Matt Lubick has two official titles at Nebraska––offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach––but there might be an unspoken third role there. With Greg Austin earning the title of run game coordinator, it stands to reason that somebody would have the same duties for the passing game.
And it would make a lot of sense if that person was Lubick. It was a title he had as a position coach at Oregon, three seasons spent coaching with Scott Frost. When Lubick progressed to offensive coordinator roles with the Ducks and then Washington, that specific designation dropped off but that doesn't mean passing isn't still his area of expertise. The former defensive back's entire coaching career has been spent coaching either defensive backs or, more often, wide receivers.
So, if we can proceed with the assumption that Lubick will be heavily involved in the Huskers' passing game going forward, what's on his to-do list to start? Here are three things Nebraska needs to fix when it comes to passing in 2020.
1. Up the Efficiency
Despite numerous struggles at wide receiver in 2019, Nebraska was just fine when it came to explosiveness. The Huskers had an explosive passing play (15-plus yards) on 20.7% of plays, 18th nationally. That's good. That the passing success rate––a measure of how often a team stays on schedule based on down and distance––dropped in 2019 is not. In 2018, with a true freshman quarterback at the helm, Nebraska had a passing success rate of 42.7% (38th nationally). That, in part, upped expectations for 2019. If Adrian Martinez could be that efficient in Year 1, what would that experience mean for Year 2? Not enough, apparently. The Huskers' passing success rate dropped to 39.1%, 81st nationally. That's not all on Martinez––this is an overall passing game measure––but it is on Lubick's to-do list. The good news for the Huskers is that five of the six passing games he helped coach since 2013 ranked in the top 30. The three offenses at Oregon that included Frost and Lubick together, ranked first, 12th and 28th in passing success rate.
2. Bigger Is Better
No, we're not talking about the size of Lubick's wide receivers at Nebraska, though that might be a part of the solution to some of these issues. Rather, we're talking about the size of Nebraska's big plays. As noted above, Nebraska's explosive pass rate was more than fine in 2019. But a lot of those explosive passes weren't far above the 15-yard threshold. Of the 26 teams to have 20% of their pass attempts (including sacks) go for 15 yards or more, Nebraska had the second-lowest yards per attempt (6.79). The past six offenses with Lubick on staff all averaged at least 8 yards per attempt. What kind of impact can Lubick have on that number right away? It's not a magic wand situation, this will be a process, but because Nebraska added some size at wide receiver in the 2020 recruiting class there will be some expectation for progress.
3. Develop a Finishing Kick
Nebraska's struggles in the red zone in 2019 are well documented, but the Huskers were a relatively strong passing team just before reaching the 20-yard line. Between opponents' 40- and 20-yard lines, Nebraska's quarterbacks combined for a 164.76 passer rating (29th nationally), completed 60% of their passes (same as the overall average) and hit for seven of their 12 touchdowns on the season. Inside the red zone the Huskers' passer rating dropped to 81.15 (127th), completion percentage fell to 39.4% (117th) and Nebraska threw just three touchdowns. To put it another way, the Huskers threw one fewer touchdown in 2019 from their own half of the field than they did from inside the opponents' 20. This list isn't ordered, but if it were and improved red-zone passing game (and offense overall) would probably be at the top of the list.
The interesting thing here––and we are working with small sample sizes when you start chopping things up––is that the offenses Lubick coordinated were mostly better than the Oregon offenses for which he served as the wide receivers coach. His first Oregon offense as coordinator in 2016 ranked 40th nationally in red zone passer rating. His two Washington offenses ranked 48th and 36th.
Today’s Song of Today
- Nebraska women’s basketball got a big bounce-back win over Michigan on Sunday. (Photos)
- We tackled some of the passing game above, so here’s the counterpart: Derek Peterson looks at the run game, and Greg Austin’s new role, in his Monday column.
- Kelly Hunter is ready for her new role as a full-time assistant on an interim basis.
- Nebraska extended a few new offers for 2021 prospects over the weekend.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.