I did a Q&A exchange with Chris Basnett of the Lincoln Journal Star ahead of the Gophers' 11 a.m. kick at Nebraska on Saturday. Check out my responses here, and hear from Chris below!
What have you made of this Nebraska season so far? Good, bad, ugly, understandable, unforgiveable?
Honestly, I think it's mostly understandable. Even going back to the original schedule, everyone knew the first five games or so were going to be really difficult. Then the new schedule came out, and the Big Ten didn't do Nebraska any favors there either. Ohio State is Ohio State; Northwestern has turned out to be pretty good, and that was a one-score game Nebraska had a chance to win. The only real clunker was Illinois, and it was really gross, but the Huskers bounced back the next week to play pretty well against Iowa, then jumped all over Purdue last week. There's been pretty tangible improvement across the board, especially the past couple weeks, and I think Scott Frost would take that in such a strange year.
What's going on with the QBs? Adrian Martinez back in charge or Luke McCaffrey takes over again?
It's been the most perplexing part of this whole season. Right now Adrian Martinez is the guy, and he's earned it — 41-for-50 for 416 yards and a touchdown the last two weeks. But the beginning of the season was just weird. Nebraska doesn't have a ton of playmakers no matter who the QB is, but to see Martinez struggle like he did early in the year was still a bit jarring. Luke McCaffrey is a phenomenal athlete, and Scott Frost has said he's the future at the position, but he's still learning how to play quarterback at this level, especially in the passing game. But McCaffrey is so talented with his legs that Nebraska planned to use both guys against Purdue before Martinez started hot. Don't be surprised if they both play against Minnesota.
How has the team coped without Minnesota's own JD Spielman? Has Wan'Dale Robinson carried even more of the load?
They've missed him badly. Scott Frost's offense needs deep threats and playmakers at receiver to really run at full capacity, and Spielman was both for the Huskers in his time here. Receiver is by far the position most in need of an upgrade in Lincoln — to the point where Nebraska has extensively played three walk-ons and a fourth walk-on who was put on scholarship just this season. That said, Wan'Dale Robinson is a special talent, and a guy Nebraska has really worked to get more involved in recent weeks. They'll throw it tohim, hand it to him out of the backfield - anything they can do to get him 15 or so touches per game. He's tough, he's smart, and he can do a ton of different things.
Is there an under-the-radar player that has impressed you that Gophers fans should be on the lookout for?
Sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer has come out of nowhere to be a really key part of the defense. He joined Nebraska as a walk-on last season, almost immediately became a contributor on special teams, and took another big step this year. Reimer didn't have any Power 5 offers out of high school, but this year he's fourth on the team in total tackles, second in tackles for loss and unassisted tackles, and second in sacks despite missing a game because of injury. He has a chance to be a really special player by the time he's done at NU.
How do you feel Nebraska has handled the ups and downs of 2020? The program certainly has commanded headlines, with considering playing outside the conference and what not. Just curious what your overall reaction is to how they've weathered playing through this era.
It's been fascinating to watch up close, especially in the context of what's happened the past couple days with Ohio State's lack of games throwing a wrench into the Big Ten's rules. Nebraska has gotten a lot of grief for its stances this year, and the Huskers became an easy target for some people with the way they started the season. But I think Nebraska really, truly, just wanted to play football. Certainly no one in the program was expecting a national title run or anything like that in 2020. But this program needed games, and the practices that came with them, to keep moving forward as Scott Frost rebuilds. Nebraska will always look out for Nebraska first, and in the we-before-me culture of the Big Ten, that's going to rub more than a few people the wrong way.
Bonus: here is a podcast I did as well with Hail Varsity if you are interested in more of my pre-Nebraska thoughts!