Chris Basnett and I exchange Q&As earlier this week. You can read mine here in the Lincoln Journal Star. And here is what Chris had to say about the Cornhuskers ahead of Saturday's game against the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium:
How will Nebraska cope without quarterback Adrian Martinez and receiver JD Spielman, if neither can play?
Nebraska’s coaches really like Noah Vedral, Martinez’s backup, who played for Scott Frost at Central Florida before following him to Lincoln. He knows the offense probably better than any other player on the team, and he was cool and collected in the fourth quarter against Northwestern. That said, he’s not the play maker Martinez is, and when Martinez is going good, he’s one of the best in the Big Ten at making something out of nothing. As for Spielman, Nebraska’s receiving corps was already pretty thin even with him healthy. He’s dynamic, he tough, and he’s probably the closest thing Nebraska has to a deep threat in the passing game. Losing either guy for any length of time would be a big loss, and if both are out, it will be very interesting to see how the Huskers operate.
The Big Ten West was largely considered wide open, but a lot of pundits picked Nebraska as champs. After the season Nebraska has had so far, do you think those predictions are still valid or maybe were a little premature?
It’s looking more and more like the predictions (including mine) were a little premature. Nebraska has struggled more offensively than anyone expected. The offensive line hasn’t been as good as it was last year. Martinez is still trying to build trust with his receivers. The running game has been hit or miss. I think all of that has added up to limit what Frost wants to do on that side of the ball. The defense has been mostly solid, but collapsed in the fourth quarter against Colorado and then got bulldozed by Ohio State. That said, Nebraska isn’t too far off from being 5-1, so the Huskers have found ways to win even without playing their best. But right now it doesn’t look like NU is on the same level as Wisconsin and is probably still a step or two behind Iowa and Minnesota right now.
How is Year Two under coach Scott Frost been different or the same?
You can see progress, especially in terms of what players have done in the weight room, and in terms of the culture around the program. Frost inherited a complete and utter mess after taking over for Mike Riley, so nothing was ever going to get fixed quickly. This was a team that started 0-6 last season, and is 4-2 at the same point this year. NU has won 8 of its last 12 games, with close losses at Ohio State and Iowa last year and an overtime defeat at Colorado this year. Nebraska certainly appears to be on the right track, but the Huskers need more depth and more play makers pretty much across the board. With a fan base that longs for a return to the glory days, progress sometimes can’t happen fast enough.
Who is an underrated player Gophers fans should watch out for?
I don’t know if he’s underrated after winning his second Big Ten freshman of the week award this week, but Wan’Dale Robinson looks like a special talent. He’s taken on a big load as a true freshman, essentially winning Nebraska the game against Illinois and making three huge plays against Northwestern that ended up being the difference. With Nebraska’s issues at receiver and in the running game, Robinson has lined up both in the backfield and at wideout. He’s reminiscent of Purdue’s Rondale Moore, and just as important to his team.
Are you excited to come to Minnesota on potentially the first snow of the year?
Personally? I’m ready for a little snow football. After covering a game in Colorado, where it was 92 degrees at about 6,000 feet of elevation in an open-air press box, I welcome a few flurries. I don’t know how excited the football team will be about that, considering Nebraska is one of the worst teams in the country at turning over the football, but I say bring it on.