Starting Stronger
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Starting Stronger, Starting Faster and Winning Battles Key for Nebraska

September 26, 2018

Nebraska has started games this season down 14-0, down 17-0 and down 46-0. It has gotten the ball first in two of three games. So this week, offensive coordinator Troy Walters said Wednesday when he met with the media, Nebraska has a goal: “play fast, start fast.”

“We’ve got to score on the opening drive and we’ve tried to simulate that in practice,” he said. “Our first period out of the gates has been a tempo against the defense so the guys understand we’ve got to come out ready to play and we’ve got to start fast.”

Nebraska wants to run the ball. It doesn’t want to turn into a drop-back-only offense and throw it 50 times a game. In order to stay within that, though, they can’t be spotting teams multiple-score leads to begin games.

Coach Scott Frost said Monday that Nebraska isn’t a good enough team right now to make that up. Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco put it another way, saying they just have no margin for error right now.

The defense needs to start games better, but the offense also needs to be able to move the ball. Twice now the Huskers’ opening drive has ended in a turnover. Verduzco called quarterback Adrian Martinez’s opening-drive interception against Michigan an “act of God.”

Nebraska anticipated what the Michigan defense was going to do, Martinez read an RPO play-call properly and chose to pull the ball and fire to a crossing JD Spielman. The only thing that went wrong was a tip at the line of scrimmage. So how do you fix issues that seem almost right but inches wrong?

You start, Walters says, by making sure you dominate your one-on-one matchups.

“We didn’t win any,” Walters said. “That’s what it came down to. That type of defense, that style, that’s what it came down to. You had to win one-on-one matchups and across the board they whipped our butts.

“They played with more passion. That was the disappointing part, that we didn’t play with as much passion and enthusiasm as we should have and as much as we need to beat a team like Michigan.”

That goes back to practice. Thursday last week sucked. Walters was the latest in a line of Husker coaches to say so. Nebraska is working to finish stronger this week and keep the same from happening again as the team prepares for Purdue (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten). For the most part, Walters thinks the team has responded well throughout the week.

“The guys know we have to have great meetings tonight and we have to have a great Thursday,” he said. “That really sets the tone.”

Other News and Notes

>> Running back Maurice Washington is dealing with an illness that has caused him to miss time this week. Running backs coach Ryan Held said Washington has an intestinal issue that is going around the country right now.

>> Wideout Andre Hunt missed practice again. There hasn’t been any word on him so far.

>> Walters singled out Jaron Woodyard and Kade Warner as two wideouts who are pushing more in practice to earn snaps. He said Tyjon Lindsey and Mike Williams are two guys who need to show more consistency.

>> Though he traveled with the team to Michigan, Nebraska never really considered going to walk-on Matt Masker at quarterback in the second half Saturday. When backup Andrew Bunch was inserted into the game after halftime, his first play resulted in a knee tweak, as Verduzco put it. Martinez came back in and then the staff was informed Bunch was good to go.

Verduzco liked the play he got from both of his quarterbacks. Walters said they just didn’t have any time to make plays.

>> Linebacker Caleb Tannor saw more run against Michigan than he’s seen all season. He finished the game with just one solo tackle, his second of the season.

“They’re not saying anything,” Tannor said when asked about his role. “I just keep seeing more and more reps so I guess I’m doing the right things. I’m going to just keep working, keep executing and keep listening. That’s the most important thing.”

>> Held wasn’t ready to commit to an increased role for running back Wyatt Mazour yet, but Walters said he’s pushing.

“We’re going to find the right place for him,” Walters said. “He comes to work every day and when his number is called, he’s ready to go. That’s always a good thing.”

Mazour scored the Huskers’ only touchdown against Michigan on a fourth-quarter drive that saw him produce a 17-yard run and a 21-yard reception.

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