Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: What a Difference Fewer Penalties Can Make

October 23, 2018
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Matt Farniok was a man after my own heart on Monday.

"I feel like we put together really good games throughout the season, it is just that we didn’t commit penalties [against Minnesota]," the sophomore offensive lineman said. "Instead of starting with a first-and-15 or a second-and-20 we just had to get 10 yards every time. We never put ourselves in bad situations, so we were finally able to finish drives and get points on the board."

That's a guy speaking my football language. "Finish drives?" I use that term multiple times a week. Staying out of bad situations? That's really the most important thing a team can do in a game of football.

The Huskers did both on Saturday. Seven of Nebraska's nine scoring opportunities (first downs inside the opponent's 40) ended in touchdowns. One more ended in a field goal. The offense was technically flagged five times, but one came on special teams and the others didn't harm the Huskers drastically: Brenden Jaimes was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after a touchdown, there was the by-rule false start when Nebraska tried to spike it with less than three seconds left in the first half and there were the illegal forward pass and intentional grounding in the second half on Adrian Martinez, two penalties Minnesota's defense had more than earned via its pass rush.

All of that helped Nebraska overcome a huge field-position differential. The Huskers had seven drives start at or inside their own 20 and an average of their own 22. The Gophers started out on their own 39 on average. In a lot of games that 17-yard difference alone is enough for a team to win.

But Saturday showed just what the "recipe" of efficient offense-plus-timely defense can look like at Nebraska. The defense was far from as clean as the offense on Saturday –– talking overall play, not penalties as the defense only had one –– but the Blackshirts did end three of the Gophers' six scoring opportunities without giving up any points. A defense sort of has to do that when its opponent is starting every drive out on its own 40.

"Really that’s what a defense is, there’s good offenses in this league," Frost said after the game. "You’re going to give up some plays, but if you can find a way to make one or two plays and make a stop, it changes the game."

I do wonder if at some point far down the line when Nebraska has established itself as a strong team again if that approach defensively won't get nit-picked a bit, but that's a discussion for another time. Nebraska's not there yet.

But it's making progress. Derek Peterson wrote an excellent column yesterday about some Huskers' postgame comments after beating Minnesota and how many of them referenced practice. He had just written an (also excellent) story on the Oregon origins of Frost's approach for the October issue of the magazine, and practice habits came up a lot.

If Huskers are now talking about that stuff, it's probably a good sign.

I felt similarly about Farniok's quick quote on Monday. He was asked a question about penalties, one of the easiest problems to see with any team, and he mentioned penalties in his response. But what his answer was really getting at was efficient football on two different fronts.

If others are thinking about football that way, consciously or subconsciously, that's probably a good sign, too. There are a bunch of ways to win or lose football games, but the most efficient team tends to win the most.

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