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  • Husker Homeruns Overcome Lack of Blocks on Mocs

    Any style of offense can and has succeeded in college football and, regardless of the differing philosophies, they all espouse nails execution. Shawn Watson’s power running attack at CU dismantled NU in 2001 for one simple reason; the Buff O-line gave a gold medal performance in synchronized bulldozing.

    Related, Tim Beck treated the Big Red faithful to a rare, partial peek at the new offense he’s been cooking for nine months since Shawn Watson’s departure. Unfortunately, Saturday’s paid scrimmage against UT-Chattanooga didn’t reveal definitive proof that Tim’s secret recipe is indeed fully-baked. The generic play calling against the FCS team generated enough highlights to fill the local news segment, but the new offense still leaned on the same old Blackshirt crutch to get enough homerun swings to ultimately post a blowout.

    Anyone assuming the new O would tick with TAG Heuer precision wasn’t being realistic, but there are tangible reasons to feel a bit of a let down. If we knew anything going in, it was that establishing ground supremacy was paramount and NU never achieved its goal against a young FCS defense also entering its first game.

    Although Beck promised the new offense would be attacking in nature, UTC clearly won the battle up front and Bo admitted as much by describing the O-line as having “unexcusable (sic) errors” and being “not up to our standard.”

    “We didn’t come off the ball the way we want to fundamentally and technically,” Pelini would add.

    The O-line struggling “fundamentally” and “technically” is an ongoing plague that has seemingly survived yet another off season. NU has been churning linemen through the system that don’t appear to make the measured leaps college players are expected to take year to year. The pass protection isn’t lousy, but run block footwork, pad level, and use of hands have been repeatedly suspect. NU’s strongest, recent O-line performances have seemed more like random increases in amperage as opposed to consistently sound technique that would be evident on a weekly basis.

    What the Pelinis proved in spades by turning Suh from a 4th - 5th rounder into a Heisman finalist is that technique is taught, not born. You also can’t continually shuffle line positions and cast aside game tested, raw talent guys in favor of the newest flavor of the month. Each year has been a musical chairs experiment with starters not getting named until just days before the first game. I’ve been writing for years how O-lines are not five independent guys, but one fist that needs constant reps together to really punch. Yes, this is only game number one, but in some eerie ways it feels like year number four.

    The above issues make grading the rest of the offense fairly difficult. T-Magic delivered anticipated explosive playmaking with his legs and difficulties threading the needle with his arm. It’s hard to cite major flaws however, when constant pressure rarely allowed him to fully execute the plays called.

    Enunwa made some of Taylor’s worst passes look good while Kinnie dropped a few of his best. Martinez was never asked to stretch the field, so the question remains if NU has a legitimate deep threat. For the moment I’ll believe Beck didn’t feel the need to go long and was probably already throwing the ball more than hoped based on the lack of credible running lanes.

    The RBs had few chances to excel and I do wonder why Beck was in such a hurry to peel redshirts off all three freshmen. Rex is going to get the most yards any back can by going head first at 100 mph through a brick wall. Out of pure appreciation I’m looking the other way on the 4th down TD where Rex ran the other way and Legate ended up looking more like the pitchman than the lead blocker.

    TE Kyler Reed may struggle to find a home in the new offense unless his blocking dramatically improves, but odds are the TE plays a more significant offensive weaponry role in the grand scheme. A bigger concern is at FB where baffling missed assignments failed to resurrect any images from the mid 90s (or 1980 if you go by Tim Beck’s calendar). Beck’s offensive plans need this to improve, period.

    The defense played a nice game leaving plenty of room for improvement. Green had a brutal game at RCB where he arguably received an illegal shuck on the lone UTC TD, but from then on showed significant burn-o-phobia by leaving huge buffers that got exploited. Just a guess, but I’ll bet every Hallmark store in Nebraska is sold out of ‘Get Well Soon Alfonzo’ cards.

    LCB Ciante Evans is already earning the Princely treatment of opponents not bothering to throw his way. At LB, Lavonte David is so dialed-in you’re disappointed when he doesn't make a play. Blatchford did some nice things, but also got lost in coverage where Gomes wouldn’t have. We’ll learn quickly if that’s a communication or talent issue that could weaken the value of the currency packages. Roach had a nice coming out party showing major potential. The safety position looks solid across the board and Stafford has the skills to become an early round pick or an undisciplined Thenarse-esque wild child. Either way he’ll be entertaining to watch.

    There were overall positives to take away. I have doubts NU is ready to go primetime with Duck-ish style up-tempo, but never burned the play clock which is perhaps the day’s greatest victory. The one motion penalty was twice as few as Ben Cotton typically amassed by his lonesome. I liked what I call the ‘zone read option’ play that runs a stretch play with a pitch option after an initial zone read with the up back. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear Osborne himself doodled that play in the House of Representatives when the zone read was becoming prevalent in the early 2000s. The power formations were conceptually inventive and could keep defenses heeled, but again, we’ll never know what’s possible until forced will is established up front.

    “The operation of the offense was fine...the execution wasn’t good,” said Pelini, well framing my thoughts. “We didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage the way we need to.”

    In the end, every team gets a mulligan in week one because smoke doesn’t always mean fire. There’s a reason every major program pays big bucks for these scrimmages, but they’re intended to help teams ramp up to new levels, not sink down their opponents’. I highlight the flaws because they can be the indicators of future losses, but these games can also be anomalies that mean nothing. Necessity ensures the O-line will be better, but there’s no comfort knowing they’re capable of being roughed up by an also young, also playing its first game, FCS team. NU needs to figure out what it takes to bring the same urgency into games against Mocs and Jackrabbits as it does Badgers and Buckeyes. That or Dr. Tom needs to heavily question the upside of playing FCS teams. I’ll stop well short of calling Fresno State a trap game, but the initial NU -23 spread is a trap spread based on both teams’ initial body of work. A déjà vu performance by NU won’t easily dispatch, much less beat the Bulldogs and Pat Hill’s soul selling hunger for marquee wins. Look for a chippy game where the Huskers must return body blows with constant wheelhouse rights and lefts. And, just in case I didn’t make it clear, it all starts up front.

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