McCord plans NU visit and what a philosophical change that would be at QB
Plus, volleyball is off to Tampa and men's and women's basketball pick up two big wins over Michigan State.
Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2023, Kyle McCord, is dropping by Lincoln this week to see what Nebraska football has to offer. Another Buckeye, wide receiver Julian Fleming, may follow later this week.
If both visits happen it’s a somewhat splashy start to what is expected to be a sedate transfer window for the Huskers, because of numbers but also by design.
McCord’s decision to explore the transfer market was the first big bombshell of the portal’s opening day a week ago. After winning an offseason battle, the junior started all 12 games for Ohio State, ranking second in the Big Ten in yards per attempt and passer rating as a first-time starter. His 83.7 QBR ranked eighth nationally, two spots ahead of Heisman finalist Michael Pennix Jr.
Returning starters at quarterback don’t really leave the Ohio State University, and they definitely don’t leave for a program that’s 15-30 over the past four seasons, no matter how much tradition is included in the deal. But, here we are. One sports book had Nebraska as the favorite1 to land McCord, and that was before his visit was confirmed.
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There are plenty of intriguing angles to McCord’s apparent interest in what Matt Rhule’s trying to build at Nebraska, but the one that intrigues me most right now is what a departure it would be from what we’ve seen from the Huskers for most of the Big Ten era. Specifically, rushing quarterbacks and a crap-load, that’s the technical term, of fumbles.
Since Adrian Martinez took over at QB in 2018, Nebraska has ranked 84th or worse in total fumbles.2 Over that six-season stretch, Nebraska’s quarterbacks accounted for at least 35% of the Huskers’ total carries (sacks included) in five of those seasons, and the starting QB led the team in carries four times. Nebraska “only” fumbled 13 times in 2022 (44th nationally), which coincided with Casey Thompson starting 10 games in a Mark Whipple offense. He scored five touchdowns on the ground, but Adrian or Taylor Martinez he was not when it came to toting the football. And Nebraska didn’t ask him to be, which was the big difference.
Nebraska’s other better-than-average years in total fumbles: 2015 (4th nationally), 2016 (46th) and 2017 (19th). What do those years have in common? A pro-style head coach running a pro-style offense and, in order, QB carry rates of 21.5, 25.3 and 12.1%. In the nine seasons when the Huskers were worse than average in total fumbles—average national ranking of 120th—they had an average QB carry rate of 34%.
There’s not quite a one-to-one correlation between QB carries and increased fumbles at Nebraska, but they’re also not unrelated.
McCord accounted for 8% of Ohio State’s total carries this season, and 19 of his 32 carries on the year were sacks. In terms of true rushing attempts, he averaged about 1 per game. If Nebraska were to land McCord, it would represent a pretty significant philosophy change from 2023, but also from most of the past decade plus in the Big Ten.
There are tradeoffs either way, of course. There’s a reason all coaches talk about the difficulty of defending QB run. It’s a weapon, and in exchange for using it a team usually have to live with more fumbles than average. Reduce the QB’s carries and a team can probably reduce its fumble risk, but also might reduce its explosiveness upside a bit.
If McCord picks Nebraska, we’d have a good idea which direction this program is headed on offense. He ranked eighth overall in QBR, but that included being 19th on passes and 97th on rushes. McCord stands out among the QBs the Huskers have been linked to in the portal, the rest of which could more accurately be described as dual-threats.
Remove QB run from the equation, and an offense is basically as good as its ability to execute the handoff run game and the passing game. McCord looked plenty good throwing in his one full season, but Nebraska doesn’t have Ohio State’s receivers right now. Fleming’s expected visit could help there. A former 5-star recruit, Fleming was solid for the Buckeyes but never fully broke through in an ultra-competitive receiver corps. His best season was in 2022 when he made 34 receptions for 533 yards with six touchdowns, ranking third on the team in each category among receivers.
Nebraska put away a scrappy Arkansas side in four Saturday night to advance to the national semifinals of the NCAA Volleyball Championship. The Huskers head to Tampa to face fellow 1-seed Pittsburgh at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. Wisconsin and Texas, the only 2-seed to make the final four, follow.
We’ll have more on volleyball throughout the week, but a quick, super simple stat check on the four teams remaining. It stands to reason that if a team puts away two attack attempts (hitting percentage) for every one it allows (opponent hitting percentage), that team should be pretty good. John Cook once told me he aims for .300 - .150 with his teams. Here’s how the four teams stack up:
Pittsburgh: .309 - .135 | +.174
Wisconsin: .313 - .143 | +.170
Nebraska: .282 - .136 | +.146
Texas: .281 - .181 | +.100
Wisconsin and Pitt ranked 2-3 nationally in hitting percentage, the Panthers, Huskers and Badgers ranked 1-2-3 in opponent hitting percentage. Texas was off the pace in both categories, but, obviously, is here for a reason. Do the Longhorns have enough defense to win this four-team bracket? I have my doubts, but should be an excellent three matches no matter what combo we get.
Nebraska women’s basketball picked up a big win on the road over Michigan State Saturday to open Big Ten play. Alexis Markowski had a double-double (13 points, 15 rebounds) in the 80-74 win. The Spartans entered the game ranked eighth in the NCAA NET ratings, the Huskers 21st.
The Husker men also got one against the green, beating Michigan State 77-70 in Lincoln Sunday to move to 1-1 in Big Ten play after last week’s meltdown against Minnesota. It was Nebraska’s first win over Michigan State since 2016, snapping an 11-game losing streak.
Erin Sorensen is taking a look at the ever-changing world of NIL through the lens of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, which hopes to be a leader in the space when it comes to its one-of-a-kind marketplace. Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts offers his thoughts, too.
On Thursday, it’s back to the courts for a look at Bekka Allick’s ability to inspire those around her. “I think for me, seeing how much it means to her, it rubs off on everyone else,” freshman Harper Murray said about playing for Allick.
As long as the Huskers’ run in the NCAA Volleyball Tournament continues, we’re offering 20% off an annual subscription, so there’s no time like now to start Counter Reading.
Take that favorite tag for what it is, technically true but the numbers were pretty narrow. At +250, Nebraska has an implied probability of 28.6% of landing McCord. Texas A&M was next at +300 (25%) with Florida State and Oregon at +400 (20%). The Ducks landed Oklahoma transfer Dillon Gabriel Saturday, so you can probably scratch them.
That’s all fumbles, not just those lost because what we’re really after is how often a team puts the ball at risk.