In the wonderful world of college football, there are some hard truths.
One in particular appeals to me: The Big Ten is a line of scrimmage league.
Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin embraces that fact of life. Gives it a big ol' bear hug. You tend to listen to Austin's wisdom because of his background as a player and assistant coach. Based on the improvement of the Husker offensive line this season, perhaps we should listen to Austin very closely when he pulls back the curtain on his teaching methods and philosophies.
After all, Nebraska averaged 456.2 yards of total offense this season, the most for a Husker team since 2012, when Tim Beck's spread system averaged 460.8 yards during a 10-4 season. The Huskers this season averaged 209.0 rushing yards, the most since the 2014 squad under Beck averaged 240.2.
Last season, Nebraska averaged a paltry 107.5 rushing yards in Mike Riley's final season as head coach.
"This is not to throw stones on the offensive line's previous experience here, but these guys didn't know how to prepare," Austin said. "They didn't know how to prepare for games. They didn't know the indicators. They'd be out there just playing ball. You don't just run plays. You make the plays work. You will the plays to be done based on the information that you've gathered and the play that's going to be run, and the situation you're in."
Austin started 18 games as a guard for Nebraska from 2003-06, often playing through knee pain. He was a fierce competitor. Former Husker quarterback Zac Taylor says Austin is "legitimately one of the toughest people I know." So, yeah, Austin has a decent idea of the sort of mentality a lineman needs in order to excel. And this season largely was about establishing that mentality in his Husker linemen.
Mission accomplished. You saw discernible progress, especially in the weeks following a 56-10 loss Sept. 22 at Michigan. Austin emphasizes the consistency his group achieved. He tells you it wasn't the result of improved effort; it was more about his linemen gaining a much higher level of understanding about how to perform and how to use information they've accumulated.
It was about understanding the importance of attention to detail.
"I never had to talk to these guys about effort, to be honest with you," Austin said. "Sometimes guys look like they're not working hard because they don't know what the hell they're doing. That's the issue sometimes. They're not finishing a block because they don't know how to finish the block. You understand that? I never want these guys to put their hand in the ground and not know what's going on."
Austin was asked just how difficult the season became for him personally as Nebraska skidded to 0-6 with an Oct. 13 loss at Northwestern.
"I don't want to sound like I'm Mother Teresa or anything, but I just kept my head down," he said. "The unique thing about the season we had at UCF (undefeated in 2017) compared to this one, there it was like, 'Hey, when are you going to lose a game?' This season, it was like the pressure's on: 'When are you going to win a game?' But it's basically the same feeling.
"The only thing I can worry about is blocking a guy and our unit being as connected as possible."
If you wonder what I mean when I say the Big Ten is a "line of scrimmage league," watch film of Nebraska's last two games, a 9-6 win against Michigan State and a 31-28 loss to Iowa. Austin's crew hung tough against a Sparty defense that ranked No. 1 nationally against the run and a Hawkeye unit that was No. 8 against the run and No. 6 overall.
Tell me Nebraska starting linemen Matt Farniok, Boe Wilson and Brenden Jaimes — who all will return next season — didn't generate confidence from those experiences. Tell me seniors Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster didn't enhance their legacies this season.
"I think this year, especially the last half of the year, has been a major springboard into spring ball and into fall next year," Austin said. "There's so much good film on the server right now that we're going to be able to teach from for years to come, it's ridiculous."
Nebraska's last 15 seasons or so have taught me the importance of healthy skepticism. But it's difficult to be overly skeptical about Austin's ability as a teacher. The server doesn't lie.