minnesota.
The Wahoo, Neb., native took over for Martinez against Northwestern and played the entire fourth quarter, completing 2-of-5 passes for 41 yards and rushing seven times for 33 yards.
More importantly, he led NU on the game-winning drive in the final minutes, highlighted by a 32-yard pass to Robinson to set up the winning field goal.
Vedral’s performance didn’t catch Frost or any of his teammates by surprise, as they said he’d shown plenty of poise and ability in the reps he’d seen in practice over the past year.
Vedral said he knew Martinez would get the nod as long as he was healthy, but that wasn’t going to stop the former Central Florida transfer – who has more experience than any Husker running Frost’s offense – from preparing as if he’ll be the starter on Saturday night.
“If Adrian is ready to go, that’s awesome, hoping for the best for him," Vedral said. "Myself and the quarterbacks, we’ll be ready - when we need to be and if we need to be... Nothing changes. The preparation is the same. The film stays the same. We’re focused on what they do. Today we had a good practice, so that’s good. I’ll be ready if it’s my time.”
3. The snapping problems must get fixed
Nebraska’s offense has struggled with one of the most fundamental aspects of the game all season in just being able to consistently snap the ball to the quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Cam Jurgens has had problems with high snaps that have disrupted the entire timing and flow of the offense. Frost said he thought the overall snapping had improved since Week 1, but he admitted they were still a major issue that had to be corrected.
“We’ve had snap issues all year," Frost said. "It’s gotten better progressively. We’ve come a long way. It’s hard for quarterbacks or anyone else to have good timing and good rhythm and have their eyes where they’re supposed to be when we’re worried about too many unknowns, and the snap is the first one.
"We are putting a lot on our quarterbacks from the decision standpoint. They have to be able to get their eyes on the right place and see the right thing to make the right read. We’re playing young linemen. We’re playing a young center. It’s gotten better, but it still needs to improve.”
Senior right tackle and team captain Matt Farniok didn’t sugarcoat his frustration with the snapping problems.
“Right now, we have to figure out a way to get it right," Farniok said. "There are too many snaps that are going wild or going long and messing up the reads. We have to find a way to fix it. It is on all of us. We have to find some type of way to get those snaps right to his chest.
"There is no excuse for it now. In week seven, we need perfect snaps and it is just the number one rule of our center and that is what we expect from our center. He knows he needs to fix it, and he has been working on it."
4. Robinson adds to his trophy case
Wan’Dale Robinson has only played six games of college football, but he’s already starting to stockpile a fairly impressive trophy case.
The true freshman standout was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second time in the past three weeks following his huge game in Saturday’s win over Northwestern.
On top of that, he was one of five players named to the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll. That award is given annually to the most versatile player in major college football by the Louisville Sports Commission and football legend Paul Hornung.
Robinson tied his career-high with seven receptions for a career-high 123 yards and finished with 186 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. His 32-yard catch on the final drive set up NU for the game-winning field goal as time expired.
“I expected to come in and play and I expected to come in and have an impact," Robinson said. "Not specifically having those awards, I just wanted to come in and help our team win.”
5. Huskers will keep a close eye on McCaffrey’s usage
When Vedral took over for Martinez to start the fourth quarter against Northwestern, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco asked Frost who he wanted as the new backup in case Vedral had to come out.
Without thinking, Frost said true freshman Luke McCaffrey, who had yet to see playing time in his first season as a Husker. A couple of plays later, Vedral’s helmet came off after a run, requiring him to leave the field for one play.
Before Vedral could even put his helmet back on, McCaffrey was already on the field ready for his first opportunity. McCaffrey rushed for a three-yard gain on his lone snap and then handed the reins back over to Vedral for the rest of the day.
Frost said he had to be mindful of how and when he used McCaffrey going forward, as the ideal plan would still be to play him in only four games to preserve his redshirt eligibility this season.
“Luke is a special athlete, he is going to be a special player," Frost said. "We definitely want to save his years so we have to be smart. I would love to see him out there doing something, but we have to be smart in which other games we play him in... He has got three more to play this year and we’re not going to play him in another.”
6. Frost waiting to see how Washington responds to benching
In addition to the injuries Nebraska suffered against Northwestern, it was also without starting running back Maurice Washington for the entire first half.
Frost said after the game that Washington was held out for disciplinary reasons, and the expanded on that decision further on Monday.
“As far as the first half, it was my decision to hold him out," Frost said. "We hold our players to a certain standard, and we want to help them to live up to that standard."
Frost added that he was curious to see how the sophomore – who already had plenty of off-the-field baggage before the game - would respond this week to his latest round of adversity.
"How did he respond? We’ll see how well he responds this week," Frost said. "We want him to come back and play well and come back and prepare well and get ready to play them, and if he does, this will all be water underneath the bridge. We need him to respond just like the rest of the team."
7. Pickering could still return, but a redshirt is still on the table
Nebraska’s kicking situation has been a mess all year, and the main reason why is because incumbent starter Barret Pickering has been out for the first six games with a lingering injury.
Pickering didn’t even suit up for the Northwestern game and has given no indication that he’s close to returning to action any time soon.
Given that the Huskers are already near the midway point of the season, would Frost consider redshirting the true sophomore?
“We hadn’t talked about that yet," Frost said. "We have just been having our fingers crossed that he’d be back sooner rather than later. I guess if we get a few more games into the season, we might start having that discussion. Right now, we just want him to be healthy.”
8. Johnson is ready to play, but looks on track for a redshirt year
Nebraska’s coaching staff has been talking for weeks about how close true freshman Rahmir Johnson has been to cracking the running back rotation this season. Yet his playing has remained few and far between.
Johnson was able to get on the field against Northwestern but only played three snaps in the win and did not touch the ball. He's only played a total of 11 snaps in two appearances this season.
Frost shed some light on Johnson’s situation by saying he was a perfect example of a guy who would benefit from the four-game redshirt rule. While he may be ready to help the Huskers right now, the staff ideally wants to preserve his eligibility this season.
"Rahmir Johnson is a kid right now who is ready to help us," Frost said. "He’s practicing really well. He’s fast. He’s going to give us a weapon somewhere down the road. He’s played in two games, we got him in for a series on Saturday but probably didn’t get him in enough. That’s two games, so we’re going to try our best to keep him around here for four more years after this.
"You never know what’s going to happen with injuries and other things with the teams. We might end up having to play him. He’s an example of a guy kind of on the cusp, but if we can help it, make sure he doesn’t use this season without getting too many reps.”
9. Rogers made most of his opportunity on d-line
The one-game suspension for defensive lineman Khalil Davis left Nebraska without yet another key player against Northwestern. But just like in the other cases, Davis’s absence opened the door for an underclassman to get his first taste of game action.
Redshirt freshman Casey Rogers got the call to see his most extensive workload of his young career, playing seven quality snaps.
Senior nose guard Darrion Daniels said he was impressed with the brief first glimpse of Rogers and thinks the Syracuse, N.Y., native had an extremely bright future ahead of him.
"That was my first time really playing with Casey, but it was a good experience," Daniels said. “Coach (Tony Tuioti) does a good job of throwing the young guys out there once in a while. Casey is one of those guys. He’s one of the next men up. He’s always had reps in practice, so for him to actually get up there in the game, I think he did pretty well.
"I think it was good for him to get his feet wet in a Big Ten game like that. I feel like now that he knows what it’s like, it’s like smelling blood in the water. You just want to motivate him to keep getting better and keep getting out there.”
10. This is a one-week season
With the way the 2019 schedule shook out, Nebraska has the rare luxury of having two bye weeks this season.
The first comes following Saturday’s game at Minnesota, and the Huskers could definitely use some time off with all of the injuries they’re dealing with at the moment.
However, they also know how important beating the undefeated Golden Gophers would be for their season. As beaten up as the team might be, Frost’s message to NU has been to approach this week as a “one-game season” and worry about resting afterward.
“Pour everything into this week," Frost said. "It’s a one-week season. We are going to look up on Sunday morning and either be 4-3 or 5-2 and then we get to rest and recuperate. And recover mentally too as we prepare ourselves for the next stretch. Whatever our guys got, they have to pour into this week to try and give us the best chance.”