One of the Huskers’ biggest issues right now, as offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf sees it, is on third down.
After a 2-for-14 showing against Oregon a week before, the Huskers converted just 6-of-19 on third down against Northern Illinois on Saturday, including 4-of-10 from inside 4 yards.
“We had two third-and-2s early in the game and didn’t get them,” Langsdorf said. “Those are, manageable, more than manageable, you’re hoping to get third-and-5, third-and-medium and we’re in there at third-and-2 and didn’t get it. Those are critical, those are huge drive stops.”
From there, Langsdorf said it’s easy to diagnose the other issues plaguing the Husker offense. He said they’re having too many three-and-outs and struggling to maintain drives.
“There’s just such trouble with sustaining a drive,” Langsdorf said. “I think that’s such a glaring issue. Even on a long drive we’d fizzle out at the end.”
Asked what’s causing those driving issues, Langsdorf pointed to a mixture of things.
“I think it’s been a little bit of a throw and a catch, it’s been some block stuff up front, we bounced a run that should have probably just buried,” he said. “It’s been a lot of different things, kind of like the way we’ve played.”
For three weeks now, though, Langsdorf has gone back to the protection issues up front. He sees that as the center from which all of the other problems come from.
“I talk about the protection unit a lot as a whole group,” he said. “That’s got to improve by everybody, by how we scheme it and help it, how we have a tight end chipping or a back helping or sliding to a problem, all those things have to improve.”
It’s not just on the five linemen though. When Langsdorf talks about the “unit,” he’s also talking about tight ends and running backs doing their jobs too.
“Sometimes it’s a one-on-one matchup that we’ve lost, sometimes it’s been not the correct help or not a good enough help by the adjacent linemen or a tight end or a back,” he said.
The inconsistencies up front have also been something Langsdorf thinks have contributed to the struggles of quarterback Tanner Lee, not just against Northern Illinois, but all season.
“I think any time you get hit as many times as you have and some of the turnovers, I think it’s probably natural to have a little bit of shaken confidence,” Langsdorf said of the quarterback. “He’s trying to make plays but I think he’s staying within the plays too. I don’t think he’s been a product of trying to do too much on his own. You look at the interception stuff and half of them this year aren’t his fault. Whether he’s gotten hit or a tipped ball or those kinds of things.”
Langsdorf even said they had to stray from what they wanted to do offensively at times to try and make up for the blocking issues.
“As that game wore on we had a real difficult time protecting,” he said. “Some of those big angles were seven-man protections. We had another big one that we had [Stanley Morgan Jr.] open and we had the pick, got hit and threw the pick, and that was a seven-man protection. We did get taken away a little bit of that stuff when we had all those guys in there and we still were having trouble.”
Langsdorf said the offensive line is a prideful group, and they’ve taken their struggles personally. He said he’s been pleased with how the team as a whole has regrouped after watching film from Saturday and has turned their sights to the upcoming game against Rutgers.
Other news and notes
>> With starting right tackle David Knevel still rehabbing a right foot sprain and his replacement, redshirt freshman Matt Farniok, getting a pin inserted into a broken wrist, Langsdorf said the Huskers are looking at true freshman Brenden Jaimes and sophomore Christian Gaylord.
Nothing has been decided yet, and Langsdorf said it’s “50-50” right now between who would get the nod, but added that decision wouldn’t come until later in the week.
>> Keyan Williams, a Fresno State transfer at wide receiver who has yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury, appears close to a return.
"I think this week will be the week," receivers coach Keith Williams said. "We'll see tomorrow."
Keith joked that Keyan's recurring hamstring problems might be inherited because his hamstrings are like "guitar strings."
>> Running backs coach Reggie Davis was pleased with how tailback Mikale Wilbon performed in his first career start against the Huskies.
“A game like that it’s hard to find a whole lot of good but there were some times he was able to squirt loose and some times he got us out of some bad situations,” Davis said.
Wilbon, who finished with 90 yards on 24 carries, could be in line for another start against Rutgers with starter Tre Bryant still being listed as questionable. Bryant did not practice Monday.
>> Northern Illinois cornerback Shawun Lurry said something just told him to jump a Nebraska bubble screen on the Huskers’ first drive Saturday. The result was an interception returned 87 yards for a touchdown, but Langsdorf said Lurry just gambled.
“We haven’t run that out of that formation at all,” he said. “I didn’t feel like it was a tell or self-scout deal. We hadn’t run it out of either that personnel group or that formation so I don’t feel like we had been predictable on that at all.”
Langsdorf said they just need to do a better job of reading situations like that – Lurry was creeping off his man on the outside preparing to knife to the football before the snap – and run the ball or check to something different.
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.