Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held’s comments Wednesday about his position group fell in line with what other Husker offensive assistants were saying about theirs in the wake of the unit’s struggles last week against South Alabama.
Held’s theme: There is ample room for improvement, but the mistakes are fixable.
“I think we ran hard; we missed a few cuts on the tackle-pull stuff,” Held said. “We probably left 20-some yards there. We missed a cut-back on a zone play early in the game.”
Nebraska rushed 44 times for 98 yards, or just 2.2 per carry.
“Obviously we didn’t play well enough to get the thing humming like it needs to be,” Held said. “But the beauty is we can flush it and move on. We’ve had a really good week of practice. Today was really good. I know we always talk about it. Practice, practice, practice. But you can’t cheat the game.
“We didn’t have a great week of practice last week for whatever reason. It was what it was. We’ve been really honing in on our guys (on) that.”
Junior college transfer Dedrick Mills, making his first start for Nebraska, ran 15 times for 44 yards. He missed cut-back lanes a couple of times, Held said.
“He was excited,” Held said. “Sometimes when you’re overly excited you just want to do so well and play so hard. It wasn’t an effort thing. If it was an effort thing, I’d be bothered by it. It wasn’t an effort thing.
“I’m the running backs coach; I’ve got to get it fixed.”
Mills has responded well this week.
“First game out there, there were some mistakes just like everybody does in their first game, being in this offense,” the coach said. “But everything was fixable. He’s had a good week of practice. I expect him to play a lot better on Saturday (at Colorado).”
Getting the run game going requires the entire offense to be in sync.
For instance, the offensive line is looking for improvement.
“On the film, you can see effort and you can see a couple guys making some mental errors that they shouldn’t have made,” Husker O-line coach Greg Austin said. “You can also see guys fundamentally trying to do what we’re asking them to do, they just need to clean up some things. The unique thing about the run game last week is, for one, those guys (for South Alabama) were pretty damn stout and had some movement up front that we didn’t see on the previous film.
“Fundamentally, shorter footwork in the run game vs. movement and, really, us and the running backs and the quarterbacks and everybody else being on the same page in terms of the scheme and where the ball is going to go and the decisions that are made up front and behind in the backfield.”
No concern for offense: While there were plenty of mistakes to go around, NU offensive coordinator Troy Walters wasn't worried about the Huskers' ability to fix the problems.
"No concern. No concern. Last year if we would have played like we did, we probably would have lost the game. But the defense, kudos to them. They showed up and showed out and created turnovers. Special teams did a great job," Walters said. "We won the game, but to a man on offense, because we didn't live up to our standards, it kind of felt like we didn't win.
"And that's a good issue. The guys aren't satisfied with the product we put on the field. So they've come back this week with great focus and energy and detail."
Offense pared down in practice: Walters said Nebraska "probably had too much in" the game plan for South Alabama, echoing head coach Scott Frost. Frost said Monday the Huskers were "too scheme-y" in their preparation.
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"You have a whole offseason, you start preparing for them a little earlier than normal, so we probably had too much," Walters said. "The guys couldn't really hone in on what we wanted to do, and we just didn't have the detail we needed to be a great offense."
To that end, Walters said the coaching staff throttled back what has gone into offensive game planning for Colorado.
"This week we're going to limit what we do so the guys know exactly what we're going to do," Walters said. "They can focus in practice on the details of each play so we can execute. … As a staff we've got to be able to take a little bit off of those guys, rep the things they know how to do, and I think if we do that, then we'll be more successful Saturday."
Rahmir ready: Held last week played the first three running backs on Nebraska’s depth chart: Mills, Maurice Washington (six carries for 39 yards) and Wyatt Mazour (4-12).
True freshman Rahmir Johnson, however, didn’t see any action.
“I wanted to get him in Saturday, it just didn’t work out that way, especially with the third quarter the way it was,” said Held, referring to the fact Nebraska ran only nine plays from scrimmage in the third. “But he’s had a really good week. He’s a guy who definitely can help us. He has the speed element. He’s a great kid, and he wants to go out there and play. I’ve got to find a way to get him in the mix, because he is a weapon for us.”
Thompkins update: True freshman Ronald Thompkins, recovering from major knee surgery last fall, is no longer wearing a hands-off green jersey in practice, Held said.
Even so, Thompkins is yet to practice in any drills that involve live tackling.
“We’re doing more with him. We’re being smart,” Held said of the 5-foot-11, 195-pound running back. “I pushed him a lot more this week, and I will continue to do that because I want him to be in position by Week 4 or 5 where if something happens, or if we need another guy, that he’s ready to go.”
Jurgens/Farniok split TBD: The “pitch count” for Cam Jurgens at center may continue into Week 2, but offensive line coach Greg Austin said it will depend on how the redshirt freshman responds physically to the week of practice as he continues to come back from multiple foot injuries.
“I can’t really tell you because everything is off of reps and off the health of Cam,” Austin said. “We put (Will Farniok) in there the second half and we thought that was the best strategy for everybody involved with Cam still getting back.”
Jurgens played 49 snaps to Will Farniok’s 17 given the heavily tilted possession time from the first half to the second.
“Blue heads” wanted up front: Austin had a trio of players making career debuts in Jurgens, Farniok and starting left guard Trent Hixson, and said part of the challenge was just keeping them calm in a new environment.
“That was half the battle … getting those guys calmed down and telling them to take it one play at a time, one drive at a time. Understanding what their job is above and beyond the X's and O's and the techniques,” Austin said. “They have to make sure they’re staying a blue head. There’s two heads you can have during a game, a red head or a blue head. A red head guy spazzes out, kind of gets overwhelmed with the situation, especially with a first start. That’s what we’re trying to continue to do do is try to keep those guys in the blue head mentality.”
Barrett Pickering out of practice: The kicker was not in uniform Wednesday as he continues to recover from a leg/hip injury. Pickering was dressed but didn't play in Saturday's game against South Alabama as true freshman walk-on Dillon Jorgensen from Lincoln Southwest handled kickoff, field goal and extra-point duties.