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C O M M E N T A R Y
T A D    S T R Y K E R
October 26, 2009

 
A couple of days after the eight-turnover fiasco that was the Nebraska-Iowa State football game, we’re wondering if there’s any hope for redemption on the Cornhusker offense.

I think there is. We saw a microcosm of it at Columbia, Missouri, when the offense was dead in the water for three quarters and fought back in the rain with a rousing fourth-quarter performance. We know there’s some life in there somewhere.

The temptation is to say that a little extra effort will turn the tide, but I don’t think that’s accurate. In fact, it may take a little less effort.

Mainly, this offense just needs to get its collective head screwed on straight. And a small shift in philosophy wouldn’t hurt, either. Maybe it needs to stop trying to do too many things.

This offense can move the football. Finishing drives has been a problem, but it has shown an ability to move the ball. Frankly, it has looked the best when it has mixed in a good dose of heavy sets and concentrated on power football. It seems like this team is best suited for that sort of offense. In that scheme, I think the o-line would look better than it has all season.

I’m not talking about a major realignment of the offense. Against Iowa State, Nebraska’s offense looked most comfortable and most efficient when it ran Dontrayevous Robinson five times in a row (the last three out of heavy sets) just before he had the ball stripped out of his hands at the 5-yard line. It looked almost as good on the previous drive, early in the third quarter, when it mixed slant and sideline passes with Roy Helu’s running, both up the middle and around the end. The rhythm seemed right.

The point is, when Nebraska is running well between the tackles, it sets up everything else. At the risk of repeating myself ad nauseam, it seems obvious that in the generally windy weather conditions that characterize the Northern Plains, you need a dependable power running game. And having a quarterback — namely Cody Green — who is an outside running threat can do wonders to make your power game work. But you have to commit to it. And it can be done within the context of Watson’s West Coast offense.

 
Helu and Robinson can form a solid one-two punch at I-back, especially if the offensive line can get into a rhythm. But I predict the offense will not develop consistency unless Watson develops a longer attention span toward the power running game.

If I’m wrong, it will become obvious soon. This would mean that Nebraska starts scoring touchdowns with regularity against Big 12 competition by attacking their defenses horizontally with stretch plays and short passes in the flat. Maybe Zac Lee will suddenly become a threat on the read option. If that is the best way to use the current mix of offensive talent, then Watson’s “multiple” offense will start clicking soon without making any noticeable changes.

It hasn’t worked lately. Nebraska has produced 12 turnovers, but only six touchdowns in 12 quarters against conference opponents, and that’s in a league that has a reputation of being weak defensively. To change that distressing trend, the Big Red needs some playmakers to step forward immediately, no matter what offensive philosophy it espouses.

Niles Paul was a playmaker earlier this season. He can become one again, but he has to learn to get his head 100 percent into the game and keep it there. He has to reliably be the man who scored a key touchdown by outfighting two Missouri defenders for a wet football. I think he can accomplish that regardless of who lines up at quarterback (and it says here that Green and Lee can each get the ball to Paul equally well at this point).

Right now, Nebraska looks very beatable to anyone — and I mean anyone. That will change if and when the Nebraska offense starts believing in itself. That’s doubly true for Niles Paul, whose return to consistency is a major requirement if Nebraska’s offense is to put fear into any opponent this season.

If the Huskers start running their power running game effectively, they immediately reappear as a factor in their division. But if they can combine power running with a vertical passing game featuring Paul deep and Mike McNeill across the middle, and if they can count on the solid defensive play that we’ve seen out of the Blackshirts this season, they can still set off alarms among their remaining Big 12 North opponents.

 

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive

 
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