Nebraska ranks fifth in the Big Ten in total offensive output each game. The Huskers average 432 yards per contest, more than teams like Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa. Nebraska also ranks 13th in the conference in scoring offense at just 21.8 points a game, only ahead of Rutgers.
If you look at yards per point, the Huskers rank 126th in the country. They’ve typically got to travel 20 yards for every point on the scoreboard.
The time of possession stuff doesn’t matter as much, the third-down stuff, the penalties, the defensive numbers, whatever, the bottom line, as offensive coordinator Troy Walters sees it, is Nebraska has to start scoring points.
“I don’t care how many yards you average, it’s all about points,” he said. “I think the defense and Coach Chinander will tell you they want us to score points. If the time of possession is skewed and we don’t have the ball, if we’re scoring points it helps them out.”
So what is preventing Nebraska from capitalizing on its scoring opportunities? Three factors, Walters says: third-down offense, red zone offense and penalties.
“[Penalties is] one of the factors,” he said. “You get behind the chains. We’ve got to be better in the red zone, we move the ball but when you get in the red zone you’ve got to score points.
“I think a couple times in the red zone against Wisconsin we had a penalty here and there and it moved us back and we weren’t able to score. It’s a combination of really all three of those things.”
On the third downs, a lot of what the Huskers are facing are termed “manageable” situations. Forty-eight percent of Nebraska’s third-down looks this season have been third-and-longs. That’s not terrible (60th nationally) but only 7.8 percent have been third and short (95th nationally). That’s almost half of your third downs that are in that in-between range and the Huskers have just a 39 percent success rate on those downs (114th nationally).
The success rate isn’t any better on third-and-long (19.4 percent, 104th) but Walters says their numbers look so bad because they’ve simply been in too many of those situations.
“We’ve got to be more productive and efficient on first and second downs so we don’t get to as many third downs and if we do, they’re third and manageable,” he said. “That’s something that we’re working on and we’ve got to be better Saturday.
“We’ve got to be better all across the board and understand that third down, that’s the money down.”
The weird trend is Nebraska has been significantly better in the second halves of games this season than in the first. They’re being outscored 50-14 in the opening quarters of games this year and they’re being outscored 113-38 in the opening halves.
“We’ve got to start faster,” Walters said. “The defense, to me, did a great job last game against Wisconsin in the first half holding them to field goals … We’ve got to capitalize, we’ve got to start faster, score touchdowns, get up on opponents.
“The teams we play, you can’t go down into halftime 20-3 and expect to win. We’ve got to be just as good in the first half as we’ve been the last two games in the second half.”
Walters says fixing that is just about having guys ready to go when they step on the field.
“It comes down to guys making plays and when your number’s called, going out there and producing and having that mindset that once we step on that field, first quarter, first drive, we’ve got to go down there and score,” he said. “We did that against Purdue, went down and scored, and then the next seven drives we didn’t do anything so it’s that sense of urgency.”
Other News and Notes
>> Tight end-turned-center Cam Jurgens left practice Wednesday with a boot over his right foot.
>> Asked about his tight ends getting more and more work as the season has gone on, coach Sean Beckton said there has been an effort on the part of the coaching staff to get that group more and more involved in the game plan each week.
“You can see there are some plays every week now that are basically the tight ends’ package where we’re going to try to get those guys the ball,” he said. “We’re going to continue to build on that because those guys have earned it. I tell those guys every week, if those guys continue to work and do things on the practice field, your number is going to continue to get called and it’s starting to show with those guys making some plays for us.”
Sophomore Jack Stoll caught his first touchdown of the season Saturday against Wisconsin.
>> Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco said there’s not a play in the Huskers’ playbook quarterback Adrian Martinez can’t run at this point.
He touched on those 10 incompletions Martinez said he left on the field (Verduzco pegged 10 as well) and said those can’t happen going forward. He doesn’t like to praise the good plays, saying simply that Martinez did his job when things work out, but he remembers the mistakes.
>> Offensive line coach Greg Austin passed along a comment from head coach Scott Frost on Jurgens’ potential at center: "This guy can be the second coming of Dave Rimington." Safe to say Frost is excited about the freshman.
“We're looking for the long haul for the best players in position for our team," Beckton added. "Coach Frost felt he needs to probably start getting some work over there and see where he would be at toward the end of the year as far as putting on some weight. I've been surprised on how quick he's picked up on things as far as understanding what's going on up front."
>> Freshman wideout Justin McGriff is starting to make the move from wideout to tight end. At 6-foot-6, McGriff was initially signed to play tight end, but with a slender frame, the Huskers were going to use him out wide until he could add weight. McGriff has yet to appear in a game this season but Walters said Wednesday he’s “still developing.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.