Nebraska's Offense  Frustrated but Focused Ahead of Minnesota
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s Offense Frustrated but Focused Ahead of Minnesota

October 17, 2018

Offensive coordinator Troy Walters took Saturday’s 34-31 loss to Northwestern and put it as his own feet. He told the offense Saturday night the result was his fault.

The players told the coach it was theirs. Then the Huskers showed up Monday and had what head coach Scott Frost said was the best practice of the year and kept the energy through the next two days. Walters says there’s a higher level of focus on the practice field.

“They’re mad,” he said. “They’re frustrated. They know we’re close and they want this to be the week. … We know if we play fundamentally, if we don’t turn the ball over, if we don’t commit penalties, we’re a pretty good team.”

Walters’ thing this week has been 1-0. Go 1-0. When you get back home Saturday night, be 1-0. Don’t worry about the first six games, he says, don’t worry about next week or the week after that, focus on getting to 1-0 on Saturday against Minnesota.

PJ Fleck's bunch will represent a challenge defensively similar to what the Huskers have faced all season — they’re stout up front and hard to run on. As a unit, the Gopher defense ranks 23rd in the country in S&P+ because they’re seventh in stuff rate (really good in short-yardage situations) and 12th in marginal rushing efficiency (they keep you from running efficiently).

The Gophers have a pair of linebackers Walters singled out as being difference-makers on that unit, juniors Thomas Barber and Carter Coughlin. Together they anchor a linebacking group that’s sixth in the country in havoc rate.

Offense has lagged behind the defense in terms of overall success this season for Minnesota, so if Nebraska can score some points in a hurry and build a lead, things could sit nicely in favor of the home team. Walters and the rest of the staff know in order to do that, the offense needs to be more consistent.

Nebraska scored on its opening drive against Northwestern and didn’t score points again for the next 27:50 of game clock.

“We went back and watched it as a staff and there were one or two plays here and there, an assignment error, maybe the quarterback didn’t make the right read, receiver didn’t run the right route at the right depth,” Walters said. “It’s just little things and things that are fixable.

 “That first drive was encouraging, that’s who we are. It took us, what, four plays to score? That’s who we are and I think the guys know that. They understand if we can just go out and execute, we’re fundamentally sound, that’s the type of offense we can be.”

Other News and Notes

>> Sophomore Noah Vedral is splitting second-team reps with sophomore Andrew Bunch at quarterback this week, but coach Mario Verduzco said Bunch would likely get the nod if the Huskers needed to turn to QB2.

More than anything, Vedral gaining instant eligibility this season was about insurance.

“Now you have three quarterbacks that have played, that we know if they get their chance they can go in and produce,” Walters said. “It gives us as a staff more comfort of running our offense and not worrying about if Adrian goes down or if Bunchy goes down, we can just go play.”

>> Nebraska will be looking to take three or four wideouts in this upcoming class, possibly five, Walters said. They’ll take the right kids. Asked how he sells Nebraska to recruits without a win yet, Walters said he asks if they follow the stock market.

>> Junior wideout Mike Williams re-emerged on the outside for Nebraska against Northwestern and tallied three catches for 41 yards. Walters said the issue with Williams this season has nothing to do with his pass-catching ability and more to do with what he does when he doesn’t get the football.

“His biggest issue was just blocking and making sure he’s physical on the perimeter,” Walters said. “As a receiver in this offense, you’ve got to be able to do both. You’re not going to play if you’re just a receiver, you’ve got to be able to block the perimeter.”

>> Tight end coach Sean Beckton said the recent uptick in sophomore Jack Stoll’s production (eight catches for 103 yards and a score in his last three games, two catches for 13 yards in his first three) can be credited to a better relationship between Stoll and quarterback Adrian Martinez. At the beginning of the season, Martinez wasn’t as comfortable throwing to guys not named Stanley Morgan Jr. or JD Spielman but as the season has gone on, he and Stoll have developed a bit of chemistry.

“I’m excited where he’s headed — really all those guys — but particularly where he is,” Beckton said. “He’s always been a dominant blocker. We’ve worked extremely hard with him understanding route concepts and understanding how to maneuver and catch the football and be able to get up field.

“I’m very, very happy with where he is. As far as his progression, he just has to continue to build on the opportunities that we’re getting. We talked to the tight ends about that — we’re not going to get the ball all the time. We have plays designed for you but when you get the ball thrown to you, make the best of the opportunity. He’s done that for us.”

>> Walters credits the energy in practice this week to offensive linemen Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer and Morgan.

On Morgan, Walters said: “He’s been awesome. Probably doesn’t have the receiving yards or the receptions or the stats that he wants, been frustrated with 0-6 but he’s a true pro.”

>> Maurice Washington has taken over kick return duties for Nebraska in recent weeks. He has moved into the No. 3 spot at punt returner behind Morgan and Spielman. He has a firm hold on the No. 2 running back role and has begun seeing more and more work flexed out wide. Walters said that’s where Washington’s biggest growth has come — as a receiver.

“He’s always been able to run the ball so he’s become a better receiver,” he said of Washington. “We can line him up outside and run a hitch route, run a slant.

“We realize that he’s special. He’s doing a good job of taking care of his body, eating and getting in the weight room, so we feel like these last six games he’s going to even get more touches.”

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