As the old cliche goes, football games are won and lost in the trenches. Fortunately for Nebraska, new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick feels pretty good about where the Huskers stand up front on offense.
“I think they’re a strength of our football team,” Lubick told reporters during a Zoom call on Thursday. “We’ve got some proven players there, we’ve got great depth there and as an offense we want to be balanced. We want to be able to throw the ball where they have to pass protect, and we also want to be able to run the ball, run the ball on the perimeter and be able to run the ball downhill. They’ve done it all this camp. So I’ve been really pleased with them and I think they’re the strength of our offense.”
The Huskers return all five starters on the line and also have some young players pushing the veterans for snaps. Offensive line coach Greg Austin gave a full run-down of his room, which includes some position changes and plenty of cross-training.
Senior Brenden Jaimes is entrenched a left tackle, but Austin confirmed that Matt Farniok — last year’s starter at right tackle — has moved inside to right guard.
“He’s doing a good job of essentially just converting,” Austin said. “Things are a little bit different down inside, the game’s a little quicker, and he’s still getting his feet onto the ground, underneath him if you will, at that position. But he’s doing a nice job. Obviously a lot of experience that he has just playing overall.”
Jaimes and Farniok are the leaders in that offensive line room, but Austin said sophomore Cam Jurgens’ command presence at center is “180 degrees” from where it was last year as he was transitioning from tight end to offensive line and learning on the job.
Farniok’s move inside opened up a spot for prized 2019 recruit Bryce Benhart to step in at right tackle as a redshirt freshman. It also kicks senior Boe Wilson, last year’s starter at right guard, over to left guard to compete with Broc Bando and Colorado State transfer Nouredin “Nouri” Nouili, who received a waiver for immediate eligibility.
Austin said the next few weeks will be “ultra important” as the coaches look to solidify the depth chart up front.
“They are the determining factor auto who we’re going to put out there as the starters and more importantly, the guys that are backing them up that we’re going to have to depend on as well,” Austin said. “Certainly everybody wants to talk about the starting guys, and we’re very interested in the starting guys, no doubt, but how much depth can you build? You talk about a time like right now, it’s about depth because you could get a guy that gets sick. A guy gets sick, who’s the guy that’s behind him that’s going to give you as much or keep the production going?”
Austin said true freshman Turner Corcoran has “emerged as a young valuable player” and is playing behind Jaimes at left tackle, alongside redshirt freshman Brant Banks. Sixth-year senior Christian Gaylord is behind Benhart on the other side with Banks also working some at that spot.
Redshirt freshman Ethan Piper, junior Trent Hixson (who started at right guard last season) and junior Matt Sichterman are battling it out behind Farniok at right guard with Sichterman also working some at right tackle. Will Farniok is working behind Jurgens at center and Hixson is also cross-training at center and left guard, making him an option at any spot on the interior.
“We’re looking at this still holistically like you always have to do, but even more emphasis on the holistic picture from the top to the bottom of the roster per position to make sure that you’re straightened out,” Austin said. “The other thing that we look at to add to that is position flexibility. Can a guy play guard and tackle, can a guy play center and guard, and vice versa? You want guys that have position flex and also guys that ca play multiple sides as well. All of that goes into play right now as you make the lineups and as you evaluate the different lineups and change up lineups on a daily basis.”
The lead up to the season will also be important as Austin’s group looks to put into practice everything he’s been scheming up during the layoff. When Austin took over as run game coordinator, he talked about identifying their “bread and butter runs,” their go-to play calls that they need to be really good at. He said these last four months have given him an opportunity to really hone in on what he wants those go-to runs to be.
“We’re going to certainly have some things that change up our tendencies, but nevertheless, this is our bread and butter and we’ve been buttering bread here for the last few months,” Austin said. “We’re adamant about it and I’m excited that the guys know that, because that was one of the things that Coach Frost and I were talking about when he decided that ‘Hey, I want to give you the run game coordinator title.’ I’m like, ‘All right, here’s the deal: If you’re going to do this, here’s how I look at it.’ This time period has allowed us to do that, and now that we have pads on and we can make full-speed contact, now it’s about honing in on those skills from a technique standpoint that we’ve been talking about up to date, and now we can actually go out and execute in addition to the schematic stuff.”
Austin still has a lot of details to sort out before kickoff on Oct. 24, but it’s clear he already has a rough draft of a depth chart in mind and those linemen have Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator excited about the team’s potential in the trenches.