With the Purdy news we were waiting for, I can finally get out the most important position preview for the team this coming season. Before we get into what we have this year, it’s important to talk about what has been here.
Adrian Martinez was a four star QB and the first call Frost/Verduzco made when they knew they were taking the Nebraska job. He was a perfect fit for what they wanted to do, and let’s be honest, Husker fans went crazy because of his ranking compared to Milton. After all, Frost and Verduzco knew what they wanted and it turned into 13-0 at UCF with someone “lesser” than what just signed with us.
Martinez comes to Lincoln in 2018 where he becomes a Freshman All-American and an honorable mention All-B1G selection by the coaches and the media as a true freshman. The future was so bright that come 2019, Martinez was getting odds in Vegas as a Heisman candidate. But things never really materialized for AMart here in Lincoln, and things got progressively worse each season. The end came when Martinez sat with Frost after the 2021 season and said he would think about staying if they did not take any transfers before the 2022 season. To Frost’s credit, he said he couldn’t promise that, especially with a new OC/QB coach coming on board. Even though I think Martinez was ready to leave before that conversation, that pretty much solidified things.
Losing a 4 year starter in the portal at your most important position on the team is rarely ideal. But we are Nebraska, and we win the offseason every year. So what should we do? Probably go get 2 transfer guys to counteract our loss, right? Done. Let’s start with the returners though.
We turn the page to Logan Smothers, who was recruited for the same offense and for the same reason that Luke McCaffrey was. Verduzco told LS and LM that he wanted them to be as athletic as possible, and he’d teach them how to throw on the run. Don’t worry about setting your feet, those things rarely happen anyway. All those people recruiting you to play a different position don’t know how to utilize what you can do. McCaffrey ends up starting a couple games and fizzles, where he eventually transfers leading the way for Smothers who basically has his same mold. Smothers committed to Nebraska before Frost even coached a down here, and the offense is now on its 3rd offensive coordinator since the commitment. While I wouldn’t say the transfer QBs solidify a different starter than Smothers for 2022, it definitely doesn’t help the cause. I only bring this up because no one can definitively tell me who is going to win the job in 2022 with a new staff, and what we are going to morph into.
Smothers has some invaluable tools at his disposal, but the Iowa game gives a good glimpse into some of the things Whipple will need to help with. LS had more rushing attempts than passing attempts against the Hawkeyes, and if our new recruiting is any indication of where we are going, a guy like LS may have an uphill battle.
As mentioned, Nebraska has really struggled with completing passes, and many times the easy ones. While Martinez, McCaffrey, and Smothers can outrun much of the defense, if the defense doesn’t have to worry about you completing easy passes, things get very favorable for the defensive coordinators. In Smothers first start of his career, he took it to Iowa in the first half dicing them up on some great play designs and catching them off-guard. But as has happened many times in the first four years of this staff, once Iowa adjusted to make him complete passes and take away his running at halftime, the Hawkeyes then outscored us in Lincoln 22-7 in the second half.
But before the Iowa game was even played, the Nebraska staff had pivoted their recruiting stance for the QB position. I want to first say I have no problem going after guys like McCaffrey and Smothers when you have Martinez on board. That dude gives you 2-3 years of development for your backups. But as our staff found out and our fans watched, if you put a premium on running over accuracy/passing, things can go sideways in a hurry. After all, if our starter wasn’t really developing, do we really think our backups were getting that much better under Verduzco? Things got so bad that many of our fans started saying that we needed taller WRs to complete intermediate passes and Wandale leaving was a good thing. It got nutty.
We then take a commitment from Heinrich Haarberg out of Kearney Catholic for the 2021 class. As I was telling people in 2021, if accuracy is going to be what we put a premium on, Haarberg very well could be the starter for 2022. He has just enough wiggle to get yards if the pocket breaks down, but he has an elite arm. Malzahn and Auburn really liked what they saw with him, and he had offers from places like Boston College as well. When you watch his film, it’s tough to get a great gauge on decision making due to the competition he played. But his arm you can definitely see Power 5 talent.
We also took a commitment from Richard Torres out of San Antonio, Texas. There’s not a ton of film on him as he tore his knee, but the narrative is much of the same in that he can hit throws but isn’t as mobile as McCaffrey or Smothers.
I also would be mad at myself if I didn’t bring up Masker, the walk-on from Kearney Catholic. This kid is probably the one getting the most dumped on with all of these changes. While he may not have the arm like Haarberg or the wheels like Smothers, he would have had a leg up on their experience running an offense. Now that we have changed coordinators again, it takes away that leg up he had to surprise everyone and be named the starter. So what’s new?
That brings us to Casey Thompson, the transfer QB from Texas with 2 years to play 2 seasons. Thompson was ranked as the 14th best dual-threat QB in the country in 2018 which was the same class as Martinez (AMart was ranked 7th best). I like what Thompson brings to the table, he’s not as big of a running threat as Martinez, but he may make up for it in accuracy. And don’t take that as he’s not a mobile guy, he just isn’t as elite running as Martinez. There is going to be some things unanswered in my opinion though… first, Texas has an OL that was much better than what Nebraska has. How will that translate? Will we have to hope for better OL play for him to be even with Martinez? I am aware that better OL play will make everyone have greater results, but if that’s what we are relying on we might be in trouble.
Couple red flags for Thompson… this was his second time in the portal. The first time he chose to stay in Austin, but this second time he comes to Lincoln. He also had a thumb injury that it states he should be healed from, but I also heard that about Martinez and his shoulder the past four years. It’s very odd to me that a guy that started 10 games for a team entered the portal after waiting his turn, but I also understand that Sarkisian went and got former five star Quinn Ewers from Ohio State.
Make no mistake about it… we are putting a lot of our chips in the Thompson train. A kid doesn’t start 10 games for a Power 5 team, then leave to go to another Power 5 to go earn the starting job. Let’s hope it works out for us.
Yesterday we got news of Chubba Purdy committing to the class. The Florida State transfer will have four years to play four seasons, and gives Whipple more competition to take a look at to run his offense. Purdy played sparingly as a true freshman in the 2020 Covid year as he broke his collarbone in fall camp for the Seminoles. He ended up being available for the 2021 season, played most of his snaps against UMass, then entered his name into the transfer portal in early November. So I really can’t tell you much about him except I would put him in the tier with Smothers and Haarberg for now.
I think this is the Thompson show knowing what he was being promised elsewhere (not at Nebraska). While I’m not going to speculate on what we may or may not have said, I would pencil him in as the 2022 starter in Ireland. I would then say that Purdy, Smothers, and Haarberg will battle it out for that number 2 on that other tier. With that said, get ready for me to backtrack here… having zero clue what we are going to do or look like offensively, it wouldn’t surprise me if any of these 4 started. I just don’t have a clue. Masker and Torres will be the guys hanging around trying to develop a bit.
The one question I have, is that Thompson and Purdy weren’t good enough to play for teams that weren’t exactly lighting the world on fire judging by their transfers but with better players around them. According to 247 sports Texas had the 11th best team talent in the country, and Florida State had the 20th best. So for a guy like Thompson who played with theoretically superior supporting casts, how does what he can do translate here? A guy like Purdy is probably just looking for a chance as the Seminoles were pretty similar to Nebraska with that stat (Nebraska 23rd in team talent in 2021).
So what really can we expect from them? Look at it on another level… let’s say Whipple develops the shit out of them and all of a sudden makes them something they weren’t at Florida State or Texas. Could he have done the same for Martinez? Would it have been better to keep our 4 year starter? After all, in this article that saw both Martinez, Thompson, and Purdy in the portal, only Martinez was listed as impactful (or even mentioned at all).
This is probably my disdain for our old QB coach, but I would have liked to see what Martinez could have done under a different position coach. Especially if guys like Thompson or Purdy light it up. While I love the pickups, i’m not sure they elevate us over returning a four year starter.
I get it… Martinez made some big mistakes at crucial times. But I still maintain that since he was being asked to do so much, the odds of something bad happening increased. It wasn’t like he was Michigan’s QB who could hand it off to 2 stud backs behind the best OL in the country.
Let’s hope Whipple can not only accelerate development, but pull back the reigns to help keep big mistakes happen in crunch time for this team from the QB spot.
Next up let’s talk Runningbacks!
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