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B1G 2020, Nebraska Potluck #2: Adrian Martinez and the Husker Offense—All Sizzle, No Steak? (Also lots of steak.)

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Talking the Huskers’ RB-and-TE-heavy offense, wondering if Adrian Martinez is the answer, and talking a LOT about steak recipes.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

As we march on with Nebraska Week, we move into a meatier potluck than yesterday’s. Today we’ve got the Adrian Martinez Conundrum, Tight End Voltron, four-year starter busts, and...steak?

Yeah, steak.

Like, half of this 2800-word article is Jesse and Stew talking about steak.

So read the football parts and ignore them. Or read their steak parts and ignore the football! Whatever you want to do, there’s something in here to disappoint you.

The Football

If Twitter, message boards, or Jesse are to be believed, Huskers QB Adrian Martinez was decidedly mediocre in 2019, but was that due to (a) thinking he didn’t have to work hard at it like his coach alluded to, (b) the fact that his O-Line was not exactly great - although he was jumpy in the pocket and refused to throw the ball away, or (c) he’s just not so good?

Of course, it’s possible he went through the Sophomore Slump and could come back from an injury filled year better and more focused...but then we don’t get to talk about the alluring backup Luke McCaffrey.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Nebraska
waiting in the wings...
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Never mind that, though — whether it’s Martinez or McCaffrey, who’s getting the ball? Wide receiver JD Spielman transferred out of town, and the team returns just 39% of its receiving yards from 2019—17.8% of those yards, moreover, belonged to rising sophomore sensation Wan’Dale Robinson. So, not a ton of weapons catching the ball…

...unless you count the tight ends? Nebraska might be going for a little “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” with regards to rival Iowa’s proclivity for the Tight End Voltron:

  • Jack Stoll (Sr): 25 rec., 234 yds, 1 TD
  • Austin Allen (Jr): 12 gms, 7 rec., 83 yds
  • Travis Vokolek (Jr): the Rutgers transfer caught 16 passes for 184 yards and a pair of TDs in 2018; on a Rutgers curve, that’s like 32 catches for 388 yards and 4 TDs anywhere else.

Add to that fearsome tight end formation the Huskers’ rushing ability: senior RB Dedrick Mills leading the way, Martinez being an excellent rusher, Robinson’s ability to flex across as a ball-carrier, and the additions of true freshmen like 4* Sevion Morrison, and...the Huskers look OK in the backfield?

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Illinois
two players who could actually score for Nebraska in 2020?
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

All this prompted Jesse to throw out there to me: Does Nebraska just put TEs all over the field, Wandale in the backfield, and just say, “fuck it, we don’t have any WRs?”

So I’ll spin that just a little, team, and ask you these questions:

(1) Can we consider the TE/RB/nothing else formation as a feature of the Scott Frost offensive vision, or is it a bug of bad recruiting/player retention? Will it work in 2020—is there more innovation required here of Frost and new OC Matt Lubick?

(2) Who’s one much-maligned true freshman starter from your program’s recent memory?

Beez: I don’t see any Frost/Lubick offense working until the offensive line is less terrible. It doesn’t help to have Spielman leave, obviously, and Wan’Dale and Martinez getting/being hurt also makes matters worse. But as WhiteSpeedReceiver will surely be here shortly to say, the O Line is SO BAD IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW GOOD THE REST OF THE OFFENSE IS.

Anthony Lotti was the most heralded/only heralded punting prospect Wisconsin has ever seen, and he’s one of the few Badgers I can think of off the top of my head who actually played significant time as a true freshman. And he has been not good. 37.7, 40, 38.6, and 39.7 as averages in the puntingest of conferences isn’t going to get it done, especially for a perennially top 15 or top 15-adjacent division powerhouse.

pkloa:
(1) You’ve got to dance with the ladies and gentlemen you brought. While I like how little success Frost is having in Lincoln, I do recognize he is not a football moran. He might end up being written off as a poor fit, but then he would likely find moderate success somewhere else. I’ll chalk it up as below par personnel combined with tougher than expected opponents and sky high expectations.

(2) Christian Hackenberg was a five star QB, who showed flashes of brilliance throughout his Penn State career. Early in his true freshman season, I may have attempted to coin the phrase Christian Heismanberg. It didn’t catch on. Maligned may not be the best description for him, maybe Donovan’d.

WSR: It won’t matter how many September Heisman candidates Nebraska accrues until they bust out the medical kit from the 1990s program that Scott Frost was a part of (the one with the East German flag on it) and make something that resembles an OL. Watching their OL in person last fall was so stunning that I thought I was having a flashback to one of the Tim Brewster squads. Maybe playing 4 TE is part of some brilliant master plan to help blocking by confusing opposing defenses by never letting you know who’s going to stay in blocking and who’s going to release for a route? That would be some B1G innovation I could get behind.

In terms of a maligned true FR starter, I’m having a tough time. Not too many guys have started straight out of HS for the past few years and been crap because a) Fleck’s FR that have played have been pretty good and b) Jerry Kill’s not starting a FR because awww shucks, it takes time to polish up them diamonds in the rough.

Then it hit me.

The 2007 Brewster class.

The transition class moving from Glen Mason’s run game to Mike Dunbar’s shotgun QB draw/quick pass offense. So many guys who came in, started a bit, and then transferred out and never got the chance to properly reviled. But two men, nay HEROES, on the defense stuck around and drew my ire for 4 years with a constant barrage of missed assignments, missed tackles, dumb penalties on 3rd down, and play that made every Gopher fan under 30 wonder if they could have done better on the field (spoiler: It felt like it couldn’t have gone worse with me out there).

So Kyle Theret and Ryan Collado, take a bow. Just don’t get called for a PI for it or bonk your heads together while doing it.

Jesse: I actually don’t think this would be great, but I like the idea of having actual blocking TEs instead of the absurdity of our WRs as of late.

I realize that the OL has been a major problem, but it’s also probably the group with the most upside so that’s something? All I know is that we have literally one proven WR and it’s because of all sorts of things. We’ve lost all but one receiver in like four years (that’s not true, but it feels that way), and while I think we’re on the right path forward, it’s not great right now.

Stew: ALL TIGHT END OFFENSE!!! I’ve been wanting this for years. Of course, now Iowa actually has some decent receivers. Anyway, if Frost does do this, I would begrudgingly give him some respect. So of course, I highly doubt he does.

As for much maligned freshmen players a couple jump immediately to mind, outside linebacker Bo Bowers and safety Adam Shada. These guys started all four years, and they just weren’t very good from the get go. Put in too early, they weren’t fast enough to really shine in the rolls they were tasked. I don’t want to shit on these guys who assuredly did the best they could, and they’ve caught enough flak over the years. They were just put in tough situations.

MNW: My solution, which I believe is perfectly elegant:

  1. Fire Scott Frost
  2. Hire Willie Fritz
  3. Athletic QB + good RB + speedy WR = FUN
  4. Tight end seam routes!

This is the answer, Nebraska. This is the way. Hire Willie Fritz.

Poll

Fix the Nebraska offense:

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Couple more recruits in, we’re fine
    (40 votes)
  • 49%
    Have you tried having a good offensive line?
    (81 votes)
  • 9%
    New QB: Martinez ain’t it
    (15 votes)
  • 14%
    HIRE WILLIE FRITZ, BRING BACK THE TRIPLE OPTION
    (24 votes)
  • 2%
    Other, but if you don’t tell us in the comments EXACTLY what it is, we’ll take a donation away from charity
    (4 votes)
164 votes total Vote Now

The Food

In honor of our own BigRedTwice and her Parks and Rec fascination, we’re going to pay homage to Ron Swanson’s meat order and the Nebraska TE/RB setup: One rare porterhouse, sirloin, and a rasher of bacon.

The Huskers have the beef at tight end and the sizzle out of the backfield, and while Omaha Steaks are rarely anyone’s first choice, they’re certainly a point of Nebraska innovation and pride. So tell me these two things, folks:

(1) Any experience with Omaha Steaks?

(2) Give us your meatiest steak recipe. Cast-iron skillets, resting the meat, seasonings and grills and temperatures — be a smokeboy/smokegirl snob. This is the one time you’ll ever get permission; you better take advantage of it.

Beez: Only experience was with a friend saying “don’t get Omaha Steaks. They’re fine but way overpriced for what they are.” Oh and in The West Wing, Mrs. Landingham won’t let the President have an Omaha Steak for dinner after some people visit from Nebraska because he is unhealthy or something. I don’t remember.

Salt (well before I cook), pepper, cooked in a hot cast iron for not very long, with butter. That’s it.

pkloa: I’ve never thought to try Omaha steaks, maybe next time. I like to put oil, salt, and vinegar on my nearly room temp porterhouse, then sear on the grill.

WSR: The only experience I’ve had with Omaha Steaks was a guy with a refrigerated truck drove up the day we closed on our house at about 5:30 and claimed he had a couple left and just wanted to get rid of them and offered me “a great deal.” I was able to get him to finally leave after about 15 minutes of me declining and him attempting to lower the price every time.

Meatiest steak recipe? All right, get a ribeye, season it with salt & pepper, throw it in a sous vide bath for an hour and a half with some olive oil in its bag, and then sear it on a grill that you’ve gotten as hot as possible for a couple minutes.

Bman31: Mmm, steak. I have the advantage of having grown up on a family farm. My brother still runs said farm today and thus, I get my steak straight from the source. There is no greater joy than the first time you order your first ¼ of beef. So, outside of hearing a bunch of Omaha Steaks commercials whilst listening to VSiN, I have no experience with them.

When it comes to steak, it’s really hard to beat salt, pepper, and butter in a cast skillet. Using the grill to get some sear marks is fine as well (but mostly leave that for the burgers).

Jesse: So Omaha steaks are fine. They’re not great, overpriced, and altogether kinda bland, but they’re decent and available. I will say, they’re an interesting company that’s kind of carved out this niche delivery service before sending meat in the mail was cool. They also employ like, a million people in Omaha.

As for steak… I’ve got some opinions.

  1. If you have the time, salt the steak for like, four hours or more ahead of time and let that really draw out the moisture and get absorbed back into the meat. It flavors and tenderizes the meat in a really great way. You do this for almost all beef, but ‘five minutes before’ is the worst possible thing you can do in that you’re going to have grey meat instead of nice sear, and you don’t get the flavor profile you want. If you didn’t have time, just salt it literally right before you put it on the grill/pan/etc.
  2. Make sure your steak is as dry as it possibly can be. If you want that to sear and not be grey as I was just saying, you need as little moisture as possible. Moisture will boil the meat on the surface, which won’t taste bad necessarily but will also not be what you’re going for. Unless you’re cooking on like a 600 degree surface and are just super fast searing, it’s going to be a problem for you.
  3. I like salt and pepper. Sometimes garlic and onion for fun, but if it’s a prime or better piece of meat, don’t over-season. Don’t be afraid of salt - I use maldon personally, but just do literally anything BUT table salt - and use fresh cracked pepper when you can.
  4. I don’t hate reverse searing, but it’s tricky if you are juggling prep for dinner. I’ve got a pellet smoker that I turn on at around 200 degrees, throw the steak in there to get it to like 100-110 degrees (I have no idea how long that takes but it also depends on the cut, size, etc). You can do this in an oven, in a grill over indirect heat, sous vide, etc. If you’re doing sous vide, probably up that temp but I’ll defer to WSR who does that more often than I do.
  5. As for a sear, I use really high smoke point, flavorless oils whenever possible. Butter has too much moisture for me and doesn’t get the right color I like, but it does have significantly more flavor. I also usually cut off outside fat (I love ribeyes and strips for this reason) and render the beef fat in that oil (avocado as of late) to get a really flavorful fat mixture. In this case, I like to put the meat down for like ten seconds, then take it off the pan (cast iron or stainless steel… don’t use non-stick which will not get the color you’re looking for), move the oil around and put the meat right back down. I am looking to get it to about 125-130 degrees knowing it will keep cooking. For ribeyes, especially, it’s kind of being careful to not overcook and get those fats in that weird rubbery state.
  6. Then I rest for a few minutes. Nothing outrageous or your sear will be weird. Just making sure you let the proteins rest a bit for tenderness. I serve strips of steak so people know that you’ve cut perpendicular to the muscle fibers so you get the most tender bites.
  7. I also sprinkle just a little more maldon salt as it adds flavor and crunch. Also, if you have a compound butter, now is a great time to put that over the top and let that shit just melt into the meat.

Last thing, the cut of meat is up to your liking and whatever, but spending a little more if you can at the expense of volume isn’t a bad idea. I usually buy one bigger steak for the whole family that’s prime quality but then just load up on sides and whatever. The steak is the star without being the only thing on the plate. I think this is one of the reasons a good strip steak is such a good deal. Good quality, some nice fat to render, and enough to feed a group. (fin)

Stew: Alright, so I mostly agree with everything Jesse wrote. I think it’s fairly standard advice from most of the real experts.

  1. Salt! Jesse mentions salting hours before, and specifically mentions beef, but really, it’s good advice for cooking any and all meat. Pat it dry and salt it with as big of salt flakes as you can fine (kosher salt works well, table salt, less so). You want big flakes so the salt can work it’s way to the center of the meat. And like Jesse said, at least 4 hours prior to cooking. Night before works well. This is typically referred to as dry brining.
  2. Prepare low, indirect (if possible), cooking surface. Around 200-225 is preferable. On a grill push all the coals to one side and put a sheet of foil that hangs down to block some direct heat. For a gas grill only turn on one the burner on one side. Otherwise, an oven set to 200 should work, too.
  3. Season the steak, the better the cut the less you can use. A sirloin, I use my BBQ beef rub, which is equal parts salt and pepper, half part garlic powder and mortons steak seasoning, quarter part onion powder, smoked paprika, and Lawry’s, and then cayenne to taste. A prime ribeye I’m just using kosher salt and pepper.
  4. USE A DAMN THERMOMETER!! Cook meat to temp, not time! Every piece will cook a little differently. Cook the steak to between 100-110, flipping every 10ish degrees to ensure an even temp. This is called a reverse sear. It allows for a much more even temp throughout the steak.
  5. Prepare some clarified garlic compound butter. You want to have clarified butter because it has a MUCH higher smoke point.
  6. Prepare a cooking surface that can get as hot as you can. I’ve found that using a charcoal chimney can really focus the heat, and then just set a cast iron skillet on top of it.
  7. Place the butter and steak into the incredibly hot cast iron skillet spooning the butter on top of the steak for about 30ish seconds a side. This should get your steak to around 130ish degrees.

Serve immediately. Resting doesn’t really work for steaks! (link)

Poll

Steak?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    I, like Jesse or Stew, plan to write a doctoral dissertation on the subject
    (12 votes)
  • 52%
    I, like beez and Bman, prefer a simple salt-and-pepper method
    (30 votes)
  • 12%
    I, like WSR, believe in conspicuous consumption and thus will tell you how to make it in a sous vide (EAT YOUR HEART OUT, VEBLEN)
    (7 votes)
  • 14%
    Wait...pkloa’s vinegar thing has me intrigued
    (8 votes)
57 votes total Vote Now