LINCOLN — Noah Vedral has a prediction about Nebraska’s offense.
In a sense, it’s ironic that the 20-year-old quarterback speaks with conviction about the future of the Husker attack. The redshirt sophomore has invested more time in Scott Frost’s offense than any other player on the roster, having served as a backup at UCF in 2017. But he has also made precisely zero collegiate starts — a number that could change Saturday if Adrian Martinez is unable to go.
“We’ll get faster and faster and faster the more people know,” Vedral said. “I think that’s really where we can go with this is faster.”
For all the chronic symptoms ailing the offense — erratic snaps, penalties, turnovers and missed reads — the best prescription might be time. And the Huskers need look no further than their opponent Saturday night for a testimonial on the power of experience.
That’s not to say Minnesota’s offense is a veteran group. Seven of 11 starters are recruits of third-year coach P.J. Fleck.
But five of those have appeared in every game since arriving on campus. The average for a Gopher starter is 18 1⁄2 career starts and about 24 career games.
“Went from the youngest team in America last year, now I think we’re the second youngest, so we moved up one spot possibly,” Fleck said in July. “That doesn’t mean you can’t win. We’re just young.”
Nebraska may have assumed that unofficial youth title on offense in its second season under this coaching staff. Consider:
- The starters are averaging barely 18 career games of experience (13.8 starts). That number dips further if Vedral starts Saturday over Martinez, the 19-year-old sophomore who has played and started 17 games.
- The average age of NU’s starters on offense is 20.3. Four have single-digit career starts, including teenagers Wan’Dale Robinson (three) and Maurice Washington (six) and 20-year-old linemen Cam Jurgens and Trent Hixson (six apiece).
- NU’s lone senior starter, 22-year-old receiver Kanawai Noa, joined the team in the summer as a grad transfer. The only other seniors to play on offense are a pair of juco receivers in Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard along with running back Wyatt Mazour. The quartet have combined for 20 touches and 179 yards halfway through the season.
Still, there has been progress. Nebraska is 127th nationally with 14 turnovers, but last weekend the offense went turnover-free for the first time in the Frost era. It’s been flagged 16 times for 100 yards, but six times for 35 in the past four games.
“Young offenses can make plays,” Frost said. “They can also make mistakes. ... If we limit mistakes, we’re going to have a chance to win games. You can tell (Minnesota’s) young players are really good. Some of our best players are young guys. There’s a bright future ahead. But I think the key is be efficient and be yourself.”
Fleck said his 2018 squad emerged from a 7-6 campaign better for the experience. It endured failure, losing five of six. It created building blocks, ending with a cathartic blowout win over Wisconsin and a bowl victory against Georgia Tech. Minnesota’s theme — a race to maturity — played out as the Gophers grew up through shared moments.
It helped to focus on smaller goals rather than just winning games. Winning comes down to turnover margin, explosive plays and missed tackles, Fleck said. So the team worked on those things.
“When you have that many young players playing at once, it’s hard to be able to get better,” Fleck said. “It’s just about getting out there and doing your job. But towards the end of the year, I thought we were able to get better in a lot of areas.”
Minnesota’s two senior offensive starters have been a major boon to the offense this fall. Running back Rodney Smith (on pace for a 1,000-yard season) and receiver Tyler Johnson (team-highs with 28 catches and five touchdowns) are dynamic and experienced. And while the offense overall is still young, it has steadily improved to become a top-30 unit in scoring (35.8 points per game), completion percentage (70.3) and third-down conversion percentage (45).
Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said it doesn’t matter to him how old the Gophers are. He sees good schemes and good players. He sees a strong offensive line that could stay entirely intact again next season. Minnesota isn’t going anywhere soon.
“They’re like us,” Chinander said. “They’ve taken a big step from last year to this year and probably the year before. They have one year up on us as far as a maturity standpoint.”
NU junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said the tricky part of defending a greener attack is there isn’t as much track record to study. Identities aren’t fully formed.
“They have the ability to change on the fly and the ability to attack based off of what we’re doing,” Bootle said. “At the end of the day we just have to go out there and play football. They’re going to make a couple of plays. We just gotta find a way to make more plays than they make.”
Nebraska’s offense, meanwhile, has regressed in most statistical categories from last year. But much like the 0-6 start from a season ago that turned into a 4-2 finish, the Huskers think a strong second half is coming.
Their counterparts in Minneapolis have already experienced it.
“I just think it comes with time a little bit,” Robinson said. “I feel like over time we’re just going to keep continuing to get better and better. Once we get to later in the season, then we’ll really, really be clicking.”
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Nebraska fans topple the goal posts following the Huskers' 24-7 home victory over No. 2 and 3 ranked Colorado on Saturday, Oct. 29, 1994. It was the eighth time in Memorial Stadium history that the posts were torn down. The Huskers (9-0) dominated the first half while taking a 17-0 lead and holding a 234 to 89 edge in total yards. Nebraska defeated Colorado 24-7.
Nebraska running back Ahman Green is consoled by an unidentified husker fan after Nebraska was upset by Arizona State University on Saturday night, Sept. 21, 1996, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. ASU defeated Nebraska 19-0.
Nebraska fans Brian Bumann and Nancy Brewer of Spencer, Iowa, enjoy a moment in the rain as they watched Saturday's Nebraska Cornhuskers Football vs. Iowa State game in Ames, Iowa. It was the first time since the last Spring Game that the boyfriend and girlfriend have seen their Huskers play. Nebraska defeated ISU 49-14.
Cindy Swigart of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, formerly of Omaha, Nebraska, adds a Husker flag to her tailgate party on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 30, 1996, outside of ProPlayer Stadium. The University of Nebraska playied Virgina Tech in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, Dec. 31, 1996. Nebraska defeated Virgina Tech 41-21 .
Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, center, signs a football for fan Eric Stratton of Columbia, Maryland, as his wife Nancy looks on shortly before the team departed from the Lincoln, Nebraska, airport, for Miami, Florida. Stratton, a 1985 NU graduate, was in Lincoln for the holidays. Osborne and the Huskers were headed to Miami to play in the Orange Bowl. It would be Osborne's final game as head coach. Nebraska defeated Tennessee 42-17 to win a share of the national title.
Fans at 72nd and Dodge Streets in Omaha, Nebraska, celebrate after the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated the Tennessee Volunteers in the Orange Bowl on Friday, Jan. 2, 1998. The second-ranked Huskers manhandled third-ranked Tennessee 42-17 to complete a 13-0 season and earn a a share of the national championship.
Nebraska fans Tom Poeue, left, and Mike Novak, both of Lincoln, Nebraska, cheer on the Huskers on Monday night, Aug. 29, 1983, during the Kick-off Classic, featuring the Huskers and Penn State, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Nebraska defeated Penn State 44-6.
Disappointed Nebraska cheerleaders take in the moment after Nebraska lost in the 1984 Orange Bowl to the University of Miami on Monday, Jan. 2, 1984, in Miami, Florida. Nebraska failed on a two-point conversion attempt with 48 seconds left that would have won the game and the national championship. A successful kick would have tied the score. Miami's Ken Calhoun broke up the conversion pass from quarterback Turner Gill to I-back Jeff Smith, leaving the inspired Hurricanes with a 31-30 upset victory over the top-ranked Cornhuskers. "We were trying to win the game, " Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. "I don't think you go for a tie in that case. You try to win the game. We wanted an undefeated season and a clear-cut national championship."
Nebraska football coach Frank Solich signs a T-shirt for Special Olympic athlete Caleb Crippen, 13, of Hickman, Nebraska, during Media Day at Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2000. Solich was fired on Saturday night, Nov. 29, 2003, after winning more than 75 percent of his games over six seasons. Solich took over after Tom Osborne retired after the 1997 season. Solich was 42-9 in his first four seasons. He was Big 12 coach of the year in 1999 and 2001, won the 1999 conference title and his team played for the national championship after the 2001 season.
From left: Husker fans Jim Colburn, Dick Upah and Bill Sims watch a football scrimmage at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday, Aug. 16, 2002.
Amanda & Jeremy Stutzman of David City, Nebraska, wait with other Huskers fans outside of the Rose Bowl before the game on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2002, in Pasadena, California. The Miami Hurricanes defeated the Huskers 37â€“14 to win their fifth national title.
Fans hold up placards in the east stands to celebrate Nebraska's 250th consecutive sellout on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2002, as the Nebraska played Utah State in a college football game on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2002 ,in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Utah State 44-13.
Seats were plentiful and fans sparse at the Independence Bowl on Friday Dec. 27, 2002, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers played Ole Miss in the Independence Bowl. Ole Miss defeated Nebraska 27-23. The Huskers sealed their first non-winning season in 41 years on Friday night. The Huskers ended their season with a record of 7-7.
Bill Callahan meets the fans at the kickoff of the Husker Nation Tour at the First National Bank plaza in Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday, June 25, 2004. It gave fans a chance to see, hear, ask questions and get Callahan's autograph.
From left: Steve Thelen of Lincoln, Nebraska, Matt Keyes and Jeff Gunn, both of Omaha, Nebraska, finally had plenty to cheer about following the first blocked punt on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2004, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, as the Huskers took on Missouri. Nebraska defeated Missouri 24-3.
Husker fan Kevin Wulf of Superior, Nebraska, gets a close up view of pregame warmups as Nebraska played Wake Forest at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday evening, Sept. 10, 2005. Nebraska defeated Wake Forest 31-3.
Husker fans embrace Terrence Nunn after his long first quarter touchdown at the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team against the Michigan Wolverines at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday, December 28, 2005. Nebraska defeated Michigan 32-28.
Husker fans hope for revenge after losing to Kansas 40-15 in 2005. Nebraska played Kansas in a Big 12 college football game on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2006, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska got their revenge and defeated Kansas 39-32.
Marilyn Beebe of Lincoln, Nebraska, watches the end of regulation time during the Nebraska vs. Kansas football game on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2006, in Lincoln. Kansas rallied to force overtime, but Nebraska prevailed with a 39-32 win. Beebe said the game was little more tense then she liked.
Retro dressed fans with a retro sign from left: Matt Thkemeier, Ben Grabenstein, both of Omaha, Nebraska, Adam Grabenstein of Eustis, Nebraska, Chris Kramer of Omaha and Bob Floth of Snickley, Nebraska, cheer on the Nebraska football team. Nebraska played Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006. Oklahoma defeated Nebraska 21-7.
With victory in the bag, Husker Glenn Patterson shoots pictures of fans behind Nebraska's bench with a tiny camera in the fourth quarter of the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Dec. 20, 1969. The Huskers took on Georgia in the bowl and defeated the Bulldogs 45-6.
Wait, that's not everyday of the year! Sorry, we only included the days Nebraska football has played. NU an all-time record of 0-0 on every unlisted day. But, if you enjoy all things Husker football, follow @HuskerHistory on Twitter.
A Husker fan reacts as Nebraska plays Oklahoma State in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007. Oklahoma State defeated Nebraska 45-14.
A fan sends a message from the stands as Nebraska played Oklahoma State University in Big 12 college football action on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Oklahoma State defeated Nebraska 45-14.
The exodus for the halftime concessions began early in the second quarter as a fan signed his displeasure during the Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State football game on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Oklahoma State defeated Nebraska 45-14. It was coach Bill Callahan's fourth season as coach. In 2007, Callahan finished with a 5-7 record.
University of Kansas student Andrew Claassen, left center, taunts University of Nebraska fan Adam Loecker after Kansas went up 48-21 in the second quarter during the Nebraska Cornhuskers' football game against the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday, Nov. 2, 2007. Claassen and Loecker are friends from high school in McPherson, Kansas. Loecker said he was not surprised by the Nebraska performance in the first half. Kansas defeated Nebraska 76-39.
Mick Wiater of Papillion, Nebraska, enjoys pre-game festivities as the Nebraska Cornhuskers prepare to take on the Clemson Tigers in the Gator Bowl on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009, in Jacksonville, Florida. Nebraska defeated Clemson 26-21.
Larry the Cable Guy, aka Pawnee City, Nebraska, native Dan Whitney, signs autographs for fans before the game. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers played the Clemson Tigers in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, on January 1, 2009. Nebraska defeated Clemson 26-21.
Nebraska football players Jim Anderson, left, and Jerry List autograph some footballs for Mark Rouse, 8, of Lincoln, Nebraska, during a Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1971, autograph session.
Nebraska fan Rose Crowley of Omaha, Nebraska, sports a hat she bought in 1982. She said she wears it to every homecoming game. Nebraska played Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 55-0.
Nebraska fans fill Memorial Stadium during the 300th consecutive sell-out football game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 55-0.
Nebraska fans from left: Steve Hernandez, Brett Kay, Brett Gotch and Calvin Kramper of South Sioux City, Nebraska, cheer for the Huskers dressed as the band KISS against Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009. Nebraska defeated Baylor 20-10.
Husker fan Ron Freiburger, left, celebrates as his good friend and Oklahoma fan Jack Land shows disappointment in the Sooners. Land grew up in Oklahoma while Freiburger grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. The two friends now live in Los Angeles, California. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers took on the University of Oklahoma Sooners at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009. Nebraska defeated Oklahoma 10-3.
Dann Leffler of West Point, Nebraska, wears his homemade ears of corn as Nebraska played Kansas at Kivisto Field in Lawrence, Kansas, on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009. Nebraska defeated Kansas 31-17.
Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne visits with fans following the Huskers' 20-10 victory over Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009.
University of Nebraska cheerleader Kim Huhmann leaps into the air for a photo near the San Diego Bay before performing in a battle of the bands pep rally at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California, on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009. The Husker football team was in San Diego to play Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. The Huskers defeated Arizona 33-0.
Nick Schwenck, 13, of Phoenix, Arizona, center, stands with his father Tim Schwenck, right, outside of Qualcomm Stadium before the start of the Holiday Bowl, in San Diego, California, on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009. Tim Schwenck is originally from Ashland, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Arizona in the Holiday Bowl 33-0 for win.
Nebraska fans cheer for the Huskers as they return to the locker room following warmups at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010. Nebraska defeated Washington 56-21.
Eli Spencer, 11, from Denver, Colorado, shows his Blackshirt crossbones. The Nebraska Cornhuskers played a football game against the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Oct. 30, 2010. Nebraska defeated Missouri 31-17.
Nebraska seniors from left: Tyler Legate, Austin Jones, Jim Ebke and Lance Thorell take the field ahead of the rest of the team on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, before playing Tennessee Chattanooga at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Huskers defeated Tennessee Chattanooga 40-7.
As a dental student and a Huskers super fan Paul Favela keeps busy and studies his anatomy homework before the Ohio State game outside of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. Nebraska defeated Ohio State 34-27.
Fans cheer for the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 1978, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during a football game against Hawaii. Nebraska defeated Hawaii 56-10.
Brothers Don Drozd , left, and Andy Drozd, both of Columbus, Nebraska, cheer on the Cornhuskers. Nebraska palyed Oklahoma State on Saturday, October 6, 1984, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Oklahoma State 17-3.
Nebraska fan Mike McCann was full of emotion as the Huskers took on Alabama in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1977, at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers defeated Alabama 31-24.
Fans tear down the goal posts following Nebraska's 52-7 win over Colorado on Saturday, Oct. 31, 1992, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Huskers finished the season at 9-3.
The goal posts come down as Nebraska fans scale them on Friday, Nov. 26, 1982, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, following the Husker's win over Oklahoma. Nebraska was a 28-24 winner, the Big Eight Conference champion for the second year in a row and headed for the Orange Bowl again.
From left: Nebraska fans Diana Bolton, Mary Edwards, and Marilyn and Al Vyhnalef watch the Cornhusker's 31-7 victory over Colorado in the rain on Saturday, Oct. 30, 1971, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Usher Carissa Kay Moorer of Fairbury, Nebraska, keeps under wraps but maintains her spirit as fan Patrick Collins of Omaha, Nebraska, cheers Nebraska's second touchdown during a football game against Oregon on Saturday, Sept. 28, 1985. Nebraska defeated Oregon 63-0. The Huskers finished the 1985 season 9-3.