September 28, 2008

Huskers still not concerned about running game

When asked about what it means when Nebraska only manages 55 yards rushing in a game, offensive line coach Barney Cotton rolls his eyes and shakes his head.

In his opinion, the 55 total rushing yards the Huskers finished with in their 35-31 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday were merely a product of the Hokies making an effort to shut down the running game and force them to throw the ball.

Yes, it was the second time in four games that the Huskers have been held to less than 100 yards rushing. Yes, the Huskers' leading rusher was sophomore Roy Helu with four carries for 21 yards, marking the lowest total for a leading rusher this season.

But in Cotton's opinion, there is still no reason for concern.

"I think you guys make way too much of that," Cotton said. "We're going to take what a defense gives us. We've got to obviously do a better job on first down. I think that goes without saying. That was kind of their blitz down. You can't become a third-and-long team either. Yeah, we'd like to run the football a little bit better, but I think we make way too much of that because we're a very effective throwing team, and that's going to be the way we are.

"We are a balanced offense. We're not going to be a one-dimensional offense at Nebraska."

Looking at the numbers, though, one-dimensional is exactly what the Huskers's offense has been so far this year. Aside from their win over New Mexico State, where they rushed for 330 yards and had their only 100-yard rusher of the season in Marlon Lucky (103), the Huskers have been unable to run the ball consistently.

In its three other games this season, Nebraska has just 292 rushing yards on 86 attempts for an average of just 3.4 yards per carry. On Saturday, the Huskers averaged just 2.2 yards on 25 carries.

Still, Cotton said he isn't concerned in the least, stating the adage that has become somewhat of a theme for NU's offense this season in that the Huskers will continue to "take what the defense gives them."

"I'm absolutely not concerned about it," Cotton said. "I know that we're going to keep working every week on being more physical than we were the week before…We're going to be a balanced offense and not just try to pound our heads against a wall, because the throwing game in this offense is very effective, and we're going to try and do both."

While Cotton stressed the need for balance offensively, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the Huskers became one-dimensional against the Hokies. Though they threw just one more pass (26) than they had rushing attempts, the Huskers were forced to turn to the passing game to get any source of offense, especially in the second half.

"You get in a one-dimensional situation, and that's tough sledding," Watson said. "It was just one of those games. We didn't have a lot of touches that first half, which is kind of the way they built their program, to play great defense and special teams and play an offense that's going to rush the football and keep the other offense off the field.

"It can get frustrating. You wait and you wait, and we've got to execute when we get our opportunities."

Nebraska's running back rotation also came into question on Saturday, as Helu led the team in rushing and had the team's only rushing touchdown, but only got four carries in the game. Senior Marlon Lucky carried most of the load with eight carries for 18 yards.

Despite Helu's slightly better game, Watson said he had no plans to alter the running back rotation in any way.

"We're going to keep running the way we've been running," he said. "We're not going to change that."

For the running backs themselves, Saturday's loss was especially frustrating. When asked if the team gave its best effort, Lucky, like Cotton, could only shake his head.

"No. No. Oh, no," Lucky said. "I mean, it wasn't our worst, but we need to pick it up… We had some holes. It was slim holes, but we have to hit 'em… We beat ourselves."

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