Nebraska vs. Wisconsin, 11.15.14 (copy)

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is sacked by Wisconsin's Peniel Jean in the first half of last Saturday's game in Madison, Wisconsin.

Jake Cotton paused before answering the question.

It was a complex inquiry, one about Nebraska's alarming habit of committing unforced errors (false starts, personal fouls, etc.) in high-profile games, specifically on the road. There's no easy answer for that one, so, yeah, the senior offensive lineman had to take a few seconds to gather his thoughts.

When he finally responded, Cotton offered a fair point about what the offensive line faces in games such as Nebraska's 59-24 loss at Wisconsin last Saturday.

"You're just so dialed-in to what you're going to do during the play," he said of Nebraska's five false-start penalties. "You gotta take this footwork, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. And so I think when you're thinking about all that stuff, you kind of get tunnel vision, and that's when it hurts you.

"The lack of concentration isn't that we were just thinking about class or girls or anything like that. It's that we were thinking about the play and should have been more dialed-in to the snap count."

So maybe it's not as simple as it may seem to somebody who doesn't have his hand on the ground. And when raucous fans are causing press boxes to shake, as was the case at Camp Randall Stadium, it adds yet another challenge to the already rugged task of figuring out where the next blitz is coming from.

Backup offensive lineman Givens Price said it was a "violent atmosphere" in Madison, Wisconsin. He added that teams have noticed they can have some success blitzing more often against Nebraska than they do against other teams.

He said the Badgers regularly shifted their defensive alignment just a few seconds before the snap, which made it hard to pick out where guys were going to be coming from.

That confusion, and the fact that it's something the Huskers can't necessarily prepare for just by film study, transfers beyond the offensive line. Running back Ameer Abdullah sometimes seemed to be expecting a blitz from one gap only find linebackers coming from elsewhere just in time to see quarterback Tommy Armstrong hit the ground. 

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The Huskers gave up four sacks for 31 yards against the Badgers.

"It's a lot easier to block base defenses, but when teams are moving, it's just more communication," Price said. "Whether the outside tackle can see a blitz coming and relay that to the guard and to the center, who is also in charge of the snap count, it's kind of difficult when you have the clock running down and the quarterback is making calls."

It's a lot to handle, but that's not changing anytime soon.

Nebraska's O-line will likely get a similar test this week from Minnesota. The Gophers had success in the trenches and recorded four sacks for 27 yards in a 34-23 win against the Huskers last season.

Granted, Ra'Shede Hageman, who had one sack in that game, is now in the NFL, but Minnesota's defensive front still has had its share of success this season — the Gophers have 19 sacks. 

NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he expects Minnesota to do the same against Nebraska that other teams have: blitz, blitz and blitz some more. He said it can be difficult to prepare for when teams throw in wrinkles they haven't used before, but that the Huskers can't use that as an excuse.

"You just gotta try to react to it or make adjustments," he said. "We give them blitzes (in practice) and show them all the different things that we think could happen or might happen based on tendencies as best you can.

"Like anybody, we offensively, and people defensively ... gotta be able to adjust in the course of the game as well."

Reach the writer at alantz@journalstar.com or 402-473-7431. On Twitter @AlexLantz.


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