Greg Austin said at the start of spring that moving Matt Farniok inside to guard would be ideal for the 2020 season. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound lineman was a team captain who started every game at right tackle in 2019, but Austin believes his strengths and weaknesses translate better to playing on the interior.
Nebraska can’t kick Farniok inside until it has a viable replacement at right tackle, though. Enter Bryce Benhart, the 4-star prospect from Lakeville, Minnesota.
The 6-foot-9, 295-pound lineman won the backup right tackle job as a true freshman, but Nebraska rarely led by enough to get the second unit on the field, allowing Benhart to maintain his redshirt. Even so, he did get the opportunity to get some playing time on offense in Nebraska’s blowout wins against Northern Illinois and at Maryland.
Between the two games, Benhart was on the field for 32 snaps. Disregard the two snaps in victory formation against the Terps and Benhart’s snaps were split into eight pass plays and 22 run plays.
Benhart made his debut on offense in week three against the Huskies. He entered the game late in the fourth quarter with Nebraska leading 37-8 and played one drive plus one play. In total, he was on the field for five pass plays and five run plays.
For the most part, Benhart did his job but wasn’t directly involved in his first seven snaps as the play went elsewhere. Nebraska worked its way into a goal-to-go situation.
First down was not Benhart’s brightest moment. Nebraska lined up at the 3-yard line with an in-line tight end (Kurt Rafdal) to Benhart’s right and planned to run the ball that direction. However, the defensive tackle lined up across from Benhart hit him with an inside-out move.
The angle is tough here, but if you look closely you can see that the Northern Illinois lineman has Benhart beat. Meanwhile, on the weak side, an unaccounted-for run blitzer sprinted through the line.
The Husky defender beat Benhart so bad that he ended up losing his balance and falling to his knees.
By the time Benhart got back to his feet, Rahmir Johnson was getting tackled into the back of his legs for no gain.
Benhart redeemed himself a bit on the next play, though it wasn’t a perfect rep and he got a bit of help.
On second and goal, Luke McCaffrey sent Miles Jones running across the field on a jet motion. Benhart lined up with a tight end to his right again.
McCaffrey faked the shovel pass to Jones before taking off himself with Wyatt Mazour serving as lead blocker. Notice where Benhart initiated his block on the defensive tackle.
Rafdal turned the defensive end and set the edge while Benhart pushed the tackle back a good yard or two. McCaffrey followed Mazour through the hole.
However, Benhart didn’t quite seal his man off. Fortunately, left guard John Raridon had pulled around and was there to finish off the block. Mazour picked off the only Husky left and…
McCaffrey crossed the goal line for the touchdown.
Benhart made a couple of mistakes, but he also showed some strength in the run game and held his own in pass protection even if he wasn’t necessarily challenged by a great pass-rusher or a long-developing play.
Maryland presented a different kind of challenge as the Terrapins use a 3-4 defense, meaning Benhart spent more of his time dealing with linebackers than interior linemen. Nebraska’s second-unit offense got three drives in the game, though the third one was designed to run out the clock more than move the ball down the field and score. Of the 20 non-kneeling snaps, only three of them were pass plays as Nebraska was looking to keep the clock running.
Benhart took the field with 56 seconds left in the third quarter and a 44-0 lead. He failed to finish his block on his first snap and the defender he was responsible helped make the tackle after a short gain, but he did his job the rest of the drive.
On the fourth play of the drive, McCaffrey motioned Brody Belt into the backfield to create a split-backs look.
McCaffrey made his read and kept the ball rather than handing it off to Belt sweeping across. Benhart engaged with the linebacker while right guard Ethan Piper pulled around to the left side where the other guard, Matt Sichterman, was sealing off a defensive lineman.
Benhart wasn’t quite able to get his man turned to complete seal of the alley, but he did manage to remain engaged without holding. All of Nebraska’s key linemen made their blocks and opened up a big hole for McCaffrey right up the middle.
The quarterback did the rest, showing off his speed and avoiding a couple tacklers on his way to a 15-yard gain.
The drive stalled out at the 1-yard line and led to a field goal. The following drive was a different story, however. Benhart played well from start to finish and made a couple really nice blocks, the last of which came on the final snap.
On third and goal from the 3-yard line, Nebraska lined up with two tight ends to Benhart’s right while the Terrapins put seven defenders on the line of scrimmage.
Benhart, Rafdal and Austin Allen each took on a blocker to set the edge while McCaffrey faked the handoff to Mazour.
Benhart, Allen and Rafdal moved the line back and held their ground, giving McCaffrey a narrow alley to run through. Mazour took out the first free defender, leaving the last one for McCaffrey to account for.
McCaffrey took care of business, cutting inside to avoid the tackle and break the plane for the touchdown.
Had Benhart, Allen or Rafdal given up any ground at all, McCaffrey probably wouldn’t have had anywhere to run.
Benhart certainly wasn’t flawless, and Nebraska didn’t put a whole lot on his plate as far as running off right tackle or calling a bunch of seven-step drops, but the experience should serve him well and he showed some flashes of the talent that made him Nebraska’s highest-rated recruit not named Wan’Dale Robinson. Benhart has the strength to hold his own against interior lineman and push edge rushers back and he has the mobility to drop into pass protection without getting blown by or get out to the second level to make a block downfield.
Benhart missed out on some valuable practice reps with the cancellation of spring ball, but with a little more polishing he very well could be part of Nebraska’s “best five” up front in 2020.