Behind a solid performance by a veteran offensive line, Nebraska racked up 565 yards of offense against Colorado. However, the result, a 33-28 loss, left a sour taste in offensive line coach Greg Austin’s month, particularly in regards to a few key plays.
“They played well,” Austin said of his position group. “In my opinion, nobody plays well when you lose. But the silver lining in it is that those guys, we put on a lot of good film on Saturday, a lot of teachable moments, a lot of teach-tape-worthy things we put on film. The mark of a good offensive line is how well you block movement — we thought we blocked movement really well; how well you communicate — I thought our communication needed to get better but it wasn’t just dog god-awful; and, I want those short yardage plays back — we just have to, as coaches and players, do a better job in those situations.”
Nebraska failed to convert on fourth-and-2 in the second quarter and on fourth-and-1 in the fourth against the Buffaloes. However, in total, Nebraska rushed for 341 yards (excluding sacks) and had two players finish with more than 100 yards on the ground. That is Nebraska best rushing performance since 2014.
“It’s a win within the loss, so to speak,” Austin said about the rushing performance. “We finished blocks well and etcetera. The 300 yards showed up in our play in terms of our finish … We need to win the game. We needed to convert those short-yardage plays and that’s more disappointing than anything. If we can get three more rushing yards out of that would be awesome.”
The Huskers were effective in the passing game as well as the two quarterbacks combined for 19-of-29 passing for 236 yards. The offensive line only surrendered two sacks.
“They did well,” Austin said about the pass protection. “A couple times where we didn’t do so well is our errors. They weren’t even forced errors from the defense, it was us taking the wrong set lines and us not being 100 percent dialed in to the call. They were bonehead mistakes. But generally speaking, I thought we had good [inaudible] separation. Quarterbacks were able to sit back there and go through their reads and throw the ball. So I’m excited about where we started.”
The unit suffered its first bit of adversity when senior center Cole Conrad went down with an injury midway through the first quarter. After Conrad made his way off the field, right guard Tanner Farmer took over at center while sophomore Boe Wilson checked in to play right guard.
“Tanner did an awesome job of stepping in there on call,” Austin said. “We kind of prepared for that moment, if Cole would have gone down, we knew where we were going to go with moving Tanner inside. He did a really good job of stepping in and making the calls and going from there.”
Austin said the shake-up on the line didn’t limit their playbook at all. It was business as usual for the Huskers.
“Tanner’s a good player,” Austin said. “He’s a good guard and he’s a good, serviceable center as well. With [Michael] Decker obviously retiring early, we had to come up with a solution to that problem and it was really good not having either Decker or Cole Conrad in spring ball so we got a picture of what it looked like when Tanner was in there at center all the way back to spring.”
On the first play after Conrad got banged up, a third-and-1, the Huskers gave the ball to Devine Ozigbo and had him run behind the right side of the line, picking up 7. Wilson did his job and even stayed in for another series after Conrad returned, giving Farmer a break.
“He did a good job,” Austin said about the redshirt sophomore. “He filled in and did exactly what we thought he’d do, be a physical presence down in there. Good player, good leverage, on the pull he has good pull production. So we’re excited about Boe and then really excited to have him come in and be a real guy for us, that sixth man, so to speak, inside.”
Wilson was the only non-starter who saw action on offense along the line on Saturday. Austin didn’t have a name for who might be that seventh guy at this stage.
“There were six guys that played on the offensive line on Saturday, so right now there are six,” Austin said. “Not saying that I don’t have confidence in anybody else because I do. It’s just that I feel like those are the guys that needed to play on Saturday and as we go throughout the year, as we get way more comfortable with more guys, as the situation warrants, then we’ll get a couple more guys out there.”
The biggest area Austin said he wants to see his guys improve in is communication. It didn’t necessarily lead to disaster against Colorado, but it wasn’t up to Austin’s standard. That will have to change against Troy on Saturday.
“We’ll call it the first game miscues, so to speak,” Austin said. “But we have to do a better job of communication. Our communication is going to get challenged this Saturday as is how physical and how well we finish, because if there’s one thing when you turn on the film, those guys play hard. Lot of respect for those guys on defense and how hard they play, how active they are, getting to the ball. We have our work cut out for us this week in regards to the effort that we put out versus they effort they out out as well.”
With uncertainty at quarterback following Adrian Martinez’s knee injury against the Buffaloes and Andrew Bunch potentially stepping in as the starter for Troy, Austin said it’s going to be on his position group for the Huskers to succeed this weekend.
“We’re going to have to make the guy feel comfortable back there and we’re going to have to make sure that we do our job in the run game so that they’re not loading up or just ready to go pass-happy,” Austin said. “If we do our job in the run game that will certainly open up some windows in the pass game and make his job easier. Everything we do, and we talked about it from day one, is to make the guys around, their jobs easier … I wouldn’t say that’s the emphasis this week, but they know what the situation is. They know that we have to make sure that we’re taking care of our quarterback no matter who’s back there.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.