Nebraska offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said Minnesota’s defense has been playing well as of late, giving up just 23 points in the past three games, including a shutout of Colorado.
But with the Gophers—who lost to Bowling Green 14-10 on Sept. 25—coming off a bye week when the Huskers visit this weekend, Nebraska’s offense needs to be ready to handle anything new that hasn’t been seen on film.
“Any time you have a bye, it can help you. It gives you a chance to heal up, chance to focus on the opponent. We get two byes during the season as well coming up,” Lubick said. “But they’re (Minnesota) pretty sound, they’re a very good football team. They’re going to be who they are, but there’s no question they can throw a little wrinkle in and we need to be ready for it.”
Lubick and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander—as well as assistants Mario Verduzco, Travis Fisher and a few players—met with members of the media on Tuesday at Memorial Stadium.
Against Michigan and Northwestern, the Husker o-line did a better job of protecting quarterback Adrian Martinez. The Wolverines’ talented pass rusher, Aidan Hutchinson, never got Martinez on the ground while David Ojabo had only one sack. Minnesota has a good player off the edge, too, in Boye Mafe, who has a team-high five sacks and six tackles for loss.
Lubick said pass protection is worked on every day at practice, and he’s seeing improvement.
“We do a lot of pass-rush situations in practice. When you can run the ball, sometimes that helps you with your pass rush. Being balanced so you’re just not standing back there throwing it every snap. Being able to run the ball in throwing situations helps. Also, having pass concepts where the ball can get out fast, and with the quarterback, more importantly, can make quick decisions and know where to go with the ball.”
Minnesota will be without its top two running backs in Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts, who are both out for the season with injuries. True freshman Mar’Keise Irving will likely get the bulk of the carries on Saturday.
Chinander said it’s always an uneasy feeling when trying to game plan for a running back who you don’t have much film on. Irving has 25 carries for 112 yards this season and rushed for 89 yards against Colorado.
“You have a little bit of the unknown. You’re probably going to see a young freshman running back in there,” Chinander said. “You don’t know, he could be not as good as those guys (Ibrahim and Potts), he could be better than those guys. He’s the next guy up because of his youth. He could be the next great one, so we gotta prepare like it’s the best running back we’ve seen back there.”
The Gophers’ run-heavy, grind-it-out offense ranks second in the Big Ten in time of possession as it averages just over 33 minutes, 55 seconds. With Potts not an option anymore, Minnesota may try to go outside their comfort zone more often with a more inexperienced running back, Chinander said.
“You never know if they think their running game is going to be where it needs to be, they might start throwing the ball around,” he said. “They might have some interesting wrinkles put in there.”
More news and notes:
>> Starting corner Quinton Newsome earned a Blackshirt. The third-year sophomore is fifth on the team in tackles with 35.
>> On the final fourth down play against Michigan, Lubick said he liked the matchups they had on the shot taken down the field. Better execution (mostly timing and angles of the routes) would have given them a better chance of completing it.
>> Lubick said wideout Zavier Betts was a little banged up last week, which was part of his low snap count against Michigan. They think he’ll be good to go this week.
>> Running back Rahmir Johnson has seemed to be a player who has taken control of the running back spot. Lubick said Johnson would show flashes at practice, but not the consistency. Now, Lubick said, he’s more consistent in practice and games.
>> Bryce Benhart stepped in at right tackle when Teddy Prochazka went down with an injury in the second quarter against Michigan. Lubick liked what he saw from Benhart, who lost his starting job earlier in the year. “Anytime you respond to a position change, it tells a lot about who you are as a person, and from what I saw he practiced hard, kept competing. Knowing the depth chart is etched in sand, it keeps changing, and the players kind of control that. He did a good job when he came into the game.”
>> Nebraska safety Deontai Williams said he and the rest of the defense knows how Minnesota will attack the Husker defense. “They’ve got some big guys on the line, they’re going to try to run the ball on us,” he said. “It’s the same, two years straight, they just want to run the ball on us. Control the game.”