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?

 

Ball Control
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.

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Comments 32 comments so far

If you are going to win big games in November you are also going to have to pass the ball to top notch receivers and only passing the ball 15 times a game is going to stop top quality receivers from being interested in the program. The Huskers need a sophisticated passing game and top notch receivers if they are ever going to become relevant again. That includes a QB that can pass the ball under pressure.

The Huskers won those games where they threw less than 20 times because the teams they were playing were terrible.  Play Bama or Stanford with no passing game and you get blown out of the water. Did anybody notice how good MSU’s QB was at passing. He killed the Huskers on 3rd down.

Steve ~ you are right on point.  Let’s see if BOP agrees.  I have my doubts as long as OC Beck is calling the plays.  BOP is ultimately responsible.

Gage, you are right on point.  Let’s see if BOP agrees.  I have my doubts as long as Unrealist is calling the plays.  Bloggers are ultimately responsible.

to answer the first paragraph question - YES!

Our top receiver last year, Enunwa, is gone.
Bell was previously the top, but his production was done last year, probably in part due to injury, but I think teams were out to stop him, too.
Turner was mostly out of it, due to injury.
Westerkamp showed he can catch, but I’m not so sure he got open much.
Moore, Allen, Burch?
We have a lot of receivers.  If the QB can’t find them, or they can’t get open, well…

I rewatched the NU-Miami Orange bowl (‘95) the other day.  NU was struggling on Offense, they put in Berringer, and because he was the better passer, the mere threat of passing helped open up the run game.  And yes he hit some passes, inc. a TD.  However, he killed 2 drives with INTs.  But we were then starting to run well, they brought Frazier back in the 4thQ, Miami was getting worn down, then the option started clicking and Corey Schlesinger seemed to have his way up the middle.

You need to be able to do both, run and pass.  TA needs to be able to find his receivers (wearing the same color jerseys as his).  He’s shown he can delivery a nice throw, I think it’s just experience - getting used to the plays and the receivers.  When the running game clicks, it opens up passing.  When the passing game clicks, it opens up running.  If you give a moose a muffin…

Diversity is the key.

I am somewhat tired of the statement that we need to pass the ball more.  Over the past few years our issues with running the ball were the offensive line and ball control.  We have had the stable of RBs before with Burkhead going all the way back to Thunder Collins, but really where we have needed vast improvement is on the offensive line.

I have seen improvement on the OL and am thankful for it.  But I think it is more appropriate given the youth at QB that we go with a ball control offense, aka, tripple option offense and use it to open up the pass.  Imani Cross is more than capable of pounding the ball between the tackles and Abdulla has shown an immense amount of both resilience and diversity in both being able to pound the ball or be open for a pass on a 4th and forever, and still get the first down.

Some, like this author states, “Nebraska needed a Miracle to beat Northwestern.”  Well, actually we needed two and we got both of them.  So, I have confidence in our ability to run the ball as the OL continues to improve.  Additionally, it was all this yellow talk of not passing enough that was putting heat on Solich.  We did pass the ball more often under Solich than we did under Osborne, but it was being worked in slowly.  Like it always should have been.

Nothing made me happier in 2010 when our first play from scrimage was a full back run.  Granted it was only for one yard.  But it was then that I knew, we were on our way back from oblivion.

We are Nebraska, and yes, we can throw the ball too.  But why would we want to when we are running over, under, around, and through you?

I still want to see more diamond formation option.  I think that formation is very usefull for both the option run and the play-action pass.  If we are going to do this, let’s do it right.

I’m not against running the ball but over the past couple years we have been able to recuit some excellent receivers because we were willing to throw. I’m not talking about passing 50 times a game. In my opinion to win all the marbles in this day a team has to have a passing game to augment the running game. Every single year the Huskers run into a team that is able to stop the running game. With no passing game you are dead in the water. Plus all the rules these days are designed to protect passing QB’s and receivers. We need to take advantage of these rules.

GageCoHusker,

Oh don’t worry.  I didn’t want give off that impression.  Also, you have very valid points regarding the rule changes to protect the passing QBs and running the risk of being one dimensional on offense if your opponent shuts down the run.

I think that was the situation when the talk of needing to pass more first started.  But again, our passing has to be something that we can run naturally out of our option offense or play-action pass offense. 

Just like when you hear fans in the stand yell out “PASS” when the quarterback recieves the snap and steps back into the pocket.  That really telegraphs your proverbial passing punch right there.  However, if we were running the quadruple option or the play-action the pass can actually surprise the defense, that is when you can generally catch their secondary out of position or not accounting for a tightend.  That’s the direction we were headed in under Solich.  I would kind of like to see us gravitate toward that again.

It isn’t enough to just be able to pass the ball 5 or 10 yards down field.  I get that, but it is precisely this style of offense that keeps defenses at home or on their heals.  It allows for better reads and finding out who the D is queueing off of on your offense.  I just think that is a smarter way to play the game.

Yes the deep ball from your own 1 inch line is a beauty like no other, especially when it is 99 1/2 yard touchdown pass.  But those don’t happen very often and it is for a reason.  That’s where I am coming from.

Can’t believe it! Not a single anti-Bo rant, and even more unexpectedly, I even agree with every comment. Have been ranting about the lack of cogent, informative posts and the plethora of anti-Bo rants, and here I am seeing exactly what I have been looking for - and it is coming from some of the people I have been ranting about! Keep it up. GBR

Johnny,

I love the option game but we need to be flexible enough to have a sophisticated passing game option out of it. That’s what I am saying. I’m not saying we need to be balanced. I’m only saying we need to pass enough to be able to attract talent because we don’t have enough of it instate. If Nebraska highschools produced lots of talented receivers we could get them to come and only pass 15 times a game until we needed it. 75% running and 25% passing with average receivers is good enough for 10-11 wins a year but in my opinion not good enough for championships.

To get the talent in my opinion it needs to be maybe 60% running and 40% passing with the option to pass more in the games they play Bama for the nat’l championship. Even 25 passes per game (assuming 60 snaps per game) spread between 4 receivers and 2 TE’s doesn’t add up to many touches. When you figure 70% completion rate it only equals about 17 catches per game. The obvious solution is more snaps = everybody happy.

Ever since Callahan arrived with some version of the West Coast, followed by a continuation of run/pass combination to date, we have seen mixed results.  Consistency in execution and play calling seems to have suffered.  More importantly, the team’s identity seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.  Seems that OC play calling has not consistently played to NU’s offensive strengths as they have existed.  With young QB’s and an excellent stable of running backs, one would logically assume NU must make the running game its identity for 2014 season.  Doesn’t mean NU won’t pass, but the mix should be 2/3 run and 1/3 pass, it seems.  If that can be accomplished, the defense will shine as the offense controls the ball and clock.

I think the biggest problem is I truley believe they are trying to hit a percentage whatever it be 60-40 ; 50-50. I understand having that as a goal but we seemed to stubbornly try to hit the number at times instead of doing what works.  Ex Minnesota game were we averaged what 7 yards a carry? Minnesota won that game because we couldn’t stop their run so they kept doing it.. Were as they couldn’t stop us either but we kept trying to pass instead of continuing to run all over them..  I think becks biggest downfall is his stubbornness although I to think he has shown some games that he can have a great game plan..

UN

1/3 passing = 20 passing attempts per game assuming 60 snaps per game. My prediction if the Huskers reduce the passing to only once every 3 snaps is that the talent goes else where. Why should a top receiver or TE consider the Huskers if they are only going to be asked to block. You can’t get to the NFL by being a blocking receiver or tight end.

The reason Callahan came was Husker nation was clambering for more passing because our running game had stagnated and Solich wasn’t getting it done fast enough. Now 10 years later people have forgotten that and looking around they see Stanford and say “that’s what we used to do”. But Stanford has NFL QB’s—something Huskers haven’t had since Vince Ferragamo.

Sure bring in the NFL QB so he can make every one of those 20 passing attempts count and I think you are right. The problem is getting the NFL QB to Lincoln by only promising him 20 attempts per game. Callahan couldn’t get an NFL QB to Lincoln with the WCO.

Having potential NFL draftees at QB is not a winning formula necessarily.  NU needs to control the clock as best as possible.  I’d rather grind it out for 5-7 minutes than gloriously score with quick TD passes.  Supposedly, NU’s best QB, Tommy Frazier, was surely no passing wonder.  He hit a few, but the running attack achieved all the collateral benefits to allow the defense to dominate as well.
If the running back stable is as potentially good many are suggesting it is, passing 40% or 50% of the time will be counter productive and a waste.

Let’s run it then and forget the pass.

Let’s throw it to the RB!  Use the WR on reverses!  Run wildcat, why not if he’s not going to throw anyway!

Poundith the rockith….

Get Newby with even a shred of space and he’s gone.

I’d sure like to see him get a chance.

It was Armstrong’s first year and he beat an SEC team in a bowl game. Is he the best passer, no not yet, but he wont have to be. He will have the backs, and he can run the option, which will open up the passing game when he needs it. To many times this last year Beck got away from the ground game and it bit him in the ass, and yet he still kept doing it until the bowl game. Lets just return to ground and pound power Husker football please.

Welp, next year we have like 1/2 dozen qualified RBs, but Ameer keeps hoggin’ da ball.  I wonder which one will transfer 1st.

Gage ~ compliment the run with the pass, especially if NU has a significant running game threat.  Your suggestion of “let’s run it and forget the pass” seems rash.  Running also helps open up the pass completion rate.  Of course, we have had many pre-season predictions at NU concerning anticipated strengths with “this or that” and it turns out to be a bust when the regular season commences.  If NU is not able to be a relatively run dominant team, then we will have the chaos in execution of the offensive scheme because NU doesn’t have a team identity.

Dogg, I’m guessing Newby transfers first.  Cross is a Junior and we actually use him on occasion, usually with good results.  Newby’s a Sophomore and could still sit out a year.  He seems to lack focus, has trouble catching a pitch and holding onto the ball when he gets the chance.  He has talent, but his mind’s not on the game.  That’s a good indicator he’d rather be somewhere else.  JMHO.  Maybe he’ll turn it around this year.

All indications are Adam Taylor is going to rock at that spot, probably compete with Ameer and Imani for touches (good thing, keep Ameer fresh).

The new guys, well, they’re new.  They’ll wait their turn for awhile.

Ball,

I tend to disagree.  Was a true frosh.  Latter part of the year they gave him like one shot in each game to show something, well, that aint frigging enough and TA wasnt putting the ball on the money when he did happen to through once or twice to TN.  Newby has star potential, but he’s gotta get the rock, like anybody, establish a rhythym.

You are all putting to much thought into this, it is simple.  Fire Barney and hire a QB coach!  Develope the QB into smooth oiled machine and let the rest of the team compliment them in the run and the pass keeping the defense rested on the sideline.  They will be ready to rip someones head off at the chance of getting on the field.

T Dogg

Maybe Cross is the one that leaves because even dividing the run/pass to 70/30 is not going to provide enough touches for all these guys. If Taylor beats him out in the spring as the big back—well he still has two years to play somewhere else.

Coaches like Beck feel the need to run a game plan for the sake of running a game plan.  After all, these coaches have worked all season perfecting execution of game plans.  As a result, stupid calls are made because “this was the plan and what we practiced to do”, rather than adapting to the circumstances of the game itself and changing things up to maximize what really is working.  The dynamics of what occurs during the game itself is drastically different from practice during the week.  Sometimes, coaches are simply trying to put a square peg into a round hole.  “This can work if my players would simply execute!” suggests the OC.  And if wishes were fishes, we’d have some fried Coach Beck.

“The play was perfectly designed.  We lacked execution.”  Rather, “The plays called were not suitable for the on-field game being played and thus, the plays didn’t work.”  You can’t execute if the play is wrong to begin with.

When you have a dominant running game, and the D has 8 guys in the box, you throw to a ‘Junior Miller’ type of tight end.  The players will execut if the coach calls the right play.  Unfortunately for NU, that has not consistently been the case.  And by the way, throwing a sideline flare out as the first play of the game?  Come on OC Beck!!!  Break early game jitters by running the ball off tackle.  Do it again.  Players deserve a few “break in” plays to cut the nerves and settle down.  No pitches.  No sideline throws.  Just hand the ball off, players do some hitting up front, and now the game begins.

“This year however, it seems like the right way to go.”
If Nebraska can average well over 400 yards a game, it’d be great.

After ‘09’s season, Nebraska has ran between 61% and 69% of the time. Which, already puts them in the run oriented category, anyway.
Go over 70% percentage and it’d be a waste of Bell and Turner’s senior seasons.
Armstrong Jr., showed he could sustain some nice drives and the offense and team fell far from apart, since he only lost 1 game, though with big, miraculous type relief work from Kellogg III against the “real” NU.
So, running even more sounds all good and happy, but, to borrow a well worn sports cliché, that’s not what Nebraska is. Passes are built into this offense. Besides, the QBs and receivers came to Nebraska, expecting to see a fair amount of balls slung down range.
It’s what they signed up for.

Greg,

Exactly right!

You need to have a balanced offense 60-40, you never want to put a QB in a posistion that if they stack the box they don’t have a compfortable feel for the passing game.  If they don’t stack the box you don’t want a pass happy QB trying to force passes into coverage.  An offense needs to dictate how the game goes, not let the defense dictate what plays you run.  So you take what they give you and if one game is 40-60 the next 70-30 and you win who really cares.  It amounts to ball control and no turnovers with sustained drives no matter how it gets done.  If we had a QB coach he would be able to get both the starter and second string guy ready for what ever the defense threw at them.  Do we really need a run cordinator?  That is what the offensive cordinator is for, and put the tightends with the line or recievers coaches.

GageCoHusker,
Thanks!

Oh, I need to point out that I pretty much never read prior posts, until I read the title article and make a comment. So, if I came real close to yours and others viewpoints, even using similar terms and such, hey, great minds… Right?
Similarities are mostly coincidental.

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