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CORN NATION ROUNDTABLE: Let’s Have That Quarterback Talk

The hope for the quarterback position dissipated quickly. Where does it go from here and, more importantly, what does that room look like next season?

Nebraska v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Andy: Everyone’s got some strong opinions by now, but there’s a slight problem. We have many questions and nothing even resembling solid solutions yet. Let’s see if the see if our Corn Nation staff has any answers.

And, we’re sure you have a few as well, dear readers - light that comments section up.

1) Let’s start things off simple - who’s starting Saturday against Maryland?

Brian: Heinrich Haarberg will get the start. Matt Rhule made it abundantly clear that he’s not even considering making a move. Rhule stated in his Monday press conference that he sees some PJ Walker in Haarberg and after a 5-2 start he doesn’t want to upend the apple cart too much.

Mike: It’s Haarberg barring some sort of injury.

Todd: Haarberg will the QB the rest of the season or until he is injured and cannot play. For whatever reason, coaches treat quarterbacks different when it comes to poor play. They stick with them. There have been a few outliers, but not many.

Patrick: Haarberg

Jarek: At this point in time, I think this is Haarberg’s ship until it sinks. It’s been real, it’s been ugly, and I’ll be darned if it hasn’t been real ugly too. The fact remains that Haarberg has regressed as the season has gone on, but I’m going to attribute that to teams actually having film on him to scout. Both Sims and Haarberg provide plenty of turnovers without much flare, but Haarberg has been the overall less turnover prone.

Aaron: Haarberg. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. There was an interesting statement by Rhule in this week’s press conference referring to HH, “He wants to do it. He wants to be out there.” I would have thought a media member would ask for clarification on this, but no one did. Does this mean Sims no longer wants to fight through this year, or Purdy is just going through the motions?

Jon: Heinrich. I have no idea why Chubba Purdy hasn’t gotten a shot but it’s rather clear that the Jeff Sims experience has failed. That’s rather sad. I will be interesting to see what happens if Haarberg gets injured. I have no interest in that happening, btw.

Jill: Heinrich. After three turnovers, it will still be Heinrich. If we get to turnover 4 or 5 and all Husker fans are cancelling their Peacock subscriptions mid-game, we might see a change. Probably not.

Andy: I had already penciled this question before Coach Rhule doubled down on Haarberg. However, I’m pretty sure the answers would have been the same. This was his worst performance, but it certainly felt as if injury was the only thing which would pull him out. Was there a hard talk that another performance like that might see the coaches go to the bullpen?

2) If your answer is not the same as above, who do you think SHOULD start Saturday against Maryland, AKA, who gives us the best chance to win at this point?

Brian: Without a doubt Jeff Sims should get a second chance. Most fans will come back and talk about his turnover issues, but Haarberg is turning the ball over at the same rate. If our quarterback is going have issues with ball security, why not go with the more dynamic player? Sims is a much better thrower and a more natural runner. Husker fans have it in their head that Sims is this bumbling idiot who cannot run an offense. But honestly watch the Huskers game against Minnesota again and objectively tell me afterwards if you think what you saw from Sims is worse than what we are getting from Haarberg.

Mike: OK, let’s watch that Colorado game again where Sims went minus-four with mostly unforced turnovers. Is Sims a better passer than Haarberg? Probably. Is Sims a better runner? Not so sure about that. Is Haarberg turning the ball over at the same rate as Sims? Nope. Sims has seven turnovers this season in essentially two games of playing time; Haarberg has ten in essentially five games. Even if nobody in red had recovered any of Haarberg’s fumbles, he’d still be ahead of Sims.

Let’s also remember that Sims had Marcus Washington, Gabe Ervin and Rahmir Johnson. Haarberg simply hasn’t had supporting cast that Sims had the first two games.

Todd: Haarberg doesn’t do anything that Jeff Sims can’t do, and Sims can do some things significantly better. Sims is the better passer. Their running skills are different but both have big play capabilities. Both of them turn the ball over. When fans put Sims career into a little ten play box they are leaving out a lot of positives. I will not say that Sims should start Saturday against Maryland, but he should get playing time with scripted plays, just like HH. Overall, he is a better quarterback than Haarberg.

Patrick: Whichever receiver or running back has any experience playing the position. That is assuming the coaching staff doesn’t want Jeff Sims out there.

Jarek: I still think it’s Haarberg, but not by a lot. Let’s be real, both have big play capabilities, whether that means an explosive play for or against Nebraska is a genuine toss-up. Both guys are homerun hitters, but they strike out a ton too, just like current power hitters of today’s baseball age. Since when did hitting .300 or better in baseball become a faux pas? These two need to realize that hitting open receivers on a consistent basis on short routes are effective. Neither guy has done this enough.

Aaron: Haarberg. Both QBs that have played have had turnover issues. Where I see them as different is when you look at HH’s turnovers vs Sims, HH’s come more under fire, while Sims has had issues while not under pressure (dropping snaps, snapping into guys running in motion, bad handoffs). Hell, on one of our biggest highlights of the season, Sims dropped the ball on the throwback pass that ended up being a TD to Bullock in Minnesota.

Jon: We still have two other quarterbacks on the roster - Luke Longval and Jack Woche. IF Sims and Purdy can’t or won’t go and Haarberg isn’t hitting it, then maybe it’s time to give these guys a shot.

Jill: No one has ever offered to pay me to coach football. I’m going to trust Rhule on this one. I’ll still scream at the TV at times, but will hope and cheer that whomever is under center succeeds.

Andy: I could see giving Purdy a shot, solely because his 2022 recency didn’t include massive turnover volume. However, I believe there’s a reason he’s been locked in at 3rd string and it’s probably because nothing much has improved in practice.

There has been some call for Sims to get a 2nd shot, that he only had 2 games and a series - but that’s not true, is it? This is Sims 4th season as a starter. In basically 27 games, he has turned it over close to 40 times including 7 this season. In addition, there’s whispers of confidence problems. He is tough, dedicated, a great teammate and checks every intangible in a QB. It just doesn’t happen on the field.

That leaves Haarberg. I would strongly challenge the assumptions that Sims is the superior passer and runner. Haarberg has the stronger arm but lacks touch (putting it mildly) on the deeper balls. Sims waits too long and doesn’t like throwing to his left. I would call the running about even - when Haarberg goes for it. So do I think Haarberg is better than Sims? Yes - but not by much - and it’s a very low bar to clear.

3) Let’s assume no matter the answers, it keeps going as it has. Who will be starting against Iowa?

Brian: I think unless an injury happens I think Rhule is going to run with Haarberg. He just doesn’t seem like he wants to make a change and bench a quarterback because he isn’t playing good. The only reason Haarberg got in was because Sims got hurt. The only reason SIms got in against Purdue was because Haarberg got hurt. So unless Haarberg is injured I cannot see Rhule making the change.

Mike: The way Haarberg is getting hit, I wouldn’t bet that he’ll be able to play against Iowa. And right now, I’d like to see Chubba Purdy get another shot. He had a bad case of “deer-in-the headlights” last season until the Michigan game, where I think he finally got the hang of it. He’s a better passer than either Sims or Haarberg, and he’s not an immobile quarterback. And if Daniel Kaelin is your future at quarterback, Purdy is a lot closer to that model.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Nebraska at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Todd: It will be Haarberg if he is healthy, Sims if he’s not. Purdy isn’t in the equation. If Coach Rhule and Coach Satterfield believed Cubba Purdy gave Nebraska a better chance of winning than Heinrich Haarberg of Jeff Sims, he would be playing. Purdy apparently is not the guy.

Patrick: I am going to say Sims as Haarberg will most likely be dead from all the hits he will have taken by that game.

Jarek: That purely depends on how many more offensive guys end up in the medical tent. If there is no one left to block, it won’t matter who starts because they will have been hurt from lack of protection. I still think Haarberg grinds out the rest of the season, but I’ll be honest, I think he’s still dinged up already given the fact he’s looked more hesitant about running the last 2 weeks.

Aaron: While I say Haarberg, I care less about who starts and more about who finishes. This isn’t the NFL where you have a QB that could lead your team for a decade and is light years better than the backup in most instances. College guys are here for a couple years now, maybe less with the portal. So don’t worry as much about building character/confidence for the future. If someone is struggling, replace them. I don’t mean with one bad play, but multiple turnovers like Sims in Colorado or inept play like Haarberg at Sparty should get someone else up off the bench.

Jill: I think Rhule meant it when he said it was Haarberg the rest of the way.

Andy: Barring injury or even more regression, it’s Haarberg. Otherwise, I could also see an injury scenario where Sims returns, does more Purdue things and Chubba actually brings them home.

4) Now, let’s tackle the bigger question. Haarberg has redshirted and has 2 years left. Chubba has redshirted and has 2 years left including his Covid year. Sims has his Covid year left - or his Covid year plus one if does not appear again this year. In addition, Daniel Kaelin arrives on scholly next season.
SO - the Huskers have three current scholarship QB’s, two with two years remaining for sure and a third with one (potentially two) - none of whom have experienced anything close to consistent success in college - and an incoming freshman:

WHAT DO WE DO? (Assume “add a portal guy is taken”. What’s the strategy in the off-season? Feel free to think way outside the box.)

Brian: If you cannot get a portal guy, then they honestly need to make Spring Practice a true open competition to see who is the best and then build their offense around them. Hopefully they’ve been able to upgrade the receiver position along with the young guys continuing to develop. There is potential in this offense, but the limitations at quarterback have stunted the unit’s growth.

Mike: At this point, you have to hit the portal and hit it hard. Probably twice. There’s a spot for Haarberg on this roster; he showed us something as an H-back against Minnesota. All sorts of fun things you can do with him as a wildcat quarterback, if you want. My personal take is that Sims won’t be back, and possibly Purdy as well, if he doesn’t get a shot in November.

Todd: Purdy is in the portal as soon as the season is over. He will most likely end up at an FCS or D-II school. Sims is on schedule to graduate in December and can grad-transfer without going to the portal. Technically, I believe Purdy could graduate in December and grad-transfer as well. HH is not going anywhere so the staff needs to work diligently to help him develop his skills. They also need to hit the portal and find two quarterbacks to bring in, hopefully one that can be a starter and another that can develop into one. Kaelin is not going to step in and make any noise next year.

Patrick: My head is starting to hurt. I will politely abstain from answering this question.

Jarek: If “portal guy” is not an option, then clearly the combination of Kaelin, Woche, Longval and Haarberg have to figure out a way to separate themselves from the pack. Otherwise, next season could be as long as this one. Now, if the offensive side of the ball can stay healthy, honestly any of these guys could look a lot better. There is only so much you can do with 3rd and 4th string guys at 75% of the positions.

Aaron: This is going to be an interesting December… Not only with the multiple options at QB, but the roster as a whole. Have numerous defenders played their way into an NFL spot? Do some olinemen want to return to be 5th or 6th year guys with the Covid year? Rhule said after last year he didn’t want to take as many portal guys ever again (10), but I find it hard to believe a QB isn’t in the plans along with another elder WR. It seems the agreement with Sims to redshirt this year could and maybe should be a possibility so he can play 2 years elsewhere. So there has to be an all out competition between the guys that remain, Kaelin, and the portal guy.

Jon: Keep Haarberg as a quarterback, I would expect Sims and Purdy will leave. If not, you’re just going to have to jettison them. You have Danny Kaelin coming in the next class, but you’re going to need probably two other quarterbacks who have experience, so go get them.

Jill: Taking away “portal guy” is a mean thing to do Andy. I really think that will have to be Plan A. Maybe we need to start calling Chubba “Mr. Irrelevant” and he’ll blossom into a dependable starter right before our very eyes. Oh, and hire Kyle Shanahan as an offensive analyst. That would help too.

(Andy: Apologies, Jill - just meant don’t stand pat plus add a portal guy.)

Andy: I agree with those above that Sims and Purdy will not be back, but it may not be of their own accord although it’s likely 1-AA or mid-major for them. And Rhule could also exercise roster drops following the end of the season under the Aid After Departure rule as a new coach. Let’s just they’re both gone, we have Haarberg and Kaelin on scholly. So what else?

Obviously, we’re starting with the portal and trying to bring in the best we find, best match, etc. Maybe check the career turnover volume a little closer this time, but yes. But in any case, if we’re honest, we’re looking for someone who can beat out a Haarberg who doesn’t show enough improvement.

Next, what about another transfer but maybe from 1-AA/FCS or lower D1/FBS who just wants his crack at Power 5? Can Matt Rhule find a not-highly-touted but undiscovered gem from that level? A swing at our own Kurt Warner for that 4th scholly?

2019 NCAA Division I Football Championship
Is there an undiscovered Easton Stick out there?
Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

5) Just throwing it out there - is it buyer beware bringing a southern-bred QB to Nebraska? Should we focus on a quarterback from north of the Mason-Dixon line?

Brian: I think it would help to have a Northern quarterback but that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk success. Tom Brady won six championships in New England and he was from California. Aaron Rodgers did pretty well in Green Bay and he was a California kid too. Some guys just can handle it.

Mike: I wouldn’t get too worked up over the “southern” thing. Nebraska will also be playing a game every season on the west coast, and you know that NBC is going to be picking a west coast game for Saturday night games in November. Some SEC quarterbacks are going to have to go to Columbia, Missouri in November.... and it’s could arguably be colder for a night game in Lexington, Kentucky than an afternoon game in Lincoln.

Todd: Tommie Frazier from Florida. Vince Ferragamo from California. David Humm from Las Vegas. Zac Taylor from Norman, Oklahoma. Sam Keller from California. Zac Lee from California. Mickey Joseph from Louisiana. Bobby Newcombe from New Mexico via Sierra Leone. Unless they are addicted to grits or surfing, it doesn’t make a difference from where they come from.

Patrick: Bo Nix is doing just fine at Oregon and he transferred up from Auburn and is from Alabama. DJ Uiagalelei is at Oregon State and previously came from Clemson and is from southern California. Michael Penix Jr. who is the QB for Washington is from Florida. Neither Oregon or Washington are warm places in comparison to Nebraska. All of those quarterbacks are thriving. No, I don’t think it’s an issue.

Jarek: Both Todd and Patrick have provided plenty of individuals who have succeeded as “Southern” quarterbacks playing at “Northern” schools. I’m not concerned about where they come from, as long as they are willing to play hard for Nebraska.

Aaron: Naw. This isn’t a region thing. Big Ten schools have had plenty of success with QBs from Texas (Drew Brees, to name one) and California (see Tom Brady, CJ Stroud).

Jon: One name that hasn’t been mentioned - Cade McNamara. I can imagine anywhere you would transfer would be better than hell.

Jill: I don’t care where the QB comes from. As long as he wants to be in Nebraska, I’m going to cheer for him.

Andy: First off, despite the presence of south Cali, I don’t consider the Pac-12 southern as they get all the weather in that conference. Also, I was just talking about transferring/recruiting at the college level, not NFL success. That being said, Todd and Patrick refuted that pretty well with some solid examples.

Nebraska Cornhuskers