Head coach Mike Riley said the Huskers used their bye week to look inward and reflect on what has and hasn’t been working through the first seven games this season, and try to figure out what they can change moving forward. After practice Monday night, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf got a little more specific.
“A bunch of stuff.”
Langsdorf was in a fun mood when he met with the media. Perhaps there’s reason for optimism with the Huskers coming off an off week he said “probably came at a good time” and helped the team get a little bit closer to full strength. Starting tailback Tre Bryant is officially gone for the season but the Huskers haven’t had his services in over a month. Several of the guys named during Riley’s injury update in the morning participated in practice in the evening – linebacker Luke Gifford (hip) and receiver JD Spielman (shoulder) to name a few.
But in all seriousness, Langsdorf did share a few wrinkles the Huskers could be looking at implementing starting against Purdue on Saturday to try and jumpstart an offense that has sputtered in its last two showings. The first: increased involvement from the tight ends.
Langsdorf said the coaching staff wants to get tight ends Tyler Hoppes, Connor Ketter and Jack Stoll more involved. That means rethinking formations and rethinking the “intent of the pattern[s]” Nebraska receivers are running.
“If we’re featuring [Hoppes] as the No. 1 throw on a play, that can help,” Langsdorf said. “Stoll being in there on a rotation is a good thing to help keep those guys fresh and ready to win on some one-on-one matchups. It hasn’t been a lot of production and we’re trying to work towards featuring those guys more and just take some pressure off the receivers.”
Against Ohio State, Spielman was targeted over three times more (16) than any other Husker wideout. Against Wisconsin, it was Spielman, Stanley Morgan or check down. Against Illinois, Morgan saw twice as many targets (11) as the next leading guy (5). Langsdorf wants that spread out more to try and reduce the feast-or-famine style of offense the Huskers have been plagued with this season. More tight end involvement might be a step towards solving that.
Another? Mixing things up on the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Matt Farniok – who started in relief of senior David Knevel at right tackle against Oregon and Northern Illinois early before breaking a bone in his wrist – is almost back and Langsdorf said he has gotten more work inside of late, specifically at right guard.
“I think that’s probably his most natural position,” Langsdorf said. “I think that just depth-wise, we’ve needed some bodies at tackle and I think with [true freshman Brenden] Jaimes coming along and Knevel being in that tackle spot … I think it was easy to move him inside.
“That’s kind of where we’ve seen him for a while but just with our numbers we’ve needed more tackles. We’ve played him out there, he’s athletic enough, but that’s probably his best position.”
Langsdorf said the goal isn’t to rotate – though he said they’re not afraid to – like defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has done with the Blackshirts, but find the best five and roll with them. Earlier in the season that meant Cole Conrad at center, Tanner Farmer at right guard and David Knevel at right tackle. Now, it’s looking like the Huskers could roll out Michael Decker, Farniok and Jaimes on the right side of the line.
They might also mix things up in the backfield. Nebraska’s rushing productivity ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in almost every category and nationally it’s not much better. Langsdorf said with Bryant now officially out of the equation, it might be time for more carries for true freshman Jaylin Bradley.
“I think giving him more work, getting him more and more different plays that he’s comfortable with,” Langsdorf said. “We don’t want to overload him with him being a true freshman but I think he’s deserving of some more work.”
With the Huskers currently tied for second-place in the Big Ten West at 2-2, a division title is still theoretically in play – though crazy things would need to happen – and most teams in that kind of position don’t embrace youth movements or make wholesale changes this late in the season. There’s no indication that’s what the Huskers are doing, but it’s no doubt promising that they’re acknowledging things aren’t working right now and working on how to switch it up.
“We had a lot of really good detailed work, I thought, last week without a game looming,” Langsdorf said. “We were able to go back on some things and fine tune some runs and some patterns. Now we’re getting into Purdue, and we got a jump on them last week, but we were able to take some time with some detailed fundamentals. I think it was good work, it was really enthusiastic and the guys worked hard and came with a great effort and attitude today about working.”
Other news and notes
>> Langsdorf confirmed that wide receiver Keyan Williams, who has yet to appear for the Huskers after transferring from Fresno State in 2015, practiced Monday and is working to get back.
Williams, wideout coach Keith Williams’ son, has been battling a hamstring injury since fall camp.
>> Even though Purdue is coming off an ugly 14-12 loss to Rutgers on Saturday, the Boilermakers held Wisconsin to just 17 points a week earlier. Tailback Jonathan Taylor – the same Taylor that bludgeoned the Huskers for 249 yards – had 219 yards on the ground against Purdue, but the Badger offense couldn’t produce the points to match the yardage.
Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said the Boilermakers’ strength comes up front, where they’re physical but can get teams off balance with movement and a variety of pressure looks.
“They’re a very aggressive defense,” Cavanaugh said. “We’ve got to be sharp and we’ve got to get hats on hats and finish.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.