Lack of depth hurts offensive line; More receivers need to ‘step up’

September 22, 2018

LINCOLN — Scott Frost said Monday the offensive line wore down late against Troy. O-line coach Greg Austin wishes he could disagree.

“There were some good things,” Austin said, “but certainly not up to the standard that we want to be.”

Communication issues, footwork and technique were among the symptoms of the fatigue, the assistant said. Sophomore Boe Wilson rotated in, but the Huskers haven’t felt comfortable inserting anyone else through two games. Frost mentioned redshirt freshmen Hunter Miller and Trent Hixson as players who need to be able to offer relief to starters that might wear down.

“Certainly there’s a confidence in Boe that we have unlike some of the other guys that are not starting,” Austin said. “But some of those other guys have had not a bad week of practice, so we’ll see about getting those other guys in there.”

The challenge doesn’t get any easier with Michigan, which boasts a pair of elite defensive ends, Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, who have combined for 8 1⁄2 tackles for loss and 2 1⁄2 sacks.

It’s a battle of wills, Austin said.

“When things go wrong in life, what do you got to do?” Austin said. “You have to keep fighting — that’s it.”

At receiver, others need to ‘step up’

Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman have more than half of Nebraska’s receptions by receivers. They’ve also played far more than offensive coordinator Troy Walters would have wanted.

The trust in those two is high from the coaching staff. Below them, the receivers haven’t done enough a lot to impress Walters.

“That’s gotta change,” Walters said. “We need some other guys to step up their game and contribute and help out.”

Walters said junior college transfer Jaron Woodyard, freshman Andre Hunt and redshirt freshman Jaevon McQuitty have had good practices this week.

Walters said Morgan challenged the receivers after the game to step up. As did Walters, who said the standards of the receiver position do not go down when Morgan or Spielman step off the field.

“Who is the third, who is the fourth, who is the fifth guy is open and it’s going to be based on how they practice and how they prepare this week, and how they go through pregame warmups,” Walters said. “If they go through pregame warmups and they’re dropping three, four or five balls, that doesn’t give coaches confidence. Those guys understand that and know they gotta step their game up.”

The first play Sean Beckton showed his tight end group Monday was Jack Stoll’s fumble against Troy. Recalling the moment prompted the assistant to briefly shift into third person.

“Coach Beckton has harped on that this week,” Beckton said. “Carrying the ball high and tight and running through defenders instead of spinning.”

Still, Beckton said, his room is showing well through two games. Stoll and redshirt freshman Austin Allen have been plus blockers. Kurt Rafdal has made a couple plays through the air. True freshman Cameron Jurgens saw his first snaps Saturday.

The passing game has been about what Beckton expected, despite tight ends accounting for four catches for 53 yards and no scores. The speed and detail has been good in practice. And tight ends have been open in games — Stoll and Rafdal in particular — but quarterbacks have thrown elsewhere.

“If those guys continue to work and continue to block like they have thus far, the pass game is gonna come for them,” Beckton said.

Quick hits

» Running backs coach Ryan Held likes what he’s seen from his backs through two weeks, particularly Maurice Washington. The true freshman had 92 yards against Troy and bounced outside for some big runs.

But Held, like usual, isn’t satisfied.

“He is getting better,” Held said. “You can see that there are flashes of him of a lot of great things.”

The one thing Nebraska’s running backs haven’t done this year is break off a run longer than 45 yards. The backs actually only have one touchdown between them.

“The thing I look at is, are we running hard? It’s safe to say these guys are running hard,” Held said. “The next phase is, are we taking advantage of the second-level opportunities.”

Held thinks his guys have been great making the first guy miss. It’s the second-level jukes he wants his backs to perfect.

» Nebraska will face one of the top defenses in the country in Michigan. The Wolverines allow just 15.7 points and 276.3 yards per game.

Nebraska is treating this game like “Rocky IV,” Held said.

“Nobody thinks we can win this game,” Held said. “National people don’t think we can win this game. We have to be able to rally, come together as a group, go on the road, get on that airplane like Rocky Balboa did and frickin’ beat Ivan Drago.”

» If Adrian Martinez gets the start, great, Walters said.

If it is Bunch? Fine by him. The offensive coordinator liked what Bunch brought to the table against Troy.

“He played well enough for us to win,” Walters said. “We feel good about if it’s Adrian, it’s Adrian, and if it’s Andrew, it’s Andrew, and we feel like we can go up to Michigan and win with either of those two guys.”

If it is Bunch, Nebraska needs to help the guy out, Walters said. Receivers have to make plays, the offensive line needs to protect him better, needs to open up holes better and the running backs have to hit those holes quicker.

“We’re proud of Andrew. He’s only going to get better,” Walters said. “If he does play this game, he’s going to play better in game two.”

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