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Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Walters Likes the Huskers’ Starting Point on the Offensive Line

March 14, 2018

Nebraska’s new coaching staff is not lacking confidence, particularly on offense. That much was clear Wednesday morning when, after the head ball coach kicked off the day’s dive back into football, each and every assistant held roundtable discussions with the media

Troy Walters, Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator, unsurprisingly drew quite the crowd right off the bat. And boy did he deliver.  

“Our goal is to be the No. 1 offense in the country,” Walters said, with the kind of unwavering confidence that would make you believe no one else could possibly stop them. “Set our expectations high and we’re going to work our butts off as a staff and as players to accomplish that goal.”

Of course, becoming the top offensive outfit in the country won’t happen overnight. When Central Florida was 0-for-its-season in 2015, it ranked dead last in total offense (268 ypg), second-to-last in yards per play (4.12), second-to-last in rushing yards (81.25 ypg) and third-to-last in scoring (13.9 ppg). In 2016, Frost and Friends’ first year in Orlando, the Knights jumped to . . . drumroll, please . . . No. 113 in yards per game, No. 123 in yards per play, No. 104 in rushing yards and No. 66 in scoring offense. Modest gains in the name of laying the foundation.

You know what happened in 2017. The highest-scoring offense, fifth-best in total offense, second-best in yards per play, and just a shade under 200 rushing yards a contest. Nebraska was, well, nowhere close to those numbers. The rushing was awful, 120th out of 128 teams if you want to get technical, and the aerial attack worked when it had blocking, which wasn’t very often.

It’s no secret that turning around the Huskers’ stopped-up offense requires a cleansing of the pipeline. This staff knows better than anyone, to have success offensively, you have to have success on the ground.

“Our offense is always going to be committed to the run first,” head coach Scott Frost said. “To varying degrees, we’ve thrown it and run it depending on our talent but we can’t go as an offense and really no offense can go if we can’t establish the run.”

Luckily for the Huskers, this group of maligned offensive linemen is ahead of where the Knights were three seasons ago.

“Up front I think we’re going to be better on the offensive line than we were at UCF when we started out,” Walters said. “That’s exciting because it all starts up front. I don’t care how well your skill guys are if you can’t protect and you can’t open up holes in the run game, then you’re not going to be successful.”

Nebraska experienced that first-hand last season. It’s hoping to avoid any repeat performances. That’s where Frost’s offensive system comes in. The basic principles of the attack are simple when you break them down: Frost and Walters want tempo so their opponents are more concerned with getting lined up before the freight train crashes into them again that they don’t even have time to drum up pressure packages.

“This system does a lot of favors for offensive linemen,” Frost said. “The tempo that we play at helps to wear out the defense, keeps people on their toes. We get simpler looks because it’s hard to get complicated blitzes and looks lined up if we’re going fast.”

It’s all about keeping you on your heels, which in turn, keeps you at bay. If you’re waiting to react because you don’t know what’s coming at you, Frost and Walters have already won. That’s why the tempo is so important, why the speed is so crucial. 

“We’ll do different things in blocking structures, we’ll read different defensive personnel — maybe a defensive lineman, maybe a linebacker — and once you read a guy, now you slow him down because he’s not sure whether to take the quarterback or take the running back or what we’re going to do,” Walters said. “As long as we’re playing fast and putting stress on the defense, that’s to our advantage.”

But pulling this off requires the right bodies up front. If your blockers can’t keep up with your tempo, you don’t have tempo. And, like magic, or in this case a carefully laid out and perfectly executed plan, that’s where strength coach Zach Duval comes in.

Since the turn of the year, Nebraska’s offensive linemen have been having their physiques re-shaped. The Huskers have been keeping before-and-after photos of the physical changes and Frost is excited about the gains up front.

“I’m excited to watch some of these guys,” Frost said. “First and foremost, the differences in their bodies and their strength and conditioning right now is apparent. I’m anxious to see them be stronger and move people, I’m anxious to see them be in better shape and play at a fast pace.”

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