Husker O-line eager to go, whatever the pace

2013-08-28T23:45:00Z 2013-08-29T10:13:06Z Husker O-line eager to go, whatever the paceBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star

If there's one drive that might be bottled up, one drive last season that perhaps best explains why the expectations for this year's Husker offense hang so near the clouds, look at that possession against Georgia.

You don't have to give any more details to the Huskers. They know the possession you're talking about. That'd be the ruthlessly efficient first drive of the second half.

Going against a defense full of NFL talent, Nebraska gut-punched the Bulldogs with a mix of tempos. Playing fast, then slowing down … then fast again on third-and-goal at the 2-yard line.

Thirteen plays, 75 yards, six points.

A worn-out Georgia team had to call a timeout nine plays into that drive. And when the drive met its end, Bulldogs stood with their hands on hips.

An offensive lineman lives for such a scene.

"There's definitely a sense of pride," said NU senior center Cole Pensick. "It's like, 'Hey, we're used to this. This ain't nothing.'"

Hey, those same players also understand they didn't finish the deal that day. Georgia laughed last. Nebraska's offense did not score again. That, too, must be studied in full.

Senior offensive tackle Brent Qvale knows that finishing the job, whether it be drives or games, is non-negotiable in 2013.

And that starts up front.

"When you're in double-digit plays for a drive, it's third-and-1 and you're being counted on to get the first down, you've got to be able to use your technique when you're tired and do whatever it takes to get the job done," Qvale said.

Nebraska's mixture of tempos — Bo Pelini said earlier this summer the Huskers use four different speeds on offense — sure can't hurt that cause when the season begins Saturday night against Wyoming.

Going into Year 3 of offensive coordinator Tim Beck's system, it's clear Nebraska's veteran offensive linemen are now fully comfortable with the changing paces involved in the offense, and the conditioning required to play at the fastest pace.

It's also easy to be inspired to put in the work to play that fast when you see the payoff up close — for instance, SEC defenders sucking wind.

Offensive line coach John Garrison said players started to see the benefits of shifting tempos  in Year 1 of Beck's system.

"You'd see (defensive) guys tired, guys dogging it on the backside and we're playing fast and getting after them," Garrison said. "Really, for what we lack in talent, if there is a deficiency there, we'll make up with hard work and our tempo takes care of it."

Whether playing fast or slow, Garrison likes his group a lot. He is also gaining a clearer picture of what the rotation will be, though a few uncertainties remain.

He still wasn't naming a starter at center early in the week — either Pensick or Mark Pelini.

But at guard, the starters are expected to be Spencer Long (right) and Jake Cotton (left). Behind them, Mike Moudy and Ryne Reeves have impressed enough to be considered the first candidates off the bench.

At tackle, the coach said it's the three seniors leading the way right now — Andrew Rodriguez on the right side, Jeremiah Sirles on the left, and Qvale capable of playing both sides.

The improvement of sophomore Zach Sterup at tackle also encourages Garrison, because it might provide the option of not making Qvale flip sides, which the coach would preferably not do.

Junior college newcomer Matt Finnin could also factor into the equation at tackle, though he still has some catching up to do.

"I told him this is a marathon, it's not a sprint for him this year," Garrison said.

Besides, it's not an easy year for a new arrival to break through on the line.

Pelini has said he believes this is the deepest offensive line group in his tenure as Nebraska's head coach, which adds to the Huskers' ability to push the tempo if they want.

Senior Taylor Martinez has gone a step farther, saying, “I think this is going to be one of Nebraska’s best offensive lines we’ve ever had. They are going to be the strong point of our offense."

It's a line that returns a second-team All-American in Long, and ranked eighth nationally in rushing offense (253.6 yards a game) last season.

It's a line, players say, that has become extremely close even with the hot competition on the practice field.

"We're like brothers in there," Pensick said. "Everyone has each other's back."

Now they want to make sure they have their quarterback's back. Linemen have not been shy to talk about NU's pass protection needing to improve. Nebraska gave up 35 sacks in 2012, which ranked 90th nationally.

If the game against Georgia produced a drive showing how good this Nebraska offense can be when it's dialed in, that same game also featured five Bulldog sacks.

And as good as the Nebraska offense showed it could be last year, senior tackle Jeremiah Sirles said it left "a lot of yards and points on the field."

But with a clean slate, all eyes seem to be on making that jump from good to great. And why not? It's possible Nebraska may start four seniors on the O-line Saturday night.

A senior like Pensick doesn't need any reminders about what it's like to represent Nebraska's O-line. His dad was a Husker in the late '70s and Cole grew up in Lincoln as "The Pipeline" units of the '90s dominated.

High standards around here, which is fine, considering his goals.

"We want to be our own O-line, but a big success for us guys up front is to have that No. 1 rushing offense in the nation, Big Ten, whatever it be," Pensick said. "Just to be that dominating force and people know what they're going to get into when they're going to play us."

Reach Brian Christopherson at or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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