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With College Football Offenses Soaring, What Will Huskers’ Look Like?

October 14, 2020

There are 76 teams at the FBS level in college football currently competing. Six SEC defenses rank in the bottom half of those teams in scoring defense. Alabama is currently 44th nationally in points allowed, at 30.3 a game. LSU is tied for 51st, at 32.0. Florida is 58th, at 33.3. 

Those three all also rank 53rd or lower in team defense.

In the SEC, the year began with Mississippi State quarterback KJ Costello setting the all-time SEC record for passing yardage in a game in Mike Leach’s first game as a head coach in the league. “Huh, here comes the air raid,” everyone thought. But, that Week 4 game between the Bulldogs and LSU Tigers, one that saw MSU win 44-34, wasn’t a one-off. 

Florida won 51-34 that week. Alabama won a 52-24 game the following week. Ole Miss and Kentucky played a 42-41 barnstormer. In Week 6, seven different SEC offenses scored at least 40 points. Alabama and Ole Miss combined to produce 111 total points and 1,370 yards of total offense. Auburn gave up 28 to Arkansas. 

Elsewhere in college football, North Carolina and Virginia Tech played to a 56-45 scoreline. Oklahoma and Texas played four overtimes to get to a 53-45 Sooner win, after Oklahoma blew a 14-point lead with 3:28 to play in the game. 

Fifty-five games so far involving a Power Five team has featured at least one side hitting the 30-point threshold. That’s out of 72 games (76.4%). In 17 of those games, both teams have hit 30 points. 

We’ve seen 10 top-25 upsets already, including four games in which the upset team was in the top 10. 

College football is college footballing right now at peak levels. 

“In the NFL and college it seems like it’s favored offense a little bit,” Husker head coach Scott Frost said this week when asked about the weirdness of the start to the season. “It seems like there’s a few more points.”

Frost has a unique vantage point right now as an observer. If he wants to (he’s said before it was a little hard to when he thought the season was canceled), he can really sink into a College Football Saturday. When asked what he’s seen so far, and whether the uptick in points has anything to do with the altered offseason, he said, “Yeah I think it does."

“I think teams that handled the offseason better probably have a little bit of an advantage,” he said. “I think the playing field’s been leveled a little bit because of the circumstances surrounding this entire year. I think if you have a team prepared, they can go out and compete. I think you’re seeing that in a lot of close games and teams winning.”

Husker players have been watching, too.  Cam Taylor-Britt sees a few problems with defenses in particular.

“I just see a lot of people not communicating on the field,” he said.”Defenses aren’t going full-speed. Everybody’s kind of tired. That’s why Coach Frost is staying on us to keep hydrating and stay in shape because we have to play four quarters and everybody looks tired.”

All along, Frost has said Nebraska feels somewhat uniquely prepared for its upcoming football season. 

The proof will be in the pudding come Oct. 24, and fans across the Big Ten’s footprint will probably be able to tell early on who was working during the hiatus and who wasn’t. Nebraska was even when it felt like the season was a lost cause. Assistant coaches were still preparing as if games were around the corner even though the schedule lay bare. Players were working out on their own, organized by team leaders. 

“The guys are handling the added responsibilities to be compliant with our COVID regulations,” Frost said. “They’re handling that really well. (I) think the guys are excited to play. The last couple months have been a challenge mostly because we were one of the ones really fighting to make sure we could play. I think it’s the right thing to do. I think what we’re doing is the right thing. It’s what our kids wanted to do. I think they’re safe. We’re going to try to continue to work to make sure they stay safe. Playing football this year was the right thing to do and I’m glad we’re there. I hope our kids take advantage of this opportunity.”

Nebraska might have an ace up its sleeve in more ways than one. 

First, just in terms of its readiness to play. Tight end Austin Allen said Nebraska is in “the best shape we've ever been in.” An extra few months with strength coach Zach Duval and a commitment to the task at hand will do that. 

But, also, Nebraska is teasing offensive innovations. 

If the Huskers’ offense looks any different schematically from what it put on tape last year, theoretically they could catch some teams by surprise early, right?

“Coach (Matt) Lubick has a great scheme for us, new concepts, new everything, that’s really going to help us get open,” Allen said.

Lubick’s arrival as the Huskers’ new offensive coordinator is unique in that Nebraska has a coordinator who is new to the program but not new to the system. Lubick worked with Frost at Oregon. He’s worked in the Chip Kelly up-tempo spread that Frost built his offense off of. Lubick was able to hit the ground running without having to take too much time on his own to learn.

“He obviously knows what Frost is trying to accomplish across the board, (but) him going to a couple different schools between then and now has allowed him to apply more schemes and bring them back to what Frost wants to offer, and they’re kind of meshing a little bit,” Allen said. “What we’ve been running at practice has been working. It’s cool to see that he can bring something else than what we’re used to.

“And, our understanding in Year 3 of what Frost has wanted has been great. Now we’re adding some nuances to it and it’s making the offense better as a whole, which is really nice to see. I love this offense, I love what we’re running, but sometimes you see stuff where you’re like, ‘Ah, that could be a little bit better.’ And the addition of Coach Lubick has allowed us to see where we can be (better).”

Things feel different. And Allen isn’t the first to say so.

Back in the spring, offensive coaches talked at length about a more intensive than normal self-scout in the offseason. Tight end coach Sean Beckton looked at NFL offenses to find ways to get those guys more involved. That’s once again a talking point during fall camp. 

“I think it puts a lot on the shoulders of our receiving corps,” Allen said when asked how to take that talk and make it translate to the field. “They’ve really got to step up their games. And we’ve got great athletes out there, so when you have great athletes on the outside it really opens up the whole offense. As tight ends, we become route-runners.”

For the wide receivers, being better downfield is certainly a must. But being better blockers on the edge is something Frost has stressed each of his first two years.

“I’d tell you they’re very physical now, after we brought it to ‘em a couple times,” Taylor-Britt said of the wideouts. “But, yeah, they’re blocking a lot better you could say. We do a lot of perimeter things with bubbles and screens and stuff so they can work on blocks. It’s very competitive. They’ve gotten a lot better at that.”

Nebraska was 72nd last year in scoring offense, putting up exactly 28 points a game. That’ll need to rise. Frost wonders if the same things happening to SEC defenses early in the season will happen in the Big Ten. “There’s a lot of really good defenses in our league,” he said. “We’ll find out in a couple weeks.”

We will. 

We’ll also soon find out what’s different about that offense. 

Frost is keeping those cards close to the vest. 

I asked him how the offense in 2020 will look different from the offense in 2019.

“Well there will be some new guys,” he said. “A few new plays. I don’t know how much anyone else will notice.”

We’ll find out in a couple weeks.

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