Photo Credit: Eric Francis

With Big Ten West Wide Open, Whipple Challenges Offense To Believe It Can Win

October 05, 2022

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple delivered 16 minutes of honest-packed answers during Tuesday’s post-practice meeting with media.

He’s frustrated. At one point saying the expectations and visions for this Huskers offense may not align with his own. The Huskers pulled out a tight win against Indiana — the first tie game entering the fourth quarter that Nebraska’s won since the 2020 Rutgers game.

“I don’t really know if they think we can win every game,” Whipple said. “We’re good enough, I think, OK? I’m no genius but we could win these games.”

Don’t just make a bowl game. Win the Big Ten West, Whipple reiterated. And right now, despite all the turmoil the Huskers have endured, Nebraska’s tied atop the division.

So why would the offense second guess itself?

Well, Nebraska has scored on its opening drive in five of the last six games. The Huskers have followed that up with a score on the second drive none of those times. Against Indiana the offense rattled off an eight-play, 55-yard touchdown drive midway through the second quarter before grounding out. The Huskers produced 18 total yards across their following six drives. Half of those drives ended with negative yardage. Penalties littered those drives, which Whipple also took exception with. He didn’t understand how an offense not penalized in the opening game of the season committed that many infractions.

Against Oklahoma, a top-10 defense at the time, the Huskers followed their opening drive with four drives of six plays or less and none that went beyond 18 yards. One of those drives ended in a turnover on downs at the Oklahoma 18. The Huskers faced 2nd and 6 at the OU 23 and couldn’t move the chains on three consecutive runs.

Nebraska averages 31.4 points per game. That’s seventh in the Big Ten. Running back Anthony Grant is fourth in the conference with a 120-yard average. Quarterback Casey Thompson is averaging 253 yards with a 149.6 QB efficiency rating (47th in the country). Thompson’s also been knocked down and battered for much of the year. Indiana sacked, hurried and hit Thompson, something the quarterback is working with the offensive line on. Sacks and intentional grounding penalties occurred when the Huskers’ drives stalled in the second quarter on Saturday.

The Huskers are 63rd in the country in Sharp College Football’s advanced statistic Beta_Rank score. That measures offensive performance on drive efficiency, play efficiency, explosiveness and avoiding negative plays. Only Indiana (97th), Northwestern (99th), Rutgers (105th) and Iowa (108th) rank lower nationally among Big Ten teams. Nebraska also averages 0.372 points per play in games against other FBS opponents. That’s 72nd in the country.

And yet, the Huskers are tied for the division lead.

“That was the goal when I got here: to win the West and get to Indianapolis,” Whipple said. “After half the season, or five games, and Northwestern has to lose, obviously, I just pointed that out to them.”

The offense could still get to Whipple’s expectations with work and growth. The offensive coordinator said he saw that in two days of practice during their shortened week.

Nebraska’s lone offensive captain Travis Vokolek reiterated the team’s mentality of going 1-0 in the week. That was the mentality going into the Indiana game and Vokolek reassured it hasn’t changed. They can’t win the division in a week, all they can do is prepare for, and play Rutgers. And now that the Huskers have won a close conference game, perhaps they can build a belief to win each game.

“Now that we have finished a close game, guys can see that it can be done,” Vokolek said on Monday. “It definitely gives us confidence. We understand that we have done it once, so now we have to do it for every game, when situations arise that we have to finish football games. So definitely a confidence builder.”

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