LINCOLN — Information inside Memorial Stadium is guarded like CIA secrets.
Coaches won’t give anything away. But they’ll talk theories.
And the theory that Noah Vedral will make his first start in place of an injured Adrian Martinez is something coaches would entertain on Wednesday. And if that theory comes true, confidence is high.
"Supreme confidence. As much confidence in Noah as anybody,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said. “I think that he can run this offense well and I'm excited about watching him go out there and compete. He's the ultimate competitor. He's one of my favorite guys on the team. I'm really excited about what he's going to do on Saturday. Looking forward to it."
Adrian Martinez was in pads on Wednesday. He was taken off the field on the final play of the third quarter against Northwestern and limped off the field after the 13-10 win. Head coach Scott Frost will make the decision on Martinez or Vedral later in the week.
If Martinez does recover, he should be able to run the offense despite not having practiced much, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said. That comes with the experience of starting as many games as he has.
With Vedral running practice, nothing has changed, Walters said. Especially the play at quarterback.
"They’ve been excellent, we’ve had a great week. In fact today was probably our best Wednesday we’ve had all year," Walters said. “We’re excited. If it's Noah, we feel like we can go up to Minnesota and win.”
The staff knows Vedral very well. He appeared in six games as a true freshman at UCF in 2017. In nine total appearances over the past three years, Vedral has completed 29 of 48 passes for 376 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He’s also run for 126 yards on 33 carries and four scores, a 3.8 yards per carry average.
Verduzco has been sold on Vedral for some time, especially after his first snap at UCF.
“His first snap in that series, there was a protection issue he had to change, and here he is in his first game and he changed it. He saw it and changed it and got it done and threw a strike,” Verduzco said. “He’s pretty cool and collected, he knows what he’s doing. So, feel pretty comfortable with them. And he’s gonna have to perform at a high level this Saturday, if he happens to be playing.”
Vedral will take over an offense that’s struggled as of late, with high snaps, poor protection and with wide receivers who can’t seem to get open. And he’ll be replacing Martinez, who is third in the Big Ten in offensive yards per game. Martinez completed 25 of 29 passes against Minnesota last year for 276 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 15 times for 125 yards and a score.
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Receivers stepping up
JD Spielman was in pads on Wednesday, but was limited in practice, Walters said.
Because of that, there’s been a steady rotation of receivers taking his first-team reps. Among those: freshman Darien Chase, junior college transfer Jaron Woodyard, Mike Williams and Kade Warner.
“All hands on deck,” Walters said. “We gotta play guys that are healthy and those guys have had good practices, so we’ll go with whoever is healthy.”
Nebraska has four receivers not named Spielman or Wan’Dale Robinson who have appeared in games. Their combined stats: 13 catches for 152 yards. That’s an average of 2.1 catches per game for 25 yards.
“I think with JD being limited some of the other receivers realize, ‘Hey, this may be my opportunity,’” Walters said. “So we’ve had a great week of practice, guys have really stepped up, seized the moment, seized the opportunity and I look forward to Saturday night.”
13 points not the goal
Nebraska played in yet another low-scoring, vintage Big Ten football game. Just 13-10.
“A little frustrating,” Walters said.
This staff — collected from Northern Iowa and Oregon and UCF — is used to scoring points. And winning games in the 30s, 40s or 50s. Nebraska has already been in a 9-6 win at home. Now a win with a combined 23 points.
A win is a win, Walters said. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating.
“Our job is to score points, but it’s also encouraging that if we don’t live up to expectations, the defense is good enough to win us games,” Walters said. “Coach Chinander and that defensive staff is doing a tremendous job over there, and it gives us comfort and confident to know, hey, we can win a low scoring game.”
But the standard is higher than 13 points.
“It’s gonna take more than 13 points this week,” Walters said.
Washington responding well
Maurice Washington will be primed for action Saturday night. Running backs coach Ryan Held joked that he would go to extreme measures to ensure it if necessary.
"I might take a beer bottle and smash it over my head," Held said Tuesday. "Whatever it takes to get him ready."
The sophomore rusher sat out the first half last weekend as part of an internal punishment laid down by Frost. In the previous six quarters, he has accounted for just 18 total yards on 12 touches. He had 417 total yards in NU's first four contests.
Held said he has seen the right response from the enigmatic standout in practice this week. He'll be on him to be a "champion" Saturday night.
"I'm not just saying that to please the media," Held said. "He's really come out and been focused and I'm going to keep challenging him. That's my job as his position coach, that's what I'm paid to do with all my guys. I gotta get him where he can help this football team for four quarters."
Snapping issues persist
Erratic snaps have plagued the Nebraska offense for the better part of six games. But coaches and players continue to insist the onus isn't just on center Cam Jurgens.
Jurgens again struggled to consistently execute shotgun snaps Saturday — Vedral had to chase down one ball over his head in the fourth quarter against Northwestern. Austin said the issues are on the entire line in the same way sacks are. Everyone has to hold him accountable.
"Certainly I take just as much blame as anybody for the snaps," Austin said. "And we gotta fix it."
Verduzco said he tells the QBs to just play. Don't worry about what they can't control and trust that the players around them will do their jobs.
"Let’s do the best we can given the situation and whatever happens and just play," Verduzco said. "And don’t piss and moan about it, let's just go. We gotta do what we gotta do."
» The plan remains to preserve a redshirt season for running back Rahmir Johnson, running backs coach Ryan Held said Wednesday. Johnson has two more games to play. Held said Nebraska wanted to get him more action than he received against Northwestern – Johnson had no carries in the game – but it didn't help that the Huskers only ran 30 plays by halftime.
"He's really been practicing well," Held said. "But we want to save these two games to be able to utilize him and save his redshirt year. Because he's going to be a really good player for us."