You know, Joe Burrow, if this whole Ohio State thing doesn’t work out …
“I’m not as savvy with what they have [compared to] what they had at Central Florida,” former UCF and Scott Frost quarterback Nick Patti told Land of 10 when asked about the spring signal caller derby at Nebraska. “But I’ll guarantee you they’re out looking.”
It’s not that Tristan Gebbia doesn’t have the highest ceiling west of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building.
It’s not that Adrian Martinez doesn’t tick all the boxes.
It’s not that Andrew Bunch isn’t the kind of horse you root for coming ’round the bend.
It’s that Gebbia was recruited to Lincoln primarily for the shoot part of his run-and-shoot game. It’s that Martinez is a true freshman coming off major shoulder surgery. It’s that Bunch is a JUCO transfer, a walk-on who hasn’t seen the field in nearly two years. It’s that, as a trio, they’ve combined for zero FBS snaps.
“It’s one thing to be able to bring in a true freshman as a guy. But to bring in a [veteran] or a guy that transfers in and can be a force now,” offered Patti, who played for Frost and Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco in 2016 and thinks the world of both.
“I can’t say they’re not out looking. Especially at an attractive school like Nebraska — it’s easy to get a guy that’s looking [to transfer].”
Noah Vedral ‘a perfect fit’
And if the 90,000 folks at the spring game can’t sell it, the depth chart might. The one Cornhuskers quarterback left with any major game experience, Patrick O’Brien, saw the writing on the wall — and, more specifically, the writing in playbook demanding a quarterback who can create havoc with his legs — and announced late last week he was transferring out.
It wasn’t a surprise, although the timing landed a little funny. It was the sort of move you’d normally expect before spring ball, given a winter of acclimation to a new staff and scheme, or shortly thereafter, if the depth chart didn’t shake out the way you’d hoped.
O’Brien’s background was in classical music. The new bandleader is looking for jazz men, improvisers. It happens. Shake hands and move on.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11 pic.twitter.com/xSt7hVt9NK
— Patrick O'Brien™ (@oneandonlyPOB) April 12, 2018
Of course, where Frost and Verduzco move next is especially tasty, given a quarterback room that, while thinner, remains deep in talent but short on experience.
The presumption is that Gebbia, who redshirted as a freshman last fall, has made a quicker conversion from Mike Riley/Danny Langsdorf’s chuck-and-duck to Frost/Verduzco’s read-and-react than O’Brien. The Hail Mary hope is that UCF transfer Noah Vedral — the Wahoo, Neb., native who last fall completed 22 of 29 throws and averaged 4.3 yards per carry with the unbeaten Knights as McKenzie Milton’s backup — will get the green light from the NCAA to play in 2018 once rule changes on transfers go into effect.
“He’s a perfect fit,” Patti said of Vedral, with whom he has several mutual friends in UCF circles.
“From an intangibles perspective, he impressed me the first time I saw him. He’s got that ‘it’ factor. He’s savvy on the field, he’s savvy off the field. He’s not the biggest guy but he can run around a little bit. He knows he’s not the biggest, so he kind of gets creative. A very accurate quarterback … Noah is a very good quarterback, a very savvy kid. He’s a good player. I’m hoping it pans out for him.”
‘You get put in a situation where you may have a little window to make a move. You may have four reps in a team period where those are your four plays and you’re going to sink or swim.’
— Former UCF quarterback Nick Patti on quarterback competition under Scott Frost in 2016
When it comes the NCAA, hope is all we’ve got left. Well, that or a potential graduate transfer.
If you’re Frost, you’re still, as Patti said, looking — for depth as much as anything else. But it’s also not so totally out of left field to think that the eventual starter for Nebraska this fall might not take a snap in the spring game. Or even be on campus yet.
Brandon Dawkins, formerly of Arizona, is an Indiana Hoosier. Ex-Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight is heading to UCLA. The most interesting domino yet to fall on the grad-transfer open market — huzzah for NCAA loopholes! — is probably Burrow, the redshirt junior signal caller at Ohio State.
We know Burrow’s father Jimmy is a former Big Red defensive back and assistant coach. We know Joe’s brothers Jamie and Dan suited up for Nebraska. We know he was tapped as one of the top 10 dual-threat quarterback recruits in the country in 2015 by 247Sports. We know he’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
And we know that if Burrow doesn’t look likely to win the No. 1 job in Columbus, all options are on the table in the coming weeks:
Joe Burrow has not ruled out transferring. He says he wants to play, and if he does not see that happening here, then there are conversations he will need to have with his family, friends, and coaches.
— 105.7 The Zone (@1057TheZone) April 14, 2018
Burrow emerged from Ohio State’s spring game last weekend as the flavor of choice among most Buckeyes fans after completing 15 of 22 passes to Dwayne Haskins’ 9-of-19 performance. Of course, Haskins is also 1-0 against Michigan, on the road, in a game that actually counted.
“There’s a lot of improvisation,” Patti said of Frost’s scheme. “That’s the heart of the offense, that you have to defend all 11 guys, instead of 10.
“[A pro-style] quarterback takes away a whole facet of that game. In today’s day and age, you can be a pass-heavy scheme. But in this offense, I don’t think they’re looking for that guy.”
Did Patrick O’Brien open a window for Joe Burrow?
The guys at UCF could tell whether they were still in the front of the staff’s minds, or were falling behind, based on their reps in practice.
“Unfortunately, some guys sort of got put to the wayside,” recalled Patti, who was going into his redshirt senior season in 2016, having transferred in a few years earlier from Boise State. “You start off and everyone kind of gets similar reps. You’d get it cut down pretty [sharply], especially once scout teams start and someone gets redshirted.
“You get put in a situation where you may have a little window to make a move. You may have four reps in a team period where those are your four plays and you’re going to sink or swim. It’s a tough situation, especially in an offense where you’re still trying to learn and you’re not really comfortable showing what your skills are.”
Senior Justin Holman, the incumbent, eventually got the nod to open the 2016 season. But after Holman was injured at Michigan, the staff eventually turned to a player who’d only been in position meetings since the summer — true freshman McKenzie Milton.
“We weren’t his recruits, we weren’t his guys — he inherited us,” Patti said of Frost. “And McKenzie was his choice. So at the end of the day, McKenzie earned it. And that staff will make people earn it.
“They’re not going to give anything to anybody, because that’s how they are. Anybody coming in that’s not a Frost guy doesn’t have the upper hand. Whether it’s good or bad. If something goes bad, they want to go down with making a decision that was theirs. [They’re] a little more comfortable with that.
“Coach Verduzco, I know, with his demeanor, it is intense. I mean, these guys are drinking water from a fire hose. But it’s fun. If there’s an offense I could run, I’d want it to be this one. But it’s tough.”
When Patrick O’Brien closes a door, it opens up a window.
For somebody. Somewhere.
“It’s hard to do a complete revamp, especially with the quarterback position,” Patti said. “You want to have that guy. I wouldn’t tip my hat [this early], but I think anybody Scott Frost brings in has a leg up on the field.”