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Huskers Searching for ‘Perfect Play,’ Just Need Early-Down Success

September 12, 2019
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Nebraska is averaging 6.3 yards per play on first down this season. First down isn’t generally the issue, but the Huskers are struggling a little on second down. Against South Alabama, 21 play-calls on second down earned 48 total yards, a 2.3 yards-per-play average. In the second half against Colorado, Nebraska got 2.3 again on 12 plays. 

It’s setting up an average third down for the Husker offense of 8.6 yards. Nebraska is only 11-for-30 on those to open the season. 

“We’ve been in too many situations early on in the year where we’re trying to pick a perfect play,” head coach Scott Frost said Thursday when he met with the media. “When you’re behind the chains and not in a rhythm, that’s what happens, and that’s not really who we are. We’ve got to do better on first down and we’ve got to stick to what we know and can do well and what the guys know and can do well. 

“The key to that is having good first downs and second downs so we’re not in situations where we’re… These guys Saturday are going to be standing six or seven guys up at the line of scrimmage and be coming from all different direction on third-and-long, so as many third-and-longs we can stay out of the better we are.”

First-down success isn’t the most important thing here, though, it's second. If the Husker offense looks like it looked in the first half against Colorado, things will be fine. Eleven second-down play-calls yielded five explosive plays and a 15.6 yards-per-play average.

Whether that’s getting Dedrick Mills a little more involved — Frost said the JUCO running back “is going to be a big part of what we’re doing Saturday and beyond” — or getting Wan’Dale Robinson some more snaps in the backfield or getting more wideouts in general the ball, Frost seems to be expecting some improvement this week with Northern Illinois coming to town.

“It was a good week,” he said. “[I] love how our guys responded. They improved big time this week on both sides of the ball. I saw attention to detail, more effort to make stuff work. A really good week of practice. I feel great about where we are.”

This is a Husky defense that, for the season, looks pretty good on paper, but just gave up 193 yards on the ground to Utah and 400 total yards. They’re susceptible to the big play and coming off a game in which they didn’t have their best showing up front. 

“I’ve been in games where we’re underdogs and not supposed to win and you want to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the other team,” Frost said. “Our defense needs to be ready for that. Obviously we didn’t play a couple of gadget plays very well last week so we’ve got to be situationally aware and ready for anything they throw at us.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on FS1.

Other News and Notes

>> Frost said both of Nebraska’s kickers — sophomore Barret Pickering and true freshman walk-on Dylan Jorgensen — are dealing with injuries. The Jorgensen bit is news here. Pickering has yet to play this season and Nebraska went with punter Isaac Armstrong as its place kicker in Colorado last weekend. 

That was to mixed results. Armstrong made his first kick, a chip shot from the right hash, but pushed a 48-yard game-tying attempt wide right in overtime. Frost is looking for anything at this point at the spot.

“We called the club soccer team to see if they had any kids who had done it before,” Frost said. “We had some kids come and try out for us and we’re going to give at least one of them a shot to see what they can give us. If nothing else maybe some kickoffs through the end zone.”

>> Nebraska has two open scholarships to award, and Frost said they had decided on what to do with those two but he will wait to announce that until Monday.

>> Quarterback Adrian Martinez has two interceptions and three fumbles in two games so far. Not the start he or anyone else was expecting, but also not anything that’s cause for panic.

“I don’t make a story where there’s not. It isn’t like he’s turned it over 20 times,” Frost said when asked about the sophomore’s ball security. “To me it’s not an issue, but I also don’t want it to become an issue. We preach ball security all the time, take care of the football and the importance of the turnover margin. When you win it, you win and when you lose the battle you’ve got a good chance of not winning.”

Nebraska won the turnover margin against South Alabama and left with a 35-21 win. It lost the margin against Colorado and watched a 17-0 lead turn to a 34-31 loss. He’s not wrong.

>> A major topic this week has been ball distribution amongst the offense. Remove JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson from the equation and the rest of the receivers have a combined three targets in two games. Frost echoed what his offensive coordinator, Troy Walters, said on Wednesday.

“I think we need to play more guys early on to make sure guys are fresh at the end of the game. We’ve talked about that. We’ve got some guys who are close to being ready, we’ve just got to let them get out there and learn on the fly,” he said. “Otherwise we just have to get open and make sure the ball finds us. It’s an anomaly to me that a couple of those guys haven’t seen a ball yet, but that can’t keep up. It’s inevitable the ball’s going to get to them and they’ve got to make plays when that happens.”

The flip side of this coin is Nebraska wants to press the issue a little when it comes to getting the football to Maurice Washington and Robinson.

“You can see it pretty clearly that good things happen when the ball’s in Maurice’s hands, good things happen when the ball’s in Wan’Dale’s hands,” he said. “We need to get other guys involved but we need to create any way we can to get those two guys the ball. If we’re not getting one of them enough touches then we’ve got to manufacture it and allow them to make the plays they’re capable of.”

The easy solution is to just put Robinson in the backfield and feed him handoffs, but Frost said Nebraska’s trying to be careful not to overload the freshman.

“Down the road I think you’re just going to be able to put him in wherever you want to and let him run the offense,” he said. “It’s just hard to overload him with three different positions right now. The more time goes by I think the more we’ll be able to utilize him because of his familiarity with what we’re doing.”

>> There was no update on sophomore wideout Kade Warner’s status, who Nebraska is hoping to have back soon. 

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