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Wednesday notebook: Frost, Austin have high hopes for Jurgens

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Freshman Cam Jurgens has already made quite the impression at offensive line, including garnering some lofty comparisons from his head coach.
Nate Clouse

Over his time associated with Nebraska football, offensive line coach Greg Austin has seen guys make successful position moves to the o-line.

One he still remembers to this day was Chris Patrick, who went from the defensive line to the offensive line and eventually turned himself into an NFL player.

When he analyzes the move this week that happened with Cameron Jurgens from tight end to center/guard, Austin is very excited about the potential it presents.

“What you see is explosiveness,” Austin said of Jurgens. “He’ll take a guy on an angle and finish 5 to 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. I can honestly tell you that it was coach (Scott) Frost with the initial, ‘Hey, this guy can be the second coming.’ We’ve been working with him, and he’s done a great job.”

The second coming of who? Dave Rimington.

“(Frost) was like, 'He’s explosive, he’s quick, he’s powerful, he’s gritty, he’s nasty.' All the things that describe David Rimington to this day,” Austin said.

However, Jurgens still spends some time with the tight ends during the week, but a majority of his focus is with the offensive line.

“We’re looking for the long haul for the best for the players and position for our team,” tight ends coach Sean Beckton said. “Coach Frost felt (Jurgens) needs to probably start getting some work over there (with the offensive line) to see where he would be at towards the end of the year as far as putting on some weight.

“I’ve been surprised with how quick he has picked up on things as far as what’s going on up front. I’ve seen him snap the football and the ball is right there in the breadbasket for the quarterback. So there’s some promising moments that we’ve seen on the field with him.”

- Sean Callahan

Third-down woes continue to plague Husker offense

Nebraska’s offense is still working on correcting a number of issues that have been plaguing it all season, and one that is toward the top of that list is fixing the problems on third downs.

After five games the Huskers rank dead last in the Big Ten and 122nd nationally in third-down conversion percentage at 31.7 (20-of-63).

For offensive coordinator Troy Walters, it’s not just a matter of the high volume of third-down plays NU has faced, but more how many of those have been third-and-long situations.

“We’ve been in too many third downs,” Walters said. “Any time you’re in third down and third-and-long, it’s tough, and defenses can do a lot of different things. So 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.”

Walters added that another problem is that not only has NU been in far too many long-yardage situations on third downs, it also hasn’t been nearly good enough on the third-and-manageable plays it has gotten.

“We get in those third-and-ones, third-and-twos, and at times we’ve gotten stoned,” Walter said. “So we need to be better all across the board and understand that third down, that’s the money down. We’ve got to make sure that we convert on those and keep the defense off the field.”

Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said the Huskers’ goal was to have about a 45-percent third-down conversion rate each game. He said generally for every 100 plays, about 20-25 will come on third downs. Of those 20-25, the staff would like 4-6 percent to be short-yardage plays.

Well, Nebraska’s numbers have been “flipped” all season, and especially against a Northwestern defense that has only given up 27 conversions on 77 third-down situations (35.1 percent), the Huskers have to turn around their money down woes in a hurry.

- Robin Washut

Washington to continue to see all-purpose role 

Nebraska’s loss at Wisconsin was by far the best all-around performance yet for talent true freshman Maurice Washington, and a big part of it was because of how versatile of weapon he was in the game.

The running back ended up with a modest five carries for 27 yards, but he also hauled in a career-high four catches for 53 yards en route to 115 total yards.

Walters said as Washington continues to develop into the prototypical do-it-all threat NU wants from its skill positions, the Stockton, Calif., native would become a bigger and bigger factor in the offensive game plan.

“He’s a playmaker, so we’re going to find ways to get him the ball, find ways to match him up with someone he has an advantage over,” Walters said. “So you’re going to see him in a number of different roles. We’ve got to be smart; he’s still a freshman, so we can’t overwork him.

“But we definitely have to try to find ways to get the ball in his hands, because when he has the ball in his hands he’s pretty special.”

- Robin Washut

Beckton loses Jurgens, but gains McGriff at tight end

Nebraska tight ends coach Sean Beckton may have had Jurgens poached away from him by the offensive line, but the group recently gained freshman Justin McGriff from the wide receivers.

Beckton said the plan all along was for McGriff to end up with the tight ends and he’s excited to be able to start working with him there at last.

“He was really signed as a tight end,” Beckton said. “We were a little bit short at receiver so we started him there and I knew what I had at tight end with the guys that I had before. So now he’s started to matriculate over to us and I think that’s where he’s going to end up being for the end of the season completely.

As an early enrollee from the 2018 recruiting class, McGriff arrived on campus weighing around 210 pounds. He has since bulked up to 24 and Beckton thinks he has the skillset to add another dimension to the tight ends room.

“Justin, because he’s up to almost 240 now, Zach Duval and Dave Ellis and those guys in the nutrition room are doing a good job of getting his body where it needs to be and he’s getting stronger,” Beckton said.

“So the last two weeks I’ve taken him with me to do the base fundamentals of what we’re trying to do at the tight end spot. He’s going to give us that guy that’s going to have some speed to him as far as a vertical threat. That’s really what we’re trying to get at the position.”

- Nate Clouse

Huskers practice on wet grass to prepare for Ryan Field

Saturday will be the only time this season Nebraska will play on grass, but because of the wet weather conditions in Lincoln, Wednesday has been the only day NU has been able to practice on a grass surface.

Northwestern’s Ryan Field has developed a reputation of being one of the worst surfaces in the Big Ten, so it will be important for NU to get their footing established early.

“Well, the good thing is we both play on the same surface, and you know we practiced out today on the grass, and we’ll do it again, one more practice, probably Friday,” running backs coach Ryan Held said. “So our guys will be used to it, we did in fall camp. I mean it is what it is, you know.

"When I was a head coach for many years we had grass, and guys who were used to turf, you know, the teams that didn’t worry about it went out there and were able to get it done. If you’re worrying about all that, things you can’t control, then it can affect you. Obviously, our guys that’s not going to affect them, they’ll be fine, we’ve played on it every other year, so we should be good to go.”

- Sean Callahan

Quick notes

***For all the excitement around Jurgens, he was seen on crutches with a walking boot following Wednesday’s practice. Beckton wouldn’t give any specifics on Jurgens’ injury.

***Beckton said Frost addressed the team on Friday following the departures of Greg Bell and Tyjon Lindsey and said no player even blinked an eye. That’s when the staff knew they had a group of players fully bought into what they were trying to build.

*** Verduzco said there wasn’t a throw in Nebraska’s playbook that Adrian Martinez couldn’t make right now, which wasn’t the case earlier this season.

***Asked about their philosophy on time of possession, Walters said the offense would like to keep the ball a little longer at times, but defensive coordinator Erik Chinander would rather them just score a lot of points. Walters said they’re going to keep being aggressive out of the gates and hopefully get off to better starts.