Nebraska Cornhusker assistant coach Greg Austin on the sidelines giving instruction to team during the game against the Penn State
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Putting Less of the Emphasis on Tempo, More on Finishing in Practice as it Looks for More Explosive Plays

March 31, 2021

On Monday, center Cam Jurgens was asked what Nebraska wanted its offensive identity to be this year. For Scott Frost’s first three years as head coach, it’s been hard to pin down exactly what Nebraska’s offense was hanging its hat on, mostly because everything seemed tough to come by. 

Jurgens’ response: “Well I think the identity of the offense we want to bring is winning football.”

Frost is 12-20 as the Husker head coach, so “winning football” is a start. And it makes for a good quote in the springtime as well. But how do you get there?

“Any way we can get more explosive plays,” Jurgens said. “I think that’s something we’ve lacked.”

Nebraska was 30th last season in run rate (11th among P5 teams) and 26th in explosive run rate. Nebraska picked up a gain of 10 yards or more on the ground on 16.5% of its carries. 

And yet…

“On the offensive line, we didn’t meet where we wanted to be last year,” line coach Greg Austin said Wednesday. “I thought we could have been better in some of our first and second-down production. Sometimes when you look at the film and you look at the stats, (stats) can be misleading. We’ve got a lot of things to work on.”

In this case, the misleading part of what was statistically a good run game for Nebraska lies in where the production came from. Nebraska had 55 runs that gained at least 10 yards. Nine of them came from running backs. Thirty-seven came from quarterbacks.

Part of Nebraska’s work this offseason is finding out how to be less reliant on Adrian Martinez to move the ball on the ground and better utilize the rest of the offensive talent at the skill positions. Frost said Monday he felt like the receiver room is as deep and talented as they’ve ever had. 

Nebraska ranked 98th nationally last season in explosive pass play percentage. (Some explosive pass rates will use 15 yards as the cut-off, I used 20.) Despite the ninth-best overall completion rate in football, Nebraska was 93rd in yards per attempt. 

It was grind-things-out kind of offense. 

Asked what the offensive line specifically can do to help facilitate more explosives, whether it be in the run game or with screen/swing pass concepts, Austin revealed a tweak to the practice setup this spring.

“Coach Frost, I give him a lot of credit, he’s changed up some of the things we do in practice and allowed us to really emphasize finishing,” Austin said. “Through the first couple practices, it’s been really cool to see us playing until the end of the whistle with less emphasis on going fast.”

That’s a big adjustment. Nebraska has run fewer plays per game with each passing season, and while that’s not really the best way to measure offensive tempo, the eye test would certainly say Nebraska hasn’t been operating at the speeds UCF did under Frost. 

Austin said a big emphasis for everyone this offseason is detail. In previous years, with practice operating at a high tempo, teaching and tweaking would happen in meeting rooms later, not after plays on the field. 

“If you’re not taking care of them and you’re just balls to the wall every single play, there’s a fatigue factor that’s naturally built in,” Austin said. “You want to get more explosive plays? You’ve got to stick on blocks longer. Can’t stick on blocks if you’re tired as shit.”

Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said Samori Touré—an FCS transfer wideout and spring participant—is a guy they’re excited about, someone who makes 50/50 balls much less of a coin flip. He said Omar Manning is coming along. 

The running back talent on the team is good, and Austin said they’ve worked on adjusting some of their concepts to get those guys running downhill quicker and more often.

Nebraska has home run-hitters. Seems like it’s doing its part to set those guys up for more success.  

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