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Nebraska offense gaining yards at record pace — and scoring plenty

November 13, 2018

LINCOLN — Khalil Davis ran off the field Saturday after Illinois quarterback AJ Bush’s second touchdown and took a seat on the bench. He got a drink of water. He talked with coaches.

The junior defensive lineman kept a close eye on his helmet.

He’s learned to keep track of it on the sideline. Nebraska’s offense has this tendency to score quickly, and he has been caught too many times trying to find his helmet amid the chaos before rushing back out on defense.

One minute and 46 seconds after he took a seat, Adrian Martinez floated a pass to Stanley Morgan 37 yards down field that ended in the end zone. Nebraska scored its 21st point in less than a quarter.

“It’s kinda fun because they score quick and we’re back on the field and get to make more plays,” Davis said. “They can score pretty quick. And a lot.”

It’s taken longer than coach Scott Frost wanted, but his offense is now kicking into gear.

After beginning the season near the bottom of the Big Ten in offensive statistics, Nebraska has now scored 30 or more points in five straight games. The Huskers have racked up 450 or more yards in seven straight games, a school record.

In the first five games, Nebraska scored 109 points total — 0.28 points per play. That’s skyrocketed to 214 points in five games, and 0.579 points per play, No. 8 in the country.

Since the Northwestern game, Nebraska’s average scoring drive is seven plays lasting 2:50. In the 31 scoring drives, 21 have come in three or less minutes and 13 in two or less.

“Watching our offense execute, man, it’s fun calling plays,” Frost said.

From top to bottom, nearly everything is clicking for Frost’s offense.

Martinez is continuing to improve, Frost said. Since Northwestern, the true freshman is completing 72 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,296 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has gained 282 yards on the ground.

“There’s not going to be anybody better than him once he gets as good as he can be,” Frost said of his quarterback. “He’s so fun to be on a team with.”

In the past five games, senior Devine Ozigbo has 669 rushing yards — which alone would’ve broken his career high for a season entering the year. That’s 133 yards per game and 8.8 yards per carry. He broke off for runs of 60 and 66 against Illinois. Either would’ve been career longs.

He’s got nine touchdowns, too.

“To me,” Frost said, “he’s playing at an All-Big Ten level.”

Ozigbo is in striking distance of going over 1,000 rushing yards. He’d be the first Husker do so since 2014. And Nebraska might have two receivers go over 1,000 yards, Morgan and JD Spileman.

Nebraska is second in total offense in the Big Ten and fourth in scoring.

What changed? The defenses, firstly.

Nebraska’s last five opponents rank lower in total defense than their first five. But the details are starting to fit together, center Tanner Farmer said. At a meeting recently, coaches pointed out that with the amount of yards Nebraska was gaining, the Huskers should be able to score 50 points per game. That’s now the standard.

“Earlier in the season, we were doing a lot of good things on offense and we were getting a lot of yards but we weren’t ever getting a ton of points,” freshman wide receiver Kade Warner said. “Fifty has been our goal and pretty sure we hit it against Minnesota and we hit it again (Saturday).”

But up next are Michigan State and Iowa, two of the top defenses in the Big Ten. These next two weeks are Nebraska’s bowl games. Should Nebraska finished 5-7, there’s a slim chance the Huskers get picked for the postseason. But don’t downplay the momentum three straight wins to finish the season would be, linebacker Mohamed Barry said.

“These two games, we win them, and what you’re gonna see next year is going to be a whole different thought process,” Barry said.

But that will have to come against Michigan State, third in scoring defense in the league, and Iowa, which is second. Neither allows more than 20 points per game.

“It’ll be a great opportunity,” Martinez said. “We play Michigan State, a very solid football team next week. We’re excited, I feel like we’re playing our best football right now. It’ll be a great matchup and we’ll be ready to go.”

Nebraska may not be favored in either game. But 50 will still be a goal. And Nebraska’s still confident it can get there.

“If I can put up 100 points then, I’ll try and put up 100 points,” Farmer said. “Guys want it more. Especially me, and the other seniors, this is gonna be our last home game this next time, so we want it bad. And we plan on getting it.”

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