To a man, Nebraska’s offensive line has had its fair of struggles so far this season, particularly against Troy and Michigan. However, according to offensive line coach Greg Austin, the tackles are coming off their best performance of the season against Purdue.
Sophomore Brenden Jaimes (left) and Matt Farniok (right) helped the Huskers rack up 582 yards including 259 on the ground against the Boilermakers.
“[Farniok] has done a good job,” Austin said. “Certainly, there are some things that we continue to have to work on with him, especially in protection, but I think he’s done a really good job. He had his best game this past week. The left tackle hd his best game this past week. He was doing a really good job in protection, he finished blocks — he was the guy he came here to be …
“I’m excited about where they’re going, where they’re trending, and really getting them more and more and more reps. As those guys get more and more and more reps and get more and more comfortable with the offense and work the process and work the routine, you can see they kind of have it down and are getting it down more and more and more.”
While the interior of Nebraska’s offensive line is made up mostly of upperclassmen, none of the tackles on the roster came into the season with a full year of starts under their belts. Those two are still learning how to play the position in the Big Ten.
An unfortunate side effect of Nebraska’s 0-4 record so far this season has been a lack of opportunities to get back-ups snaps in live action. In part because of that, Austin doesn’t see any of the reserves outside of Boe Wilson — who made his first start against Purdue after serving as the line’s sixth man in the first three games — really establishing themselves as legitimate options.
“A lot of times that comes with game reps,” Austin said. “We haven’t had an opportunity to really get guys in there and see what those reps really look like. With the scores that have been close games with the exception of the Michigan game, we’ve been having to play the guys that we feel confident in in close games and making the right calls and executing the right technique. You get some of those young guys in there — Trent [Hixson] is close, I think Trent is close; I think [Matt] Sichterman is very close. We need to get those guys in and we need to get those guys those reps so as they continue to get those reps they get more confidence, and now as they get more confidence, we get more confidence in them and it works.”
Wilson was a guy who took advantage of the opportunities he received to see the field earlier in the season to show the coaches he deserved to be on the field, and he started at right guard ahead of Tanner Farmer against the Boilermakers.
However, center Cole Conrad went down with an injury during the game which brought Farmer back onto the field to step in at center. Farmer had a couple of issues snapping the ball during the game, but overall Austin said the coaches have confidence in him at that spot. The different variations along the line each have their own advantages and downfalls, but for the most part, the offense doesn’t change regardless of who is in the game.
“They look different in that they’re different players, but in terms of the calls and the scheme and the game plan in terms of who’s in, that doesn’t really change,” Austin said. “We don’t say because this guy’s in we can do this or we can do that. Obviously we know the strengths and limitations so we try to keep guys out of certain situations, but certainly it’s not a full change in philosophy.”
Regardless of who is out there on Saturday, the Huskers will have their hands full with the Wisconsin front seven.
“They’re stout,” Austin said. “They’re always going to be in their gaps, in the right place at the right time. They just do a good job of running their defense. We have our work cut out for us. They’re very detailed — they’re detailed with their hands, they're detailed with their hat placement, they’re detailed with how they’re surfacing blocks in terms of they take on blocks with linebackers.
“Their nose [Olive Sagapolu] is one of the their best players along with No. 53 [TJ Edwards] and No. 43 [Ryan Connelly], both of those inside linebackers are damn good players. They’re young at defensive end, those two ends, but nevertheless still good players. Honestly, we’re excited about playing those guys, excited about the challenge as we are every week.”
That being said, the Badgers’ defense doesn’t quite have the same kind of teeth as it traditionally has this year. Wisconsin is allowing 135 yards per game on the ground at a 4.4 per carry clip (sixth in the Big Ten) and it has only recorded three sacks all season, dead last in the league.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.