Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

26-20 Loss to Iowa Prompts Offensive Line Questions for 1-4 Nebraska

November 27, 2020

The projected strength of the offense now has questions on questions on questions. 

With Nebraska at 1-4 on the year following Friday’s 26-20 loss to Iowa—the sixth consecutive loss in the border war with the Hawkeyes—what’s your level of concern with the play of the Nebraska offensive line? 

That unit has a fourth-year starter at left tackle. Brenden Jaimes was said to be a tackle who turned down the NFL for another year at Nebraska, a year that might see him become one of the best left tackles in the country. 

It has a third-year starter at right guard and a two-time team captain. Matt Farniok was said to be better suited for interior line play than the right tackle position he’d started at for 24 consecutive games.

It has a third-year sophomore at center. Cameron Jurgens has started 16 of the last 17 games for Nebraska, and he was said to be the second-coming of Dave Rimington, an All-American Nebraska center after which the trophy given to the best center in college football is named. 

Nebraska ran for 4.7 yards a pop (adjusted for sacks) against Iowa Friday afternoon, no small feat considering the Hawkeye defense entered the day fifth nationally in yards per carry allowed on the ground (3.5). 

But pass protection was a mess. Iowa had three sacks, the last serving as the defacto game-winner for the Hawkeyes. (It had seven tackles for loss.) Martinez was pressured often. Farniok was beaten inside by speed he had more time to account for on the edge. Jaimes blocked grass at one point. 

A 30-something-yard run from quarterback Adrian Martinez—a reinstated starter for Friday’s tilt—was wiped away early in the fourth quarter by a hold that could have been called on two different Husker linemen. 

A false start on the next possession for the Huskers turned a third-and-10 into third-and-nightmare. (Nebraska didn’t pick it up.)

Frost talked of a desire to “button things up.” Discipline, surely on the offensive line but not exclusive to that group, has to be better.

“Getting that type of discipline and that level of discipline in our program has been a three-year process for me and it’s making me old,” Frost said. “I’m always careful not to criticize who came before me. The discipline wasn’t very good when I walked into the building.

“Nobody can ever be late to class. When somebody was late to a workout when I was in school, it never got to Coach (Tom) Osborne, because (Jason Peter) and Grant (Wistrom) would take care of it. Nobody can ever give less than 100% in practice. Nobody can put off their finals till the last minute and not study. When you’re detailed on the little things all through the week and all through the year, the detail comes in the game.”

The advanced numbers don’t raise too many red flags about the Huskers’ play. They were better than Iowa typically allows at staying on schedule Friday. Nebraska is 28th nationally in sack rate. But you have to think the quarterback’s ability to make plays outside the pocket would help massage that, right?

Nearly 20% of carries by running backs are getting stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage.

The most obvious detail that needs ironing out is the snap to the quarterback.

What went into the decision to return to Jurgens coming out of the halftime break? With about a minute-and-a-half to play in the second quarter, Frost pulled Jurgens and slid Farniok over to center to close the half. But it was Jurgens who came back out with the offense to start the second half. 

Frost had an answer for that specific question: The snaps that sailed over his quarterback’s head or into his shin or away from his body weren’t technique-related. 

“There was clapping going on on (Iowa’s) sideline,” Frost said. “Cam heard that clap and thought it was the quarterback clapping. We discussed it with officials and it didn’t happen in the second half.”

That can explain one—a late-second-quarter snap that dribbled in front of Martinez and resulted in a 4-yard loss. It doesn’t quite explain the others, though. Shortly after that play, Jurgens sailed a snap over Martinez’s head, resulting in a 19-yard loss for the offense. Farniok then replaced him.

For his part, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz seemed gobsmacked that was even an excuse. 

“Next thing you know we’re going to be treating this like golf,” he said. 

Coaches, Ferentz claimed, were clapping to cheer their players on.

“I mean, what the hell are we talking about?” Ferentz continued. “I mean, it’s stupid, right? I have no idea. Plus, I do know this: I saw across the field they had a little clap routine for third downs or something, I don’t know. This is stuff in (22 years) I’m never even thinking about that.” 

War of words aside, the bigger issue for Nebraska’s offense right now is that Frost didn’t have an answer to the second question: how do you fix the issue? 

Because clapping doesn’t excuse the inaccuracy.

Because it continues to be an issue. 

Because it has been an issue since Jurgens made his debut against South Alabama on Aug. 31, 2019.

Asked what they can do to address it going forward, Frost side-stepped.

For an offense built mostly on timing, even a few seconds can be costly on any given play.

Consider the last offensive play of the day for Nebraska: from the time the ball was snapped until the moment Martinez was hit by Iowa’s Chauncey Golston, Martinez had 2.3-ish seconds to gather the ball, set his feet and look downfield. 

That’s tough. 

Farniok was beaten badly on the play. “I know Matt’s hurting just looking at him in locker room because of what happened on the last play,” Frost said.

Is one player solely responsible for a loss? Not in the slightest. 

Can a number of little plays add up? 

“We’re just doing the little stuff that gets ourselves beat,” Frost said. “Sooner or later, woulda-coulda-shouldas need to turn into wins.”

When will that be. 

Questions, questions…

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