Photo Credit: Ohio State Athletics

Expect ‘New Wrinkles’ Still as Husker Offense Looks to Tighten Screws for Wisconsin

October 26, 2020

Boy, did Nebraska ever throw the kitchen sink at Ohio State Saturday. Offensively, the Huskers were creative, imaginative, innovative, weird, whatever you want to call it they did it. Early in the second quarter, quarterback Luke McCaffrey lined up in the gun with two tight ends lined up as H-backs between the center and guard on the left side of the line. It was a film buff’s dream.

Nebraska (0-1) gave I-formation looks with either McCaffrey or wideout Wan’Dale Robinson as the tailback and Dedrick Mills as the fullback. It ran out of some pistol sets. It used tight ends everywhere.

“Nebraska’s a talented football team, certainly on offense. A lot of respect for Scott and their staff,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said during his Monday morning availability. “I think what they do schematically and how they package it, they do a nice job offensively and it’s gonna put stress on a defense.”

That’s certainly the hope.

Nebraska used McCaffrey on the field in conjunction with starting quarterback Adrian Martinez against the now-third-ranked Buckeyes (1-0), and it used him in a bunch of weird ways.

It’s that multiplicity Nebraska has in its offense that forces a defense to play sound. Don’t fall for the window-dressings. Don’t get caught out of position. Don’t get caught with your proverbial hand in the cookie jar.

This play…

… there’s so much Nebraska can build off of that play moving forward.

And it seems like that’s the plan. It seems as if the offense still has plenty to show.

“Coach Lubick and Coach Frost always do a good job of being creative,” Martinez said. “You’re going to continue to see new wrinkles each and every week.”

That’s the way those guys operate, he added.

It feels like the next step will be pushing the ball downfield through the air. At least a little bit.

Against Ohio State, Nebraska was cognizant and respectful of the Buckeye talent in the secondary. After losing two first-round draft selections from last year’s defensive backfield, Ohio State still has Shaun Wade and a slew of former blue-chip prospects just now getting their shot.

“I would say it was definitely a mix,” Martinez said when asked if the lack of a vertical threat Saturday was more to do with Ohio State’s talent or Nebraska’s situation at wideout.

“I feel confident in the stuff that we’re calling and our guys on the outside that we’re gonna improve on that piece.”

Omar Manning, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver, didn’t play Saturday. Nebraska certainly missed his presence. Perhaps he’s available Saturday against the ninth-ranked Badgers. Maybe Nebraska will have another young wideout or two play a larger role. Frost hinted at that idea.

“We had a bunch of guys that played a lot for maybe the first time on Saturday,” Frost said. “I expect we’ll have some more this week out of that ’19 class and out of the ’20 class.”

True freshmen wideouts Zavier Betts, Marcus Fleming, and Alante Brown all traveled for the game a week ago. Brown and Fleming both saw the field, but not until the game was out of hand. Betts wasn’t listed in the participation report.

Without Manning in the fold, Nebraska’s wideout room might come along slower than expected.

Which would possibly signal more work for McCaffrey within the offense.

And it’s worth noting that the interplay between Martinez as the guy handling snaps and McCaffrey didn’t bother the former in the slightest.

“It definitely felt natural,” he said. “Luke and I, I think we make a great team and we’re gonna continue to build on that the rest of the year. We’re comfortable with that (partnership) and we just want to win at the end of the day.”

It certainly felt natural throughout the course of the game Saturday. FOX broadcast partner Gus Johnson remarked during the game that he couldn’t remember the last time he watched a guy go from quarterback to running back during the course of a drive, which is exactly how Nebraska used McCaffrey. And yet, the mixing and matching didn’t feel gimmicky.

“There’s a lot of situations where having both of them on the field gives us some of our best players out there,” Frost said.

“Anything we ask Luke McCaffrey to do he’s gonna be good at.”

A big emphasis in practice this week will be tightening the screws.

“If you look at the two Wisconsin games and this past Saturday, our mistakes have kept us from having better performances and keeping the games closer and giving ourselves a chance,” Frost said. “We moved the ball pretty well, but we need to capitalize on those things. The two Wisconsin games have been the same way. We’ve moved the ball well, but they’ve done a good job of getting stout when they needed to and we’ve made some mistakes that when you’re playing a good team you can’t make.”

Nebraska lost by 17 on the road in 2018. The offense produced 518 yards in total, but Nebraska was 3-for-10 on third down, 0-for-2 on fourth down, and was flagged for 10 penalties that cost 100 yards.

Nebraska lost by 16 at home last season. It outgunned Wisconsin overall, 493 to 482, but again couldn’t put points on the board.

For the mathematicians, that’s 1,011 yards of offense and only 45 points, or 22.4 yards per point.

Akron was worst in the country last season at 23.2 yards per point.

So…

“You can’t just be pretty good,” Frost said. “You gotta be really good and you gotta execute really well. If we clean up some of the mistakes it’s gonna give us a better chance.”

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