Huskers Struggle With Offensive Rhythm Against Ohio State
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Struggle With Offensive Rhythm Against Ohio State

October 01, 2019

One week after playing a season-high 98 offensive snaps against Illinois, Nebraska managed to stay on the field for a season-low 56 snaps against Ohio State in the lowest-scoring game of Scott Frost’s short tenure. 

Nebraska scored just seven points and averaged 4.1 yards per play. Take away Adrian Martinez’s 56-yard run that set up Nebraska’s only touchdown of the game and the Huskers averaged 3.2 yards per play on their other 55 snaps. Nebraska had five chunk plays, all on runs. Ohio State had 20 — six through the air and 14 on the ground.

Nebraska only had 10 drives all game, seven of which were in the first half. It had one drive that did not include any negative plays (tackles for loss, penalties, turnovers), and it just happened to be the one touchdown drive.

Nebraska continues to be primarily an 11 personnel team (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). The Huskers used 11 on 43 of their snaps, or a season-high 76.8% of the time. 

Nebraska only used 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) on 12 snaps, a season-low 21.4%. Nebraska used one snap of true 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers).

It’s worth noting that I consider Wan’Dale Robinson a wide receiver any time he’s on the field unless there isn’t another running back out there, considering that’s his position on the roster and where he starts. That blurs the lines a little bit, but I’m going to stay consistent with it. That means on one 11 personnel snap he was lined up at running back in the I-Formation with Dedrick Mills ahead of him at fullback. You could consider that 21 personnel. Nebraska also had five snaps if I-Formation featuring two tight ends with Robinson as the deep back. You could consider that 22 personnel.

Through five weeks, Nebraska has used something other than variations of 11 and 12 personnel a grand total of six times: four snaps of 10 personnel (one running back, no tight ends, four wide receivers), one snap of 21 and one snap of 22. The Huskers have also had give kneel-downs.

Against the Buckeyes, Nebraska never quite managed to sustain any kind of offensive rhythm. The Huskers used 18 different personnel groupings but didn’t stick with any of them for more than seven total plays. 

A big part of the offensive dysfunction was the Ohio State pass rush. Martinez didn’t even have one clean pocket per drive on Saturday.

Per my count, Martinez — who was 8-of-17 passing for 47 yards with three interceptions — had 24 drop-backs. To my eye, Martinez got pressured on 11 of those drop-backs. Right tackle Matt Farniok surrendered six of those pressures, four of them while trying to slow down Ohio State’s stud defensive end Chase Young. Farniok did not have a good day.

“It was a hard challenge, he’s a really good player,” Farniok said after the game. “He’s a guy that his strengths are my kind of weaknesses. He attacked my edges. I’m a better power blocker and a speed rusher. And that’s awesome. I didn’t come here to play nobodies. I came here to face people who are the top-rated guys in our league, and that’s what I love about Big Ten football, it’s a test. It’s always going to be a test, and no matter what, whatever your struggles are, you have to make sure you’re honing in on them and being the best you can be with them. Otherwise, it’s going to be hard, and I love that. I love facing people like him, because it’s a challenge, and I love challenges. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge so I’m very excited I had the chance.”

Left tackle Brenden Jaimes had a bit more success both against Young and in general, but he still gave up a couple of pressures (on one play late both tackles were beat). In addition to his issues with snapping, center Cam Jurgens also got beat after the snap, surrendering three pressures.

Nebraska had five quick passing plays where Martinez got the ball out before the pass rush became a factor. Nebraska also rolled him out twice, though on the second one he ended up tripping over his own feet for a sack when he couldn’t find an open receiver.

I only saw six plays where Martinez dropped back without pressure and had time to make his progressions. Martinez went 3-of-6 on those passes for 7 yards and an interception. Both completions went to tight end Austin Allen on Nebraska’s final drive, and they were the only targets a tight end got all day.

So Martinez was pressured most of the day and when he had time he either couldn’t find anybody open or he failed to complete the pass when he did. Martinez did manage to make some impressive plays with his legs out of necessity, but Ohio State also was ready when he tried to scramble early on. Two of his sacks came when defensive linemen flushed him out of the pocket and linebackers were waiting for him.

Here’s how the snap counts shook out at each position.

Running Back

  • JR Dedrick Mills = 33 (58.9%)
  • SO Maurice Washington = 15 (26.8%)

Once again, Washington got banged up early (on his first touch) and his snaps were limited the rest of the game. He was on the field for one snap in the second half. With that being the case, Nebraska turned to Robinson for more backfield snaps, though he only totaled 27 yards on nine carries.

You can probably count the numbers of players who had a good day on one hand, but Mills was probably among them. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry, totaling 67 yards on 11 carries with Nebraska’s only touchdown. He also blocked pretty well when Nebraska went to the I-Formation.

Tight End

  • SO Austin Allen = 35 (62.5%)
  • JR Jack Stoll = 33 (58.9%)

Allen got more snaps then the starter, Stoll, but that included Nebraska’s final drive of the game with accounted for 17 of Nebraska’s 56 snaps. Stoll had caught at least two passes in each of Nebraska’s first four games but didn’t even draw a target on Saturday.

Wide Receiver

  • SR Kanawai Noa = 56 (100%)
  • JR JD Spielman = 44 (78.6%)
  • FR Wan’Dale Robinson = 28 (50%)
  • SO Kade Warner = 17 (30.4%)
  • SR Mike Williams = 14 (35%)
  • SO Jaevon McQuitty = 5 (8.9%)

Noa was on the field for every offensive snap on Saturday, included the final drive. He was targeted twice and caught one pass (Martinez threw the second one into the turf at his feet).

Robinson lined up in the backfield 15 times — six in the I-Formation and nine in Nebraska’s typical offensive look.

Warner made his season debut on Nebraska’s final drive. He missed the team’s first four games with an undisclosed injury, but the TV broadcast reveled that it was a broken foot. Martinez never looked his way.

McQuitty also got a look on Nebraska’s penultimate drive, playing all five snaps, but Martinez didn’t throw to him.

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