Last season, Nebraska traveled to Minneapolis to take on a 4-5 Minnesota team in Week 10. The Huskers lost 54-21, the first of three straight games to end the season in which the Huskers allowed more than 50 points. That Gophers team didn’t score another point after that game.
It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on inside the players’ head, but if there was ever a team that quit on its season, Nebraska appeared to be it last season.
Now sitting at 0-6 heading into a game against Minnesota, offensive line coach Greg Austin says he hasn’t seen any sign of quit in this year’s team.
“They know why they’re 0-6,” Austin said. “They know why. They know that they need to improve on the things that are going to beat us as a team. Sometimes they go out there and their attention to detail is lacking, so to speak, and they know the plays that they want back that could have been the game-changing plays that they need to improve on. They’re encouraged by the things that they did well but they’re working to try to improve the things that they don’t do so well.
“I guess I don’t know tanking. I don’t know if people are expecting this team to tank or guys are expecting this team to just tank it and pack up their bags and get ready for spring ball and the next season, but there are a lot of games out there to play, a lot of games to win. The season is not lost by any means. These guys are working towards the next game.”
One of the reasons for the zero in Nebraska’s win column has been penalties. The Huskers are dead last in the country (out of 130 teams) in penalty yards per game. Austin said there is no one common thread among all the penalties.
“They’re just each their own,” Austin said. “It’s one of those deals where you’re going, you’re going, you’re going and then it’s the guy that messed up on this play, that guy messes up on that play, this guy messes on this play. One of the offensive linemen screws up and then the receiver screws up and then the running back doesn’t hit the right hole. So it’s that production that we’re looking for — we’re looking for perfect plays, everybody doing their job. You turn on the film and if you can have 11 guys literally doing their job on every single play, you have a good chance of that play being productive.
“That’s one of the things that we’re missing right now. Not going to charge it to these guys still learning and going into the offense, but that was the big difference between year one and year two at UCF. Those guys knew it and they knew it like the back of their hand so their plays where this one little guy messed up, those plays were [unintelligible] whereas right now they’re more than they need to be and that’s what’s making us stagnant many times on our drives, that’s what’s preventing our drives from finishing.”
It’s easy to forget because of the experience of the interior line, but Nebraska is playing with sophomores at both tackle spots. Brendan Jaimes has just 15 starts under his belt (six at his current left tackle spot, nine at right tackle) while Matt Farniok has just 10 (eight at right tackle, two at right guard). So far this season, Austin said both of them are growing more comfortable as the season rolls on.
“Jaimes, even before the season he was excited about going to left [tackle],” Austin said. “He kind of felt like a fish out of water a little bit on the right side last year. He’s improving his technique, just those minor details — hip leverage, hand leverage, eyes, all those things. To be honest with you, with Jaimes and speaking specifically on him, he was not very happy with the way he performed in the Michigan game and quite honestly since then, he’s kind of turned it up and been a damned good tackle for us.”
During his weekly Monday press conference, Coach Scott Frost said Jaimes is getting better every week. As for Farniok, Frost said he is “playing his butt off.”
“Matt’s continually working on his technique and he’s done an awesome job even the last couple of weeks with some of the minor details — set lines (he overset a couple in the Wisconsin game), gets his hands in bad places from time to time — but generally speaking, those guys have done a pretty good job on the edge in protection,” Austin said. “We’re continuing to work on just the minor details, all those things that make the difference in a hold versus you being in front of the guy and it not being hold, passing off games and stunts, and all of that stuff that those guys have to do. Those guys have done an awesome job. I’m really excited about where those guys are and where their futures are.”
Their immediate future holds a meeting with a Minnesota team that has lost three straight after going 3-0 in the nonconference. After allowing 40-plus points against Maryland and Iowa, the Gophers managed to hang around against Ohio State for a 30-14 loss.
“They’re sound; those guys are sound,” Austin said about Minnesota’s front seven. “They know their gaps, they play hard. Gosh, those guys play really hard. So we certainly have our work cut out for us. I think that they can be blocked, but it’s going to take some effort. Certainly it’s going to take some effort and it’s going to take some attention to detail because they do some unique things up front that make you take the right footwork, make you use the right eye discipline and make you have the best hand leverage. If not, they’ll beat you. They’re not a huge group up front but certainly they know their gaps and they stick to their gaps. They can rush the passer, they do a good job on third down in terms of running stunts and games. They’ll make you work, and we’re excited about that. We’re excited about that because that’s been the challenge every week.”
Kickoff against the Gophers on Saturday is set for 2:30 p.m. on BTN.
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.