Against No. 8 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) on Saturday, it won’t be about running it more for Nebraska (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten), it’ll be about running it better.
“We talked a lot about it today, just being kind of a feast or famine run,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said after practice Monday evening. “We hit a 12-yarder, then we’d go 0 or then we’d go 1 and then we’d hit 11 and then we’d go 1. When our averages have been okay, our most common runs have been zero and ones. … We’ve got to get the most common runs to be up there in that 4-, 5-yard range and winning the downs.”
Langsdorf wants consistency. Junior tailback Devine Ozigbo was the only Nebraska runner to log a carry against Wisconsin Saturday, and 10 of those 23 totes went for 2 yards or less. Langsdorf said that needs to change, especially with the elite defense the Buckeyes will bring to town this weekend.
“They’re exceptionally good up front, strong and fast, and they’ve got athleticism all across the board,” Langsdorf said. “We’re going to have to cover those guys up and do a better job of running the ball consistently.”
Regardless of who’s in the Husker backfield on Saturday – junior Mikale Wilbon (ankle) is expected to return to practice this week after missing time against Wisconsin, and sophomore Tre Bryant might not be far behind him – Langsdorf said Nebraska has to do a better job of winning the early downs on the ground.
“If you can get some of those wins on the early downs, you don’t allow them to go third-and-10 and pin their ears back and rush the quarterback,” he said. “I think that’s a really important part of the game is being able to put together some drives that both chip away at them and then we’ve got to be able to hit some plays.”
Rejoice Husker Nation. Langsdorf wants to run the ball this weekend. “It’s where we’re at our best,” Langsdorf said of the Huskers being able to efficiently produce on the ground, stay ahead of the chains and sustain drives. In past weeks, the Huskers haven’t had that level of success, consistently picking up 4 and 5 yards on each rush, that lets Langsdorf really open up the playcalling.
“It helps the run-action game, it takes the pressure off of having to make a lot of completions on second-and-10, third-and-10,” he said. “That kind of production is when we’ve been able to sustain drives and continue to grind out some yards. When we get 1-yard gains, 0 yards, we just put ourselves in such big holes and bad spots.”
That can’t happen against Ohio State and Langsdorf knows that. He wants second-and-5 to feel comfortable, not second-and-9 or third-and-6 or more. The Huskers had nine of those against Wisconsin. He doesn’t want any against Ohio State.
Other news and notes
>> Running backs coach Reggie Davis said both Wilbon and Bryant “got to run around and do some things” during practice for the Huskers. He said the staff is excited about Bryant’s progress and will see how things look later in the week.
>> Langsdorf confirmed Monday night that the Huskers are looking at sliding the injured Cole Conrad back to guard.
Conrad made the move to center during the summer, but an injury over the last four weeks appears to have cost him his job to backup sophomore Michael Decker. Langsdorf said they're “seeing how that looks” with Conrad at guard.
They are also trying to work right tackle David Knevel – out since suffering a stress fracture to his foot in the opener – back into the fold.
>> Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh has stressed the importance of communication to that front line and he’s seen things sound better “at times,” but said it’s got to continue to improve.
>> The Nebraska staff doesn’t want to put expectations on freshman wideout Tyjon Lindsey. They’re just excited about what he’s brought to the table.
Wide receivers coach Keith Williams said as much Monday night, adding how pleased he was with a crucial block Lindsey threw on the 80-yard touchdown Stanley Morgan Jr. had against Wisconsin.
Williams said with a young guy, it’s just about easing him into things.
“He understands it’s a process,” Williams said. “He’s not in any hurry.”
Langsdorf echoed that.
“There are moments where there’s going to be some growing pains there,” he said. “Not a lot of our guys have had a ton of production in that rookie year, but I look back to Brandin Cooks or Marcus Wheaton that started or played a lot as freshman, James Rodgers, they took a little time to get used to the speed of the game and coverage change-ups and press man and all those things they’re seeing. I think he’s doing a pretty good job.”
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.