With the Huskers having lost three of their last four, entering a two-game road stretch and facing constant questions about where the program is heading in the future, where will the motivation come from to close out the 2017 season strong? Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has an idea.
“I think playing our best game,” he said after practice Monday.
Coming off a tough 31-24 overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday, Langsdorf said he felt like the Huskers had “one of the better practices we’ve had” all season long. “I’m encouraged by their effort, their attitude towards continually improving,” he said.
“For the quarterback, doing a good job of seeing the field and spreading the ball and checking the ball down and not either guessing on coverage or forcing any throws,” Langsdorf said. “For the unit, having the balance of running the ball and finding those completions is big. It’s a conference opponent on the road. Those are big ones. Those are tough games. We’re still pushing hard to get victories in the West division and working hard towards a bowl game. So I think there’s a lot of stuff out there for us to keep fighting and battling and preparing for.”
One of the areas of struggle this season, specifically on the offensive side of the ball, has been Nebraska’s ability to get consistent play from its offensive line. Nebraska started its fifth different five-man combination against Northwestern with Nick Gates (left tackle), Jerald Foster (left guard), Cole Conrad (center), Matt Farniok (right guard) and Brenden Jaimes (right tackle). The noteworthy aspect of that group? The two freshmen on the right side. Farniok is a redshirt freshman and Jaimes, a true freshman. Langsdorf said he’s been particularly impressed with Jaimes’ play this year.
“I’ve just really been impressed with how mature he’s played,” Langsdorf said. “Anytime you get a true freshman that’s playing as many minutes as he is, you’re going to have some growing pains in there and I don’t think there’s been many.”
Langsdorf recalled a specific play from the Northwestern game where Jaimes’ man beat him outside and hurried quarterback Tanner Lee. “He was expecting tight end chip help and didn’t get it so it looked like it was his fault but it actually really wasn’t,” Langsdorf said. He praised Jaimes’ maturity, defending the bumps as the typical ups and downs of learning to play the game at a new level, and said his season has just been “really solid overall.”
But when it comes to having two guys like that starting right next to each other, making up 40 percent of you protection unit up front, the potential for disaster will be there. Langsdorf said that’s where the center has to help out, and he felt like Conrad did a solid job of that on Saturday.
“He’s really got to drive it to help them out because they are new and they’re young,” Langsdorf said. “I think it starts in there with Cole and echoing the calls from Matt out to Jaimes is really important. … It’s a constant reminder daily and making sure we’re hearing the calls at practice and they’re loud enough to hear when you’re on the road. Just all the stuff you need to do to make sure your communication is good.”
Langsdorf said that unit will be need to have a strong showing against a Minnesota defense that has been beaten and bruised over the last few weeks, but still has talent. The Golden Gophers’ defense ranks No. 31 in the country according to S&P+, despite giving up 862 rushing yards in their last four contests (371 coming last week against Michigan).
“Lies, lies, statistics, I think is what Mark Twain said,” Langsdorf joked. (It’s actually “lies, damned lies, statistics,” but go on.) “You can’t ever read too much into it but it’s an indicator that they’ve had a little bit of trouble defending the run at times, so it’s something we want to make sure we’re geared up for.
“I think they have two solid d-tackles that will give you some problems. I don’t think they’re as big at defensive end as we’ve faced lately, which I think has been maybe a little bit of their problem. They haven’t been able to hang in there for maybe an entire game. But, their 'backers are good, their safeties are physical hitters and they’ll be down in there tight. They’re a quarters team and they like to force with those safeties. They’ll be tough, they’re physical, they play hard.”
Other news and notes
>> The forecast in Minneapolis this weekend calls for wet and winter-y weather, so Nebraska is doing everything they can to prepare for that.
Langsdorf said the running game will be a key factor for them if the weather does indeed take a turn for the worse. They will get some work in outside in the cold this week to try and prepare that way, but without snow on the ground, Langsdorf said you can never truly prepare for that. They are also incorporating wet ball drills into Lee’s routine this week.
“I think just having a good mindset about it and getting out there in the weather a little bit throughout the week and making sure we’re snapping and throwing with a wet ball at times I think is important just to get used to it,” he said.
>> Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said Jaimes is just the fourth guy that he remembers starting for him on the line as a true freshman. Head coach Mike Riley said Monday morning that Jaimes has officially won the job over senior David Knevel, and Cavanaugh added that it hasn’t just been because of Knevel’s injury.
“It's really, really impressive obviously,” he said. "He doesn't flinch. This game is important to him and he wants to be a great player, he works every day after it. It's his craft, he's proud of it. It's pretty neat to watch an 18-year-old guy who doesn't flinch and he's playing against a lot of great players.”
>> Another true freshman that maybe hasn’t had as much success on the field this season is wideout Tyjon Lindsey. Lindsey has just 11 catches in nine games this season for 70 yards.
“He’s had some rookie growing pains like all rookies do,” Langsdorf said. “He’s not exactly where he wants to be but at the same time, for a freshman, he’s doing just fine.”
Langsdorf compared him to two of the great receivers Riley and staff coached at Oregon State: Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton. Both have come up when talking about breakout wideout JD Spielman this year, but Langsdorf said Lindsey isn’t far off either.
“I said it a while ago that I’ve felt he’s just as far along as some of our great receivers that we’ve had in our history,” Langsdorf said. “I think as true freshmen they had their moments and I think Tyjon’s had some of those things just the same but he’s a sharp kid, he’s really mentally into it, as well as physically able to handle it. We always are hoping for more production from everybody so hopefully we can get him the ball in space a little bit more and get some of those explosives created for him.”
>> As junior Devine Ozigbo has taken the reins in the backfield, fellow junior Mikale Wilbon has taken a backseat in recent weeks. Langsdorf said part of that is due to injury and part of that is due to the continued growth of freshman Jaylin Bradley.
Bradley is currently dealing with an ankle sprain, and didn’t play against Northwestern (Wilbon still only received one carry), but Langsdorf said they are trying to get him healthy and back on the field as soon as possible.
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.