By now, anyone who’s been reading the last couple of weeks knows my opinion of fan duties for the remainder of this season. Carry those talismans, ritually burn those relics of the dark ages and do whatever witchy, voodoo, superstitious things which will combat the evil played against us. Dance in front of flaming pyres (or deck-safe fire pits), howl at the moon and speak in tongues if you believe it will help. Everything is on the table.
And most importantly - there is still always only one game. Matt Rhule even saw fit to co-opt this from me referring to it as the 1-0 mentality. Oh yes he did, but I’m more than happy to share. (Ok, I made that up, but the timing is amazing.)
This may be the most dangerous week left on the schedule. Michigan State is a shambles having lost six straight games, a few by blowout scores. Their offense appears much less than frightening. Their decadent and depraved former head coach is no longer there (and mah gawd - at Michigan State of all places, you’d think staff had been told repeatedly the importance of walking the straight and narrow these days, but I digress - again), but his one good season was smoke and mirrors and they had been tailing off ever since.
Looks easy, right?
Two words - Minnesota 2020.
A Covid depleted Gopher squad came limping into Lincoln with 40-something scholarship players and strode out, chests puffed for the glory of Fleck with a 24-17 victory. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.
No overconfidence or dreams of what it is on the table - just every vibe on getting that W in East Lansing and going 1-0, amirite, Coach?
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take a leap into a couple of quick QB issues. And no, not a diatribe on fumbles, no need to rehash the obvious and I’m sure that issue will be addressed this week by the coaches - again. Instead, I’m looking at Heinrich Haarberg’s new and at times tentative running style, who we think is truly the backup QB and a little blame for the coaches on the 4th quarter QB fumbles, because if we’re not here to second-guess our fearless leaders at times, then why in the name of Lee Barfy do we do this?? So-
A COUPLE OF QUICK QUESTIONS ABOUT QB’S (AND A COUPLE OF SECOND-GUESSES ABOUT 4TH QUARTER CALLS)
The Coaching of Haarberg’s Running
In Heinrich Haarberg’s first starts when running the ball, he met force with force, with mostly good results except for one thing - watching their starting QB initiate violent contact over and over scared the shit out of the coaches - and some of the fans. They voiced the necessity for him to slide and run out of bounds more, so as not to quickly end up on the sidelines with Sims and his high ankle sprain. Especially with Sims at much less than 100% speed-wise and a turnover machine of epic proportions when he was.
With four regular season games to go (don’t worry, stay superstitious - I’m not looking at game outcomes beyond Sparty), two things have become apparent:
1) As flawed as Haarberg is right now, he is far and away our best chance to win. Sims has become a liability. And everyone remembers Purdy last season. More on that below.
2) What they are coaching him to do is resulting in HH eating much harder shots than previously. Whereas before, when he would lower the shoulder full speed? In the past two games, he now runs noticeably more tentative. When contact is incoming, he slows and attempts to protect the ball.
While it doesn’t make sense to those who haven’t played, going as fast as possible, lowering into imminent contact and meeting speed with speed produces much less damage than moving slowly or being still and being hit by someone moving with speed. As a result, he’s starting to eat shots which leave people flinching. The coaches need to turn this around and fast.
- If he is running outside, he needs to get out of bounds if possible. If that’s not available and there is space? Slide. If the bodies are coming, accelerate, cover the points and lower the shoulder (non-throwing please).
- If he gets free into the 2nd level, but the breakaway isn’t there, take the safe yards and slide.
- And if he is going to be run inside the tackles? Then it needs to be full force, cover the points, lower the shoulder and knock someone on their ass. (And honestly, coaches? Limit this.)
I understand if Haarberg gets hurt, the offense is in real trouble. However, this is not the first time in Nebraska’s running QB history this has been the case. If he runs the way he has at times the last two games, it’s not a matter of if he gets hurt, it’s when. He doesn’t have to go for the kill shot every time, but he has to do it if a hit is unavoidable - for these two reasons:
1) It lowers his chances of injury.
2) Being hit by a 220-225 lb. Haarberg at his freakish speed will make folks less enthusiastic about doing it repeatedly. Free shots on a slowing Haarberg invites kill shots.
Now, maybe a guy who appears to have gone through however many years of football full-bore (see Spring Game and practice clips) is having trouble backing off. If that’s the case, the keep bulling ahead strategy still seems safer.
All this being said, I could be 100% wrong. Thoughts? Fire off below.
Haarberg Is Very Clearly #1 - Who Is #2?
Jeff Sims is still listed as the Co-#1 at QB, but after Saturday’s mini-horror show, it’s tougher to imagine a scenario where he enters a contested game and does little more than hand off. So what does happen if Haarberg goes down long-term?
- For comparison’s sake, Haarberg in his first season playing has had big play moments as a runner and also as passer with 44 and 73 yard TD’s in the last two games. He has 7 total passing TDs, 4 picks and 3 fumbles lost in 6 full games plus two series against Colorado, averaging just over a TO per game. He is 5-1 as a starter,
- Including his 1st three seasons at Georgia Tech, Sims is in his 4th year with 31 passing TDs 27 INTs and 11 fumbles lost in 31 games or just over 1.2 TOs/game. It appeared a corner had been turned in 2022 with only 3 INTs and 1 FL, but regression has come hard in 2023 with 4 picks and 3 FL with only 1 passing TD. He has played in 2 full games and the one series against Purdue for an average of close to 3.5 TOs/game and is 0-2 as a starter this season.
- Chubba Purdy in limited action at Florida State (58 attempts) threw 4 TDs, had 1 pick and lost no fumbles in 20 carries. Last season he took over for an injured Casey Thompson with memorable accuracy issues and threw no TD’s and 3 picks. He lost no fumbles in 24 carries and was 0-2 as a starter last season. He has only appeared in limited action twice this year.
At this point, the better option may be Purdy as he seems to be the best option for ball protection in the QB run game in his limited sample including the Spring Game. He is quick to scramble but doesn’t appear to put himself in awkward situations running. But I don’t feel great about it.
Again, what does everyone else think?
Two Fumbles I Blame On The Coaches
- Jeff Sims - When the Huskers punted on 4th and 6, pinning Purdue back on their 15, it was good enough for me. My stomach dropped when the offsides flag flew because I feared coaches would go for it on 4th & 1 and have Sims keep it - right after he appeared not to know which way the previous play was going on 3rd down.
That’s exactly what they did with a 24-6 lead against a team whose offense had floundered all day. Purdue stripped him and ran it back 55 yards.
- Heinrich Haarberg - On the previous series, Haarberg scrambled right and missed a rusher coming high right. He took the crown of the helmet to the chin cutting his mouth (the fourth blatant targeting of the day by Purdue either ignored or overturned by B1G officials), and was blasted to the ground. The hit would cause Sims to be inserted in the series above while he was evaluated.
On the next play, running a dazed Haarberg into traffic was the call and he was stripped as well.
The previous week, Rhule stated the coaches didn’t like players second-guessing their play calls. I love this staff and what they have done overall, but the above calls were truly head-scratching. These fumbles were on them.
So there we have it. Voice your opinions and enjoy Jaylen Lloyd reeling in the bomb again on your way out. Win the one in front of us and Go Big Red.