Nebraska offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield stood at the lectern an stated his intentions in no uncertain terms. The Huskers will run the ball. They’ll huddle. They’ll run a pro-style offense with a leading quarterback, speed at receiver and an aspiring run game. And, perhaps above all, toughness. All that has worked at Nebraska before. He hopes it can work again but without the wait he endured at his last job.
Satterfield arrives in Lincoln after two criticism-filled years at South Carolina. In his first year, the Gamecocks started four different quarterbacks. Zeb Noland started the year as a graduate assistant coach but joined the roster because injuries depleted the position. Jason Brown and Luke Doty also quarterbacked and combined for nearly 1,700 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Two South Carolina running backs had 88 or more carries, starter Kevin Harris tallied 152 carries in 12 games. South Carolina went 7-6 that season despite the instability. The offense ranked 99th in efficiency.
Then came Spencer Rattler. A premiere No. 1 quarterback and another year of familiarity in Satterfield’s system ramped the offense up to No. 50 in efficiency against some of the toughest defenses in the country. The Gamecocks’ offense sputtered at times and lost to Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri and Florida. Against Florida, for example, Rattler threw for just 145 yards and the Gamecocks ran for only 44 team yards. At the root of those issues came mistakes and turnovers.
Satterfield’s offenses at South Carolina played their best at the end of the season. The Gamecocks tallied 543 yards of total offense in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in 2021, a bowl record. Last season, the South Carolina offense tallied 1,021 yards in consecutive wins over Tennessee and Clemson—those games immediately followed the Florida loss. The coordinator credited the team’s patience and dedication to his offensive system for that success. He’s now back with Rhule, who he’s coached with multiple times before, to bring his experience and system to Lincoln.
“Everything is going to start with winning the line of scrimmage and running the football,” Satterfield said. “All the different throws and play action come off running the football. So I think that in order to win in this league you’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be blue collar, you’ve got to win the line of scrimmage and that’s where our offense starts.”
Anthony Grant, Ajay Allen, Gabe Ervin Jr., Rahmir Johnson and Emmett Johnson all return this spring with chances to stake their claims in the run game. Grant emerged as the top option last season and Ervin became the No. 2 option. Allen’s collarbone surgery took him off the field and Emmett Johnson redshirted. Rahmir Johnson fell through the cracks of coaching turnover. If they can’t all find the field as running backs, there are other options. Satterfield also mentioned his want to use a fullback. Running backs coach EJ Barthel is excited about that prospect as well. In his only meeting with local media so far, Barthel said he’s excited about the room and thinks they can collectively get the job done.
“I want to make sure that we’re striving to finish every single run,” Barthel said. “When you’re able to run the ball effectively, you’ve got a shot to win the game. I think you take the soul out of the defense when you’re able to do that, dominate the line of scrimmage.”
Whoever carries the ball will have to run behind Nebraska’s offensive line. The Huskers added transfers Ben Scott and Jacob Hood through the portal. Scott comes with significant Power 5 snap experience and will likely compete for a starting spot this spring. Nouredin Nouili is back from his suspension while Teddy Prochazka is out this spring with an injury. Returning offensive line coach Donovan Raiola wasn’t pleased on a whole with the unit’s play last season. He was, however, encouraged by the line’s improvement.
Raiola stressed continued improvement during his meeting with media earlier this winter. The Nebraska offensive line ranked 82nd with a raw 2.64 yards per carry and 77th in the country in stuff rate with 18.3% of runs getting stopped at the line or for a loss. South Carolina’s offense last year ranked outside the top 100 in both categories, for comparison. The Gamecocks’ pass protection, however, was much better than Nebraska last season. Nebraska finished 113th in sack rate (9.0%) and 111th in passing situation sack rate (11.5%).
Satterfield coached on the offensive line for Rhule at Carolina. He said that experience has put his offensive linemen in a better position to be successful in college. Rhule also has line coaching experience. So, when coupled with a huge group of analysts and assistants, the offensive line will receive plenty of coaching attention.
Tight ends in Satterfield’s offense are capable run blockers. The Huskers don’t return much production at tight end but highly recruited standouts Thomas Fidone and Arik Gilbert carry a lot of potential. Satterfield ran large swaths of his offense through an ace set with dual tight ends last season at South Carolina. That would provide offensive line support and a next-level block from Nebraska’s tight ends. Tight ends are also heavily involved in Satterfield’s passing game. Two tight ends finished in the top five pass catchers at South Carolina last season with 20 and 25 catches, respectively.
They’ll catch passes from and protect quarterbacks, which is an interesting group this spring. Last year’s starter Casey Thompson could potentially throw at some point but won’t be heavily involved this spring. Chubba Purdy is medically cleared to compete for a spot. Logan Smothers has Power 5 experience. Coaches like Heinrich Haarberg’s athleticism. Richard Torres redshirted last year but was highly recruited from Texas, where the Rhule coaching staff has deep ties. Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims garnered the most off-field attention outside Thompson. Satterfield noted the physical abilities of the dual-threat quarterback but acknowledged he got beat up. Physically, they’ll have to make sure they protect Sims. The junior also brings valuable facets beyond his physical skillset.
“I think what he brings to an offense and what he brings is a football brain,” Satterfield said of Sims. “From a mental standpoint, he’s got it. He understands the game. We just have to put him in situations where he can be successful.”
Whoever the quarterback is will have various weapons at receiver. The Huskers lost an NFL speedster there but gained transfers Josh Fleeks and Billy Kemp. They also return Marcus Washington, Zavier Betts and signed promising receivers in a big 2023 recruiting class. Satterfield said he wants a diverse receivers room. He looks for different body builds and skillsets to allow the offense to grow as well. Wide receivers coach Garret McGuire likes the competition and leadership in the room. He also mentioned to local media that he wants to see their competitiveness carry into spring camp.