The first question for head coach Scott Frost Monday morning was whether his Huskers are too reliant on big plays on offense. After what we saw Saturday, it’s a topic certainly worthy of a little bit of a discussion. In a 44-8 win over Northern Illinois, 14 of Nebraska’s 65 plays gained 385 of the 525 total yards. The rest of the 51 bit off 2.7 a play. Nebraska was incredibly boom or bust.
Which has another effect, the offense was on the field even less than what has become normal. Most of the numbers from the NIU win were weird (five combined kicks blocked?) but the Huskies had a 16-minute advantage in time of possession and that feels significant.
This offense goes for a touchdown in 80 seconds or it gets booted back off the field after 40. That’s just kind of the way it goes. And when the boom isn’t working, the bust puts the defense in the crosshairs.
Only four FBS programs have seen more defensive snaps through the first three weeks than Nebraska’s 238. The Huskers are averaging 79.3 a game. The average is around 70. UCF’s oft-cited 2017 season saw the defense on the field for 74.5 a game. Isolate the conversation to just one week and five snaps doesn’t feel like that big a deal, but over a 13-game season, that’s an extra 65. That’s nearing an extra game.
That’s got to have a wearing-down effect, right?
The message from the Huskers is all this lamenting over tempo is much to do about nothing.
“I think we might be looking into stuff a little too much if we’re worried about having big plays,” Frost said. “We want those to happen.”
The defense knows they’re going to be on the field. They expect it.
“It really doesn’t matter, honestly,” outside linebacker Alex Davis said. “To us we want to be out there. You can feel it when we’re on the sidelines, as soon as we’re back up everybody’s happy and everybody’s ready to go put the fire out. As Coach [Chinander] says, always put the fire out. We’re up for the challenge all the time.”
When the Huskers were standing on the sideline in the fourth quarter of a 37-8 game, waiting to see if their third-and-1 stop at the goal line was going to hold up in review, Chinander, the defensive coordinator, told his group to put the fire out. No points. The defense came out and stuffed NIU for a second straight play from the 1-yard-line.
“We expect to be out there,” safety Eli Sullivan said. “We know Frost is going to score in under two minutes. We want to be on the field, we want turnovers, we want big plays, we want to make the difference in the game.”
Time and time again this season, the defense has made difference-making plays in games. The offense, through three, is trying to hold up its end of the bargain. The most recent performance was better, but the first two were shaky, yet Sullivan said the defense doesn’t care about that one bit.
“We try not to [think about it] at all,” he said. “Certain people here and there will put the blame on the offense needing to stay on the field, but the defense wants to be on the field.”
That’s the way it is in practice. The games are actually slower. So imagine how quickly the offense is moving in practice and then remember the Husker defense will be on the field the entire time.
"We're not tripping at all,” said defensive tackle Darrion Daniels. “That's what the offense does. Either they're going to get out three and out or they're going to get out fast with a touchdown. That's just the art and beauty of our offense, they're a fast tempo team. Teams won't be able to hang on going into conference, we're going to kick it up a notch and our offense is going to be moving fast.
“Coach Duval did a great job with us in the summer and in the winter getting us ready for this type of conditioning. Coach T does a good job with us as well. He really pushes us during practice. I feel like as a defensive line, we run more than receivers, that's what he has us doing. He has us running from drill to drill from one side of the field to the other.”
A little more offensive rhythm in-game, and those numbers will start to creep back down, maybe to where UCF was in 2017 because that has become sort of the sweet spot for everything with this system, but until that actually happens, the defense doesn’t seem worried about it.
We might be looking into it too much.
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.