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Nebraska's Offense is Rolling
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s Offense is Rolling, Let’s Give Some Love to the Line for That

October 29, 2018

I suppose the best compliment you can pay to an offensive line is to not talk about them.

It feels like the Huskers offensive line hasn’t really been talked about since that Michigan game. Things started fine; Nebraska ran the ball 54 times in the opener against Colorado and averaged 6.1 yards a carry. A true freshman quarterback making his collegiate debut was protected well enough.

From that point on the wheels sort of fell off. There was that cut block that went viral against Troy — the entire offensive line diving at the feet of the Trojan defensive line instead of the knees and the play immediately turning into a scramble to remain positive. It served as the all-you-need-to-know play from that game.

A Troy defensive front that had no business pushing around a Power 5 offensive line held the Huskers to 3.9 yards per rush on 48 attempts, produced three sacks and another six tackles for loss. Nebraska had third-and-2 or less five times and got two first downs.

“Disappointed,” guard Jerald Foster said after. “That’s about it.”

Against Michigan a week later, Nebraska managed 9.4 yards a drive, 2.4 yards a play and a 13-percent success rate when running. Michigan feasted with four sacks and four more hurries and Adrian Martinez was pulled at halftime for the sake of his health. The message after the game was Nebraska wasn’t ready to play a team like Michigan and while it was meant as a team-wide remark it really only applied to the trenches. The Wolverines looked like a different team at the line of scrimmage.

From then on, though, something flipped with the line.

Maybe it was the full-time change from a Cole Conrad/Tanner Farmer center-right guard pairing to a Farmer/Boe Wilson one, or maybe it was something else, but Nebraska’s line play has gone up.

If you take away sacks — which the Huskers have only given up more than two in a game once since Sept. 22 — the yards-per-carry average for the Huskers is at 7.3. The national leader in that category is at 6.9 yards for the season. They’re getting 2 yards more on each carry than they were in the first three games.

That cut block hasn't popped back up on Twitter and Nebraska isn't getting pushed around in the trenches. For weeks now, head coach Scott Frost has had good things to say about his two young tackles. Both Matt Farniok and Brenden Jaimes, he says, are getting better each week. It's not lip service. 

In terms of line yardage per carry, Nebraska is up to 37th in the country. (The stat tries to separate credit for rushing success between the runner and blockers, the line gets credit for yardage between 0-3 yards and 50% credit for yards 4-8, anything over 8 goes to the runner.) On standard downs, Nebraska ranks 36th.

Devine Ozigbo has hit the 100-yard threshold in three of the last four and the holes for him to run through are getting wider. The Huskers have 49 runs of 10 yards or more in their last five games. On Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, running back Wyatt Mazour picked up 55 yards on five carries. “The lanes were open every time I touched the ball,” he said. And that was with the reserve unit; lanes were plenty open with the starters, too.

“They’ve improved a ton and they’ve really done a great job of taking care of me,” Martinez said. “Like I said last week, people don’t talk about them as much as I think they deserve. They’ve been doing a great job, especially in the last few weeks. As a team we’ve just been getting a lot better, better communication and everything.”

Nebraska has put an emphasis on perimeter blocking in recent weeks — the whole “no block, no rock” approach — and they’ve gotten markedly improved play on the edges, but the line needs some loving. Nebraska’s offense really started clicking against Purdue (542 yards a game since), a timetable that coincides with much-improved blocking at the point of attack.

Foster spoke to the media after the Colorado loss and the Troy Loss and the Purdue loss. He hasn’t spoken at a postgame media session since. He hasn’t really needed to. We’re not writing about the offensive line after games anymore; they’ve been that much better.

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