Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nebraska's Offense Goes AWOL

I've watched a lot of Nebraska football over the years, and today's 31-10 defeat at the hands of Texas Tech might have been the most disappointing and distressing losses I can remember. There were some bowl games where a top-ranked Miami squad stopped the Husker offense cold; that could be excused because of the competition and the location. I remember a few horrid games against Oklahoma where the Sooners dominated; again, the Sooners were usually that good those years.

Those losses don't compare to today. Texas Tech isn't known for having a great defense, and while the Raiders deserve a lot of credit for shutting down Nebraska, the concern level over the Husker offense is now reaching critical level. We excused the lack of touchdowns against Virginia Tech because they're known to play great defense. OK fine. We excused three quarters of futility against Missouri because (a) the game was played in a monsoon and (b) the Husker scored four times late. OK. But today? What excuses can be made today?

There is only one, and that is injuries to Nebraska's top two running backs. Rex Burkhead is out for the next few weeks with a foot injury, and Roy Helu's shoulder is not only not recovered from last week's injury, but now aggravated. But that doesn't excuse today's performance one bit.

It's not Zac Lee, though he does share the blame along with everybody else on offense.

With Helu limited, Nebraska sought solutions in the running game and found very little as the line line did a poor job blocking and had way too many penalties. Austin Jones was ineffective for the most part in relief. Zac Lee did have a couple of nice short runs.

The passing game was pretty much a disaster today. Zac Lee, whether by design, bad reads, or bad play by receivers, never threw the ball downfield until his final pass, which fell out of bounds on 4th and goal. Lee never challenged the Raiders deep, being content to take short passes for minimal gain all day. Cody Green came on in relief, and threw the ball deeper with mixed results. Yes, he did get the Huskers into the end zone...but was picked off once and probably should have had two more picked off. Green wasn't the answer today either, and I'd resist the tempatation to call for Green to start next least not with this game plan.

Speaking of which, I don't know what the game plan was supposed to be this week, as it seemed to be completely out of sorts. Perhaps it was to not make any mistakes and keep it close, and wait for Ndamukong Suh to save the day once again. Which might have worked if somebody had bothered to try and recover Niles Paul's fumble on that lateral.

This one doesn't go on the Blackshirts. Yes, they did give up 24 points to the Raiders, but holding the Raiders to 259 yards of offense should have been enough to put the Huskers in position to win the game. In fact, limiting Tech to 259 should have put Nebraska in position to win by handily.

This one goes to the core: offensive line, quarterback decision making, wide receiver play, you name it. It was bad all the way around today, and I didn't see anybody (other than Chris Brooks and maybe Khiry Cooper) who really cared. Zac Lee finally elected to scramble for a first down rather than throw an incompletion on the run with running room ahead of him. I guess that was one sign of optimism.

The only suggestion I can bring forward is to start utilizing Nebraska's tight ends more. We know that Mike McNeill is a game changer, Dreu Young is a great blocker, and Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed are intriguing freshmen. Let's get them into the game more and try to get some offensive continuity going. Is Cody Green the answer? Not if you are asking him to throw the ball 40 times a game. Not with these receivers, and not with this line trying to protect him. And not with this game plan.

Maybe there's something in the video that will emerge that was just not quite right. But until Helu and Burkhead are healthy again, I'm not sure I see any answers to the mounting questions about Nebraska's offense. And that's frightening at this point, because an offense that can't run and can't throw isn't going to do much when the competition isn't a Sun Belt foe.


Johan said...

Hello from Holland

Anonymous said...

NufaninTx- Mike you have hit this one on the head. Until we can run the ball with effectivness we can not count on anything. The vouge thing in college football today is to talk about balance and diverstiy- problem is when you do neither very well the D can pin it's ears back and attack you on every down. The play calling never attempted to throw the ball down the field in the attempt to keep the D from attacking every play. That falls directly on the shoulders of Shawn Watson. I have never been a fan of his play calling and with every game I become less and less enchanted with his effort. It looks like on TV that he spends most of his time out thinking him self and making the wrong call.

merlin said...

I fear the north is just that bad Mike. I fully expect my Tigers to be 0-3 after next week and not out of the race.

Anonymous said...

Thank God we have only to worry about the hapless Clones tis weekend

Husker Mike said...

Those "hapless Clones" would be in first place in the North if they had a reliable kicker.

Aodhhan said...

The past two games the offense has been terrible. The past two games we stopped using more than 7 formations.
The problem with being in a shotgut formation, with four wide-outs is simple. First, the defense never loses sight of the ball. Linebackers are never held, and the defensive secondary (especially the safeties) can tell what the play is, and where it is going before the wide out they are covering is at their location... allowing them to get in on the run plays. Second, it gives the defensive ends a straight path to the ball, whether there is a pass or hand off to b hole out. If it is an interior run, they can easily pursue from behind.
Third, you it takes away an effective play action, counters and trap plays. Since secondary can get into the play quicker, it also takes away any cut-backs.

When you take away any guessing, any advantage of movement it will make it more difficult on everyone. Especially the offensive line.

Also, when you constantly send out four receivers and add in 4 secondary and 2 linebackers or other secondary specialties... the area where you pass in gets very crowded; unless there are a couple of deep routes. Anyone who has played QB will tell you, they'd rather throw a pass with 3 receivers in the formation than 4 to 5.

The plan is simple. Get back to what we were doing the first four games. Use more formations than the defense can remember, allow a tight end and slot get in the formation to effectively block linebackers. Give our offensive line back the advantage.