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Three & Out: missing element, DNA of a winner and transfer portal strategy

This is HuskerOnline.com's feature in which recruiting analysts Mike Matya and Bryan Munson give their weekly takes on topical issues concerning Nebraska football, baseball and recruiting.

Today in our next installment of "Three and Out" we hit on the missing element on defense, DNA of a recruit, and transfer portal strategy.

Randy Gregory was Nebraska's last legitimate dynamic pass rusher.
Randy Gregory was Nebraska's last legitimate dynamic pass rusher. (Associated Press)

Subpar pass rush still needs addressing

There is no doubt that the Blackshirts have been playing very well this season, and they seem to get better every year under defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. But there is still one area where they continue to fall short and needs to be significantly improved in the future.

Nebraska is currently tied at No. 101 nationally for team defensive sacks. That simply is not good enough.

Michigan has a pair of difference-makers on the edge in potential NFL 1st round draft pick Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who by themselves have combined for approximately as many sacks this season [10] as Nebraska has as a team.

The graph below shows what a difference a dominant defensive lineman who can disrupt things for the quarterback in the backfield makes in the sack statistics for the Cornhuskers:

Nebraska Sack Statistics
Year Sack Leader Total Team Sacks

2004

Benard Thomas - 4

25

2005

Adam Carriker - 9.5

50

2006

Adam Carriker - 7

31

2007

Barry Turner - 3

13

2008

Ndamukong Suh - 7.5

35

2009

Ndamukong Suh - 12

44

2010

Lavonte David - 6

31

2011

Lavonte David - 5.5

21

2012

Eric Martin - 8.5

31

2013

Randy Gregory - 10.5

39

2014

Randy Gregory - 7

29

2015

Freedom Akinmoladun - 4.5

24

2016

Ross Dzuris - 5.5

26

2017

Ben Stille - 3.5

14

2018

Luke Gifford - 5.5

25

2019

Khalil Davis - 8

28.5

* 2020

Will Honas - 3

15

** 2021

Garrett Nelson - 2.5

12

[* COVID-shortened season; ** season still in progress]

Whether it was Adam Carriker, Ndamukong Suh or Randy Gregory, the above team sack totals tell the tale of what a difference a 1st round type NFL talent can make for the Blackshirts.

In 2019, the Davis twins combined for 12 sacks to help lead that defense for the most sacks in the Scott Frost era.

During the entire span that stretched from the Bob Devaney through the Tom Osborne eras, Nebraska consistently produced difference-makers in rushing the quarterback who were eventual high-round NFL draft choices.

Some past NU OLB/DE greats who were drafted to the NFL in the 1st round were: George Andrews [1979 by Los Angeles Rams], Jimmy Williams [1982 by Detroit Lions], Neil Smith [1988 by Kansas City Chiefs], Broderick Thomas [1989 by Tampa Bay Buccaneers], Mike Croel [1991 by Denver Broncos], Trev Alberts [1994 by Indianapolis Colts], Grant Wistrom [1998 by St. Louis Rams].

Other notables drafted during that idyllic period were: Willie Harper [2nd round 1973 by San Francisco 49ers], Jared Tomich [2nd round 1997 by New Orleans Saints], Mike Rucker [2nd round 1999 by Carolina Panthers], Kyle Vanden Bosch [2nd round 2001 by Arizona Cardinals], Chris Kelsay [2nd round 2003 by Buffalo Bills], Bill Barnett [3rd round 1980 by Miami Dolphins], Jim Skow [3rd round 1986 by Cincinnati Bengals], Jeff Mills [3rd round 1990 by San Diego Chargers], Derrie Nelson [4th round 1981 by Dallas Cowboys], Donta Jones [4th round 1995 by Pittsburgh Steelers], Travis Hill [7th round 1993 by Indianapolis Colts], Chad Kelsay [7th round 1999 by Pittsburgh Steelers].

It's imperative that Nebraska reestablish and reclaim that tradition for the Blackshirts to take the next step up from a very good defense to an elite one nationally and in the conference.

- Mike Matya

Tommie Frazier had the makeup of an alpha-winner.
Tommie Frazier had the makeup of an alpha-winner. (Getty Images)

The DNA of a winning recruit

As Nebraska tries to wrap up their 2022 class and hosted 40 to 50 recruits from the 2023 class each of the last two weekends, my mind begins to wonder what I would be looking for in next year's class if I were a coach at NU? I am not talking about how many recruits are in the class or at a position.

What I am driving at is what type of players Nebraska should be targeting next year based on how this season and the previous seasons have gone so far under Scott Frost. What should be in the DNA of a recruit?

In my years of covering recruiting there are some things that the rankings overlook. I don't think that many value it, but I know for a fact that there are D1 coaches I have compared notes with that absolutely value it. Those two things are:

1. Captains of winning programs

2. Played for a winning program

There is definitely something to be said about bringing players to your team that know what it takes to win. They know what it takes to prepare. The discipline to be a winner.

What's more is their refusal to accept losing. Losing happens. But there are those who accept it as part of the game, based on the teams they have played for, and there are those who have had it happen so few times that they would never accept it. They will fight it ever happening again if they can do anything about it.

If I was entering a high school or junior college to recruit a player for Nebraska, there are definitely some things I would be looking for. The film is enough to get me to the player's school. Now they have to separate themselves from the other recruits. To me, there are four questions that I would need to get answered:

1. How much does this player love the game? I have always said that you will never get the most out of someone whose heart isn't in it.

2. On a scale of one to ten, how tough is he? This comes back to love of the game somewhat, but it is necessary to gauge physical toughness and playing through bumps and bruises.

3. Can I trust him? The character check. College coaches should be interested in players that do the right things and avoid the players that don't.

4. How smart is he? Overall intelligence goes into football IQ. There are positions where you don't need the brightest of individuals, but there are others where it's completely necessary to be smart.

The recruiting rankings take some of these things into their equations when it comes to evaluating talent. College coaches, however, have to go beyond how a kid looks and moves. Those two things may get the coaches to take a look, but if you really want the coaches attention you will need to have solid answers back on those four questions I outlined above.

I heard a quote that someone credited back to Ed Orgeron and I don't know if it's true. I "Googled it" and I couldn't find anything. What I was told Ed said was: 'There are five guys every year. That's it. After that they are all about the same.'

What does that mean to you? What that means to me is there are a handful of guys that are the Ndamukong Suh, Adrian Peterson, Trevor Lawrence, etc. types every year and then there is "everyone else". You can be fortunate enough to get one of those five guys, otherwise you are sifting through the other players in the country.

So what do you look for? How do you differentiate between the rest of the best players in the country? What are those things that are important in the underlying fabric of a recruit?

I would start with captains of winning teams and winners in general (look at other sports that recruits play, too). Then I would ask those four questions to everyone around those players when it comes to adding anyone to what's left in the 2022 class and what I am looking for in the 2023 class.

This team needs to expect to win, understand what it takes to win, and have the right type of makeup that goes beyond what is seen on the field.

- Bryan Munson

Transfer portal strategy

Over halfway through the season, Nebraska currently possesses only eight verbal commitments for their 2022 football recruiting class, which places them dead last in the conference and at No. 82 nationally in the Rivals rankings.

This has left many Husker fans scratching their heads as to exactly what the strategy going forward will be to close out this class and recruiting cycle.

With 49 scholarship freshmen on the roster, and almost all of them redshirting except for defensive back Marques Buford, this roster needs some balancing out.

One way to accomplish that is to reserve several of the remaining scholarships lots for transfer portal players who will become available after the season.

That is exactly what we suspect the Nebraska coaching and personnel staff will do to supplement their roster with upperclassmen transfers in the coming months.

The most obvious needs that will probably be filled with portal transfers is at the defensive back positions. Cornerback and safety will be the highest priorities in looking for transfers.

After that, looking to add a better kicker and punter is a no-brainer. Connor Culp will be graduating and leaving the program, and an upgrade at punter is obviously needed.

Other needs could be filled with a quarterback transfer because there is no guarantee Adrian Martinez will want to come back and face the scrutiny of Husker Nation for yet another season, no matter how much NIL money he would earn.

A wide receiver or difference-maker on the defensive line are also transfer possibilities.

The college football landscape is rapidly changing, and roster improvements are not primarily reserved to the recruiting classes anymore.

If a program can add proven, upperclassmen transfers from the portal, they will take advantage of those opportunities, even if it means their recruiting classes will be smaller because of it.

Nebraska looks to be taking that path this cycle.

- Mike Matya