Wednesday notebook: Offensive line still not satisfied
Even though Nebraska has scored 95 points and put up 956 yards of total offense in its first two games of 2016, that doesn’t mean its offensive line is exactly satisfied with its early performance.
The Huskers have rushed for 215.0 yards per game and have only given up two sacks through the first two games, but some inconsistency and mental mistakes have the o-line determined to be even better going forward.
For sophomore left tackle Nick Gates, NU’s inability to establish the running game against Wyoming until the fourth quarter was something that stood out far more than any of the positives for the offense.
“We weren’t really consistent Saturday running the ball,” Gates said. “They stacked the box on us and we just couldn’t get the job done. So we probably need to be more consistent when they stack the box on us. We should be able to run the ball no matter what so that’s probably one thing we’ve got to do.”
The other glaring issue for the offense as a whole have been unnecessary penalties that have negated successful plays and killed promising drives. Nebraska has already committed 14 penalties for 173 yards as a team, but the offensive line has only accounted for two of those infractions, and both were personal fouls after the play.
Even though the o-line has been relatively clean so far, senior left guard Sam Hahn said the unit knows it can’t revert to its mistakes of previous years.
“It’s been addressed,” Hahn said. “I know the last two Sunday meetings we’ve had we’ve talked about really needing to cut that down. You get stuff like that against a team like Oregon that would be a killer, that would definitely hurt us a lot.
“So we definitely have to clean that up and it’s something that I know that will be a focus for us going forward.”
- Robin Washut
With Pac-12 officials, NU defense preparing even faster pace vs. Oregon
As if Nebraska’s defense didn’t have enough to worry about in slowing down Oregon’s high-speed offense on Saturday, it sounds like the game’s officials might not be much help in controlling the Ducks’ pace.
According to linebackers coach Trent Bray, Saturday will feature a Pac-12 Conference officiating crew.
That means the referees could be far more lenient in allowing Oregon to push the tempo by allowing some pre-snap alignment infractions go that officials from other conferences might not.
“That’s gonna be an adjustment for us, because they let them go fast," Bray said. "The way that the game’s officiated is different. They let them go fast. They aren’t really worried about the procedure thing. It’ll be a different experience for us...
"The biggest thing is (the Ducks are) false-starting and they’re not set and nothing’s called because the tempo doesn’t allow the officials to officiate the game. That’s what I think the Big Ten has done a great job of, is managing that stuff. That’s what we hope happens, is just to allow the procedure of the game to be what it’s supposed to be.”
That’s why one of the biggest focuses for the defense this week in practice has been preparing to only have 8-10 seconds of play clock to make their calls and lineup before each snap.
“It’s a Pac-12 crew and they’re used to the speed so they can get going faster and not keep the game as controlled pace-wise as the Big Ten guys,” senior linebacker Josh Banderas said.
“Every team you play, you want to get done with the play, get back, get the call, and look at them. With this team, you just have to be more on top of it. You gotta get everything sped up, the process, but you still gotta go through each one of your checklists to make sure you’re doing the right thing each play.”
- Robin Washut
Rahn enjoying moment in spotlight, hoping for more
Prior to Saturday, most fans would probably have to scour Nebraska’s roster for a moment if you were to ask them to pick out Gabe Rahn on the field.
That all changed by the final whistle of Nebraska’s win over Wyoming.
Though the game was well in hand with just over five minutes left to play, backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe connected with the junior walk-on from La Mars, Iowa, for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
The play marked the first catch and first score of Rahn’s career, and with it everyone learned about No. 81.
“There’s lots more people telling me congrats and stuff like that on my touchdown catch, but I guess take it with a grain of salt,” Rahn said. “It’s cool to be known, but you’ve still got work to do. I’m not where I want to be yet. I want to be in the game when it matters. It’s cool, but I’m going to keep working.”
It turns out Rahn’s touchdown came on a play that wasn’t even designed to go to him.
The ball was supposed to go to fellow wideout De’Mornay Pierson-El, but with the way Wyoming’s defense lined up before the play and pressured Fyfe with a blitz, Rahn had a good feeling the ball might be coming his way.
“It was motivation for me, for sure, to catch the touchdown,” Rahn said. “I’ve just got to go back to work. I’ve been here four years, working hard, so I’ve just got to keep doing that. It doesn’t really change my approach or anything like that, but it definitely gives me motivation.”
- Robin Washut
Despite departures, strong bonds remain on d-line
Nebraska’s defensive line depth was severely depleted over the course of the offseason, as the Huskers lost all four starters and one of their top backups to graduation, transfer, or early jumps to the NFL.
But that doesn’t mean some of those early departures still aren’t very connected with NU’s current defensive front.
Senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said he remains in regular contact with a number of his former d-line teammates, especially Maliek Collins, who left for the NFL a year early and is now with the Dallas Cowboys.
“Maliek texts me every game, talking s*** as usual,” Maurice joked. “He ain’t changed at all. That’s how he is. He’s always critical, and I accept it.”
Along with Collins, Maurice said he’s keeps in touch with others like Greg McMullen (who gave up football this spring), Kevin Williams (who transferred to Michigan State), and even Joe Keels (who transferred to Eastern Michigan).
Maurice said he’ll always have a bond with that group, no matter where they end up.
“Oh definitely, especially Maliek, a guy that I came in with,” Maurice said. “I’ll always have a bond with him and Joe. I’m very close with Joe. I still talk to K-Wili, I still talk to Greg, I still talk with all of those guys. Just because they’re not here I will have a relationship with them.”
To be clear, it’s not just guys like Collins giving Maurice a hard time. The jeering definitely goes both ways.
“We just watch each other’s games and give each other feedback, like what they see and stuff like that,” Maurice said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch the Cowboys game (a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday), so I wasn’t able to talk to s*** back.”
- Robin Washut
***Wide receiver Brandon Reilly (hamstring) and defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg (knee) remained sidelined on Tuesday, but receiver Alonzo Moore (shoulder) was back in action.
***Zack Darlington has been working as the scout team quarterback this week, simulating Oregon’s Dakota Prukop.
***Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf downplayed the importance of time of possession in most cases, but admitted if there was a game where it mattered the most, it was against Oregon. He said Nebraska needed to “play your game” and not get caught up in the tempo the Ducks try to push.
***Langsdorf has coached in close games and shootouts against OU over the years, and he said the key was sustaining drives and keeping NU’s defense off the field.
***Langsdorf said he’s preferred his move back up to the coaches’ box this year, saying there are advantages and disadvantages to being upstairs and on the field, but he likes seeing the whole field while calling the game.
***Langsdorf said they’ve been studying old film of Brady Hoke’s Michigan teams to get ready for what they might see from his defense at Oregon on Saturday. He said the Ducks run a 4-3 quarters base, but NU is expecting to see some new wrinkles as well.
***Langsdorf said what stands out as much as anything about Oregon’s defense is the speed at every position. Not only do the Ducks have an “active” defensive line with two “big, big defensive tackles” in the middle, they have “a lot of athletes” in the back seven that fly to the football.
***Offensive tackle David Knevel said the biggest key vs. Oregon was establishing a physical identity from the opening snap to set the tone for the rest of the game.