Should NU Be Less Balanced in 2014?
The big change in the post-Frank Solich (and thus post-triple option) era of Nebraska football has been more passing. The Husker offense became more diverse, but that didn't translate to more wins. NU enters this season with questions at the quarterback position, inexperience on the offensive line, and a very deep group of running backs. Should Nebraska play to their strengths and run the ball more in 2014?
There's no better ally to a defense than a ball control offense. If you can hold the ball and milk the clock, you keep the defense fresh. Considering that depth on the defensive line could be an issue, that would be a welcome development.
Strength at Running Back
Ameer Abdullah will contend for all-conference and perhaps All-American status in 2014. Why not feed him the ball as much as possible? Behind him you've got a back built to both dish out and handle punishment in Imani Cross. Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor are talented options behind Cross and if needed a pair of true freshman running backs in Mikale Wilbon and Larenzo Stewart arrive in the fall as well. The 2003 Huskers, the last team to lose fewer than four games at NU, tallied over 700 carries on the season with four players topping 100 carries. The bodies are there to handle a similar load this season.
Questions at Quarterback
Tommy Armstrong had a nice win-loss record as a starter in 2013, but his performance as a passer was shaky. He threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns and completed just 52% of his passes. Those aren't the kind of numbers that make you want to dial up 30 passing plays a game. His 220 lbs. frame also make him a durable (and punishing) option as a runner. His passing numbers aren't all that different than Scott Frost's, a player he resembles physically as well. Frost was only asked to throw 13 or 14 passes a game as a senior in a national championship season, maybe a similar ratio for Armstrong would work well too. Johnny Stanton is also reminiscent of Frost, as is Zack Darlington for that matter. So other contenders to start at quarterback would also make you inclined to be a little gun shy about throwing the ball.
It's the Big Ten!
For many years the Big Ten has been seen as a run first conference and for good reason. Wisconsin's been a dominant program recently and they do it with the run. Ohio State has been outstanding with a backfield rushing tandem of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Michigan State got a lot of mileage out of Jeremy Langford and Le-Veon Bell in recent years. If you're going to win big games in November, you're going to have to be able to pound the ball. It's probably better to build that identity and mentality from day one than to try to reinvent yourself midseason.
The element of surprise is nice, but there are going to be times where you have to drive your opponent off the ball. It's worth noting that Nebraska won every game in which Armstrong started and threw fewer than 20 passes. NU lost to Michigan State and needed a miracle to beat Northwestern, both games where he threw more than 20 times. The Huskers don't have to be a run-dominant team forever. This year however, it seems like the right way to go.