The re-engineered Nebraska offensive system is a work in progress.
New offensive coaches were brought in, highlighted by the arrival of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Whipple came off a third season calling plays at Pittsburgh with a Heisman-finalist quarterback. The Panthers also played in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game.
After Tuesday’s practice, just days removed from a seven-point first half against FCS North Dakota, Whipple said his system takes time to implement.
“This isn’t a thing you just roll out,” Whipple told reporters. “I think everybody that scored a touchdown (against North Dakota) wasn’t here. Talk about new faces, talk about new coaches, you’re talking about those things.”
Quarterback Casey Thompson transferred from Texas since last season. Running back Anthony Grant, the reigning Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week, was at Florida State and then New Mexico Military Institute before Lincoln. Tight end Chancellor Brewington played at Nebraska last year but was at Northern Arizona four seasons before. Receives Trey Palmer (LSU), Marcus Washington (Texas), Omar Manning (TCU before Kilgore College) and Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda (New Mexico State) are all new faces.
All those moving parts, and even the anchor pieces of Nebraska’s offense like tight end Travis Vokolek, are learning Whipple’s new system. There have been growing pains so far.
Nebraska has scored 28 and 38 points in the first two games, respectively. The Huskers are averaging 451 yards per game, fourth among Big Ten teams this season.
A lot of the attention comes down to Thompson. Whipple’s offensive system revolves around quarterback play. Thompson’s talked about poise in key situations. His teammates have come to appreciate that about him.
“He is a very poised player and I like that,” Alante Brwon said. “He is a leader. You cannot be energetic, you cannot be overwhelmed, you stay to be poised and that is what I like to see about Casey. No matter what is going on he is going to be poised.”
Thompson’s more focused on clock management than stats. Nebraska planned to unleash its 2-minute offense late in the first half against North Dakota. (Six of Nebraska’s 10 scoring drives have lasted less than 2 minutes, 30 seconds — including the final two against North Dakota.) The Huskers simply didn’t get the chance before halftime.
His third-quarter interception on Saturday drew criticism. Whipple said they schemed against an aggressive defense and North Dakota played more drop coverage than anticipated. Thompson and Whipple got together after the play and worked through it.
Communication has become key in a new system with so many moving parts. Thompson talks with receivers between plays and drives. Meanwhile, offensive coaches communicate with head coach Scott Frost. In the end, the offense put away a game with three touchdowns out of their final four drives.
“I think it is good for the quarterback and play caller to have good communication,” Thompson said earlier this week. “Frost has great communication as well. He will ask me during the game and after the game what I see.
“The coaches do a good job. They are just making it known that it is not personal. We are just trying to get better.”
Nebraska’s receiver group remains fluid. After a big first game, Garcia-Castaneda wasn’t targeted against North Dakota. Palmer’s developing into a skill role similar to Jordan Addison in Whipple’s offense at Pittsburgh last year. Manning made two catches in his season debut against North Dakota. Brown and Washington are both finding their roles. Tight end Nate Boerkircher filled in Saturday in the absence of team captain Travis Vokolek.
The team’s running back group is still competitive but a No. 1 emerged on Saturday after Grant’s performance. He’s listed as the top running back on Nebraska’s roster going into the Georgia Southern game. But coaches are confident in how the group is developing as a whole.”
“With a lot of these guys if we can get them on the second level we have a chance to make big plays now,” Frost said on Monday. “It is kind of up to the offensive line and coaching staff to get them in the right place and the right scheme that some of these backs can get in space.”
Whipple agreed on Tuesday. He reiterated competition because of the gauntlet that lays ahead in the schedule.