Huskers move Cameron Jurgens, ‘an exceptionally explosive athlete,’ to the offensive line

Huskers move Cameron Jurgens, ‘an exceptionally explosive athlete,’ to the offensive line
Cameron Jurgens played in one game as a tight end this season, but Scott Frost said Jurgens' future is on the offensive line. (CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD)

Cameron Jurgens won three Class B state shot put titles while at Beatrice. His winning throw at the 2018 state track meet was about six inches farther than Scott Frost’s winning throw back in 1993.

“Anybody who threw the shot put farther than I did I have a special place in my heart for,” Frost said Monday.

Frost has a special new position for the true freshman as well: Interior offensive line. Goodbye tight end. Jurgens is just too good a blocker — and Frost likes the young NU tight ends ahead of Jurgens too much — for the 6-foot-3, 270-pounder to stay at his current position.

“He’s as physical and as good of a blocker as we have on our football team,” Frost said. “I really think he’s got potential to be a really good player on the offensive line.”

Because interior linemen in Frost’s system learn both positions, Jurgens could play center or guard. He’ll put on weight instead of trying to lose it, and he’s embraced the position switch, even though he may still play tight end this season. Jurgens has three more games to play as a true freshman while retaining his redshirt.

“He’s just an exceptional athlete — an exceptionally explosive athlete,” Frost said. “I just think, after watching him awhile, that his body type fits that. I can’t wait to see it.”

It helps that sophomore Jack Stoll and redshirt freshmen Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal have developed quickly as tight ends. All three have played significant snaps in NU’s first five games.

This year’s record may seem bleak, but Husker upperclassmen know future is bright

MADISON, Wis. — Stanley Morgan sat at the podium, his eyes glistening in the camera lights.

His voice was nasally. The white of his eyes pink: 0-5 isn’t what he turned the NFL down for.

Chalk up another loss on the senior wide receiver’s résumé. He has suffered through 24 since stepping onto campus. By the end of Morgan’s career, he’ll be atop most of Nebraska’s receiving records, and the bottom in career winning percentage.

With Nebraska’s season spiraling, and bowl eligibility a near impossibility, the conversation around the program is turning toward any possible silver lining. On Saturday, it was the young offensive weapons, like true freshmen Adrian Martinez and Maurice Washington. Martinez threw for 384 yards and ran for 57. Washington had 115 all-purpose yards.

For a senior, the losses hurt. As does the reality that the future, which he won’t be part of, is one of the few bright spots this season.

“At the beginning of this season, we talked as a senior class and the one really big thing we wanted out of this was to change the foundation of his program,” senior Luke Gifford said. “Sometimes that hurts, you know?”

If you’ll recall, this wasn’t the message to fans and media before the season. Senior offensive lineman Tanner Farmer stood in front of the podium in fall camp and proclaimed he wanted a national title.

“A lot of people say winning the national championship isn’t a realistic goal. Well, I’m not about realistic. I want it all,” Farmer said. “Go big or go home.”

Farmer wasn’t alone. At Big Ten media days in July, seniors Jerald Foster and Mick Stoltenberg both said this season wouldn’t just be a rebuilding year. There was more confidence on the team. They trusted each other more. This didn’t seem to be another 2017, they said.

But national titles and bowl games washed away with the season-opening loss to Colorado and upset by Troy at home. Now, Nebraska is tied for the worst start in school history and the seniors are forced to swallow some pride, and talk about a future they won’t be a part of.

“I tell these guys all the time, ‘The future is bright for these guys,’” Morgan said. “I mean, just today I found out Adrian was 18. I didn’t even know that. I mean, these guys are young and these guys just keep coming to practice every day and working. And I like that.”

After the loss Saturday, coach Scott Frost took a different tone than a week ago. Instead of saying some of the team “looked like they liked losing,” he praised the fight of his guys. He said twice, unprompted, that Martinez was going to be a special player. And he brought up running back Washington, twice.

“Man, is he gonna be a good player,” Frost said.

Frost thought freshman Cam Taylor took a step forward, as did sophomore tight end Jack Stoll and the sophomore offensive tackles. And sophomore JD Spielman, who set the school record with 209 receiving yards, he’s a “warrior.” Youth was the stump speech after the school’s ninth straight loss.

“We’ve got a lot of good players on this team that I’m proud to coach that we’re going to keep working with and keep improving,” Frost said. “I think we’re on the road to getting this to a better place.”

Junior Mohamed Barry has one year left in Lincoln. And he likes the idea of the future, yes, but wants to keep the team grounded. With talk about what will happen down the road, it can be easy to take days off now.

“You have to handle your business week by week,” Barry said. “Just, let’s take on what we got right now and get better each week, so the future will be good.”

The team bus sat idle just outside Camp Randall Saturday night while the team loaded postgame. The stadium lights lit up the green turf and red seats, making the black bus hard to see in the bowels underneath the bleachers.

In the dark. That’s where Nebraska will work for the remainder of this season, while the bright lights of college football shine on. Gifford hopes, by the time he leaves, it won’t be dreary.

“At the end of the day, we know we’re setting the foundation for Coach Frost and the things that this program is going to do in the future,” Gifford said. “We’re going to be able to look back on it and say that we were the first team that got to start that.”

Looking for a bright spot? Start with Nebraska freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez

LINCOLN — Upon further review, Adrian Martinez doesn’t feel as bad about his performance against Wisconsin now as he did in the bowels of Camp Randall Stadium moments after Saturday’s loss.

But the true freshman quarterback said Monday he’s going to keep being hard on himself. And that’s the way it should be.

The progress of the former four-star prospect and jewel of Scott Frost’s first recruiting class has become Exhibit A in the case for optimism amid an 0-5 season. Martinez showed the most extended preview yet of his long-term potential — and perhaps short-term upside — by throwing for a career-high 384 yards against Wisconsin. He extended plays with his feet and eventually finished with 441 yards of total offense, good for fourth best in program history.

“I knew what I was capable of,” Martinez said. “And I still don’t think I’ve reached my capabilities. I don’t think I’m anywhere near as good as I think I can be in the future.”

Martinez said he missed at least 10 opportunities for completions after watching game film. He’s aware of the three or four passes that should have been intercepted by the Badgers. He needs to be smarter about when he runs the ball and fix ball-security issues, including two fumbles (one lost) in the third quarter.

That final point, he said, is a result of trying to do too much in the moment when he should have fallen to the turf. Walking the line between making a play and doing too much comes with experience and situational awareness. At the same time, he wants to keep his “stinger” — quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco’s term for playmaking ability — the way he’s done in second halves against Purdue and Wisconsin. He’s been the operator behind explosive games from the likes of JD Spielman, Maurice Washington and Devine Ozigbo.

“He’s gonna be special,” Frost said of the solidly-built playmaker who goes 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. “We knew we’d have to live through some of that, playing a freshman quarterback. That hasn’t really been what’s hurt us. He’s done enough for us to win. I think he’s just gonna keep getting better.”

Martinez ranks 21st nationally in per-game averages of total offense (292.3 yards) and his 441 number Saturday is the third highest by a freshman this fall. All this after missing his senior season of high school recovering from shoulder surgery and suffering a knee injury in the season opener against Colorado that caused him to miss a game.

That knee feels better now, Martinez said. His continued use of a knee brace is more of a precaution than anything else.

The Huskers don’t huddle in Frost’s offense, but offensive lineman Matt Farniok said Martinez would have a commanding presence there too if they did. The sophomore right tackle called his QB a “calm-demeanor guy,” someone who doesn’t get down on himself when the bullets are flying. He’s become more vocal and confident in recent weeks.

“He’s an amazing player,” Farniok said. “He’s an 18-year-old kid that came in and took the reigns of a good Big Ten offense. The only difference is he’s pretty mobile. He’s definitely a switch-up from a pocket passer, and it’s a little more exciting, especially when he decides to scramble.”

Martinez said the 41-yard run for his first career touchdown against Colorado last month was the moment he convinced himself he could compete at a high level in college. It was just him playing football like he always had growing up.

Now his reputation is growing. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said Saturday night he expected Martinez to make things happen, and he did. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday called the Nebraska QB “a magician” for the same reason.

Another former quarterback — one who coached former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and once shared a locker room with Brett Favre — has a regular up-close view on Nebraska’s future in the making.

“He’s doing some things like quite a few of the special guys that I’ve been around,” Frost said. “There’s no way that I would have been ready to do what he’s doing right now as an 18-year-old. It says a lot about who he is as a person.”

Huskers block Greg Bell from transferring to any future opponents or Oregon State

In granting running ball Greg Bell his scholarship release on Friday, Nebraska’s football program blocked him from transferring to any Big Ten schools, any of NU’s nonconference opponents through the 2021 season and Oregon State, where three recent Husker transfers have landed.

Bell, who left the team Friday, posted his scholarship release on Twitter. The restriction list included South Alabama, Colorado, Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, South Dakota State, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Oklahoma, all of NU’s nonconference opponents through 2021. Oregon State has been the destination for inside linebacker Avery Roberts, quarterback Tristan Gebbia and receiver Tyjon Lindsey.

Starting Oct. 15, no NCAA institution can block athletes from transferring; in fact, athletes don’t even have to ask permission for a scholarship release. Players can simply inform their schools they are transferring, then join a transfer database. Institutions interested in transferring athletes can access the database and contact athletes from there.

The NCAA rule allows for specific conferences to craft more restrictive transfer rules if it wishes.

Lincoln Southwest graduate Isaac Armstrong becomes Nebraska’s new No. 1 punter

LINCOLN — Lincoln Southwest graduate and walk-on Isaac Armstrong is Nebraska’s new No. 1 punter, coach Scott Frost said at Monday’s press conference, because of his two-punt performance in NU’s 41-24 loss to Wisconsin.

“Isaac punted it where he was supposed to punt it,” Frost said of Armstrong’s 53.5-yard average.

They were the first two punts of Armstrong’s career. Armstrong replaced previous starter Caleb Lightbourn, who had two punts for an average of 29.5 yards. Lightbourn had been Nebraska’s starting punter since the start of the 2016 season, but he had struggled this season to directionally kick away from returners. NU allowed punt returns for touchdowns in both the Troy and Michigan games. Lightbourn fell down during a punt attempt against Purdue. Frost was not happy with Lightbourn’s work against Wisconsin, either.

“Twice, when the game was still competitive Saturday, we punted one right down the middle of field 35 yards and they returned it to the 50,” Frost said. “Then, we shanked one out of bounds, and they got the ball at the 50. We’re not good enough to survive those types of things.”

NU kicker Barret Pickering said Lightbourn has been supportive of Armstrong since the switch. Armstrong remains the team’s No. 1 holder on field goals and extra points. Lightbourn is likely to continue handling kickoff duties.

The one significant difference between the two players is their strong foot. Lightbourn is right-footed, while Armstrong is left-footed.

“The ball’s going to be spinning in the other direction,” Frost said, before joking “it’s like being in the southern hemisphere.”

Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco promoted to assistant coach at Oklahoma

Bob Diaco, who oversaw one of the worst Nebraska defenses in school history, is now the outside linebackers coach at Oklahoma.

Diaco was promoted Monday after the Sooners fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Diaco joined the Oklahoma staff in March as a defensive analyst, a non-coaching role.

“Bob has a lot of experience in very good programs and also has a list of accomplishments that will help him step in and make an immediate impact,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said in a press release.

Assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill is now Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator.

Diaco was fired as defensive coordinator along with former head coach Mike Riley after the 2017 season. It was Diaco’s only season in Lincoln. The Huskers finished near the bottom of the conference in four major defensive categories under Diaco — total defense (14th), scoring defense (13th), rush defense (13th) and pass defense (11th).

Indianapolis Colts place former Husker Matt Slauson on injured reserve

Former Husker offensive lineman Matt Slauson was placed on injured reserve Monday by the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts did not disclose what injury Slauson suffered. He had started all five games at right guard this season and played every offensive snap — plus some special teams — in last week’s game against New England.

Slauson, a sixth-round draft pick in 2009, is in his ninth NFL season. He spent the previous two seasons with the Chargers before signing a one-year contract with Indianapolis.

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