Nebraska football coach Scott Frost — who calls the plays on offense — said earlier this week he perhaps should have committed to the run game a little more during last week's defeat at Colorado, particularly during a scoreless third quarter.
Bring it on, says Husker offensive line coach Greg Austin.
In particular, Austin said Wednesday, he would like to see more inside run plays in future games, noting those runs generally were successful in the 34-31 overtime loss to the Buffaloes. The Huskers finished the game with 46 carries for 179 yards, or 3.9 per attempt.
Nebraska's top two running backs, Maurice Washington and Dedrick Mills, combined to run 23 times for 101 yards (4.4).
Austin acknowledged that his linemen must continue to improve at finishing blocks. He'll obviously monitor that aspect closely Saturday when Nebraska (1-1) plays Northern Illinois (1-1) at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
"We didn't call very many inside runs last week," Austin said. "Gotta call ’em. Every time we called an inside run, it was a 5-yard gain. Most every time. Every time we ran to the outside … not so much. We have to continue to work inside, continue to call (plays) inside, continue to run inside and continue to finish our blocks."
In the overtime period Saturday, Frost called two outside run plays (which netted 1 yard), saying he made the calls because Nebraska had trouble running between the tackles.
Said Husker offensive coordinator Troy Walters on Wednesday: “We were good on the perimeter with our outside runs, but we’ve got to be better with inside runs. (Northern Illinois) does a lot of slanting and twisting, so there will be some opportunities if they get out of a gap — there will be opportunities for some big runs. In terms of the run game, we’ve got to get the whole run game going. Inside, outside, everything.”
Washington, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore, led the Nebraska rushing attack against Colorado with 15 carries for 77 yards, including a 40-yard run that went to the perimeter. Junior college transfer Mills (5-11, 220), as was the case in the opener against South Alabama, struggled to find running lanes and ended up with 24 yards on eight attempts.
Mills is still getting a feel for the offense, particularly at finding cut-back lanes in the zone running scheme.
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“We had a couple of explosive runs," Walters said. "It’s one of those things where we’ve got to be patient, take the 4, take the 3- to 4-yard runs, 3 to 4 yards, and then wear them down with our tempo and our speed. Then in the second half the big runs should come about.”
At any rate, Austin made clear that he saw progress within his O-line group against Colorado. Redshirt freshman center Cameron Jurgens had only one bad snap — the one that landed at Adrian Martinez's ankles on third down in overtime. Jurgens had at least eight bad snaps (out of 49) during the 35-21 win against South Alabama.
Against Colorado, Austin said, his guys finished blocks more effectively than they did in the opener.
"Not where we want to be, but we were better," the coach said.
Austin wants more from the line, though. For instance, he wants a greater sense of urgency in pass protection. Nebraska surrendered six sacks against Colorado after South Alabama recorded two.
"I think (we) gave up freakin' two sacks (to Colorado) on things that we can control," he said. "It wasn't even a freakin' technique deal. It was a getting-your-ass-out-of-your-stance deal. We have to improve on things like that. Easy fixes. But we have to make sure we're doing it so we can be an efficient offense."
Nebraska starting right tackle Matt Farniok, a 12-game starter in 2018, said the Huskers' two first-year starters this season — Jurgens and sophomore left guard Trent Hixson — are doing a great job of learning and attacking. He said the line's communication and technique will continue to improve.
The Huskers rank 88th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 138.5 yards.
"There's no issue with physicality because everyone's trying to hit," Farniok said. "It's just that we have to make sure we're hitting the right way."