When former Nebraska great Adam Carriker was young, he didn’t dream of being an All-American, a 1st round NFL draft pick, or playing in the NFL (although, all those did happen). He dreamed of playing for the Cornhuskers. He lived, breathed, ate, slept, and drank it. And still does. So who better to sit down with to discuss the upcoming Husker season than the Nebraska Hall of Famer? We talked about the team’s Strengths/Question Marks, the over/under win total, potential impact newcomer, and what the future holds for the Sea of Red.
Pypeline: Adam, thanks for joining us. When we talk about the Cornhuskers, what would you consider the strengths of this year’s team on offense?
Adam Carriker: One of the strengths that pops out to me, probably the strongest point of our team, is the wide receivers. As far as our Top 2 guys, I mean, Stanley Morgan Jr has a chance to break most of, if not all, the receiving records this year at Nebraska. Then we have JD Spielman, who is probably the best all around receiver, as far as punt return, kick return, and wide receiver. He’s one of the best all around players in the B1G, possibly the country this year.
We do need a couple of guys to step up. They signed 5 or 6 receivers, and they’re all speedy guys. Jaron Woodyard was an indoor track champion. Mike Williams runs a 4.37. Actually, the strength and conditioning coaches posted a bunch of stuff that Williams has been doing, whether it be vertical leaps or squats. He’s been impressing them. Then you have Tyjon Lindsey, one of the highest ranked recruits that we’ve had come into Nebraska in years, coming back. People are looking at him to have a breakout year. So you have your Top 2 guys, and then there’s speed all over the place. You hope that one of these guys develop and steps up to be that 3rd and 4th receiver that you need.
PL: What about defense? What blackshirts will thrive?
AC: I like the defensive line. We have every single starter from last year back. Come to think of it, we have every single back-up from last year back, too. Then we have Utah transfer Vaha Vainuku, who was going to retire. But (head coach Scott) Frost called him up and got him to come over. Then you got Ben Stille, who was probably our best pass rusher a year ago. You got the Davis twins (Carlos & Khalil), you got (Mick) Stoltenberg, Stille. You got a lot of guys that can play and contribute depth on that defensive line. Being able to go 2-deep on the D-line is going to be great for cohesiveness. A guy that needs to have a breakout year is Freedom Akinmoladun. With the returning starters, he’ll have less lateral movement, less double teams, and more pressure up the field, which fits what he wants to do.
Question Marks (Offense)
PL: Talk to us about some offensive Question Marks. Areas where you’re not totally sure what you’re going to get.
AC: The biggest question mark is quarterback. We are guaranteed to have a first year starter. We are guaranteed to have a quarterback who has never played a single down in major college football. Odds are we’re going to have a freshman, because of the three guys competing for the spot, two of them are freshmen.
The odds on favorite to at some point take over the job is Adrian Martinez, the true freshman. We have a lot of talent there. Tristan Gebbia, talented kid. Adrian Martinez, talented kid. Even Andrew Bunch, he’s sneaky and could surprise some people, whether he starts or is a back up and gets to play in some games. The question is how much does the youth seep through this first year with whoever the starter is? Obviously, there will be some mistakes. There will be a learning curve. How big is that curve? That’s the question for whoever the starter is. I think there will be some excitement, but I think there will be a learning curve in there as well.
AC: The next one that pops into my mind is the offensive line. This offensive line, I said it last year going into the season, I said, “They’ve got great potential.” They have some talented kids. They have some guys with experience. This year you can say the same exact thing. But now some of those talented kids got starting experience. The problem is so far it has not come to fruition in a long time at Nebraska.
I use that word ‘potential,’ and every time I see or hear that word, I think back to my sophomore year of high school. Because everyone started to use the word ‘potential’ with me. And one of our assistant coaches, Coach Anderson, looks at me and says, “You know what that means, Carriker? It means that you ain’t done nothing, yet. You could do a lot of things, but it means you ain’t done nothing, yet.” Now, he was right. But it’s interesting, because that’s kind of how I look at offensive line at Nebraska. They have potential – the ability to do really good things. But they just haven’t done it, yet.
Question Marks (Defense)
PL: What about on defense? What’s the one area where you’re uncertain of the production?
AC: I’m going to say pass rush. We only had 14 sacks last year. We need to find some guys on the defensive line and two outside linebackers that can push the quarterback. OLB Alex Davis was pretty good in the spring. He’s an athletic guy, former basketball player. Will he learn those football techniques well enough to contribute and get after the quarterback? Or will it take him too long and his time will run out at Nebraska? So to me, finding a pass rusher is definitely one of the Top 3 question marks heading into this year.
Over/Under Win Total
PL: Vegas has your guys’ over/under at 6.5 wins. What do you think?
AC: You know, it’s interesting because I’ve done two shows since January, and I did “What would be a successful first season for Scott Frost?” And I talked about winning the games you’re supposed to. No more Northern Illinois-type losses. And I talked about if you don’t win, because this is going to be an interesting first year, at least feeling like you have a chance to win every game, and you’re competitive in every game. Because when we’ve played Ohio State and Wisconsin and some of these other teams, it has not been competitive. You don’t feel like you have a chance.
If you want a win total, I’d say 6. New quarterback, completely different offense, third straight year we have a different defense, that’s hard. We’re going to have a young quarterback and either the 2nd toughest or the toughest schedule in the country, depending on whose rankings you look at. Almost all the big games are on the road. We go to Ohio State, to Wisconsin, to Michigan, to Iowa. We get Michigan St at home. Just a tough, tough schedule. We won 6 games in the previous 18 games. If we got 6 wins this year, that would be a successful season. It’s a young team, it’s a brutal schedule, it’s his (Frost’s) first year, it’s going to take a while. So I’m going to say six.
PL: Give us a couple of newcomers that have a chance to make a significant impact.
AC: I think you could talk to any Nebraska person and they’re going to say QB Adrian Martinez. I don’t know if he’s going to start the first game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did. At some point this offense is going through him.
Another impact newcomer would be RB JUCO transfer Greg Bell. But again, I don’t think that’s going to shock a lot of people because a lot of people are expecting big things out of both of them.
PL: You’ve talked on the Carriker Chronicles, which by the way, everyone should be tuning into, especially if you’re a Husker fan, about how Scott Frost is bringing a lot of the Nebraska traditions back. Can you talk a little about that and what it means to the team and to Husker fans?
AC: The biggest mistake Nebraska made, and things evolve, things change over time, but the biggest mistake we made, and I watched this unfold, is we completely abandoned who we were. We said, “Hey, 40 years of winning 9+ games and having more wins than any other program in the entire country and it’s not even close, and national championships, 5 of them, and all these conference championships, oh that stuff doesn’t work any more. We have to completely change who we are and be like everyone else.” And when we try to be like everyone else, then we are no longer who we are. And it’s not that we can’t recruit to Lincoln, but there are challenges. There are no beaches and things of that nature. Hollywood isn’t just down the road. Our niche is what made us so unique and special. The offense was completely different. The mentality, the weight program, we got away from all of that. We went to being like everyone else.
I think Frost’s offense is an evolution of what (Tom) Osborne would’ve done had he kept coaching. He said he would’ve kept running the option. He would’ve just done it from a spread offense. Which is exactly what Frost does. So an evolution of what Nebraska football was and getting back to that, and just kind of a modern and up to date version of that. That’s what we need to get back to being, and not trying to be like everyone else.
I actually think, when you look around the B1G, Ohio St runs the spread, they run the option, they have a mobile quarterback. Outside of that, I struggle to find another team that runs anything like what we’re going to be running. Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, they all run the same offense. Once you’ve played Iowa, you’re ready for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan St. Penn St is a little bit different, but not a lot. When teams get ready to play Nebraska, it’s going to be so different for them. Completely different than anyone they’ve played all year. I think it’s going to cause problems for them. Whereas Nebraska, you don’t have to change that much when you play these different teams once you get inside conference. I think it will be a big advantage.
PL: Adam, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate all of the insight, the passion, and the love you have, not only for Nebraska football, but for all of college football. Best of luck to you and best of luck to your Huskers this year.
AC: Thank you, I appreciate it. This was fun.