Where's the beef? Woes start with the line

It was no secret that Nebraska's defense, no matter how passionate, was still going to be without a lot of experience and with almost no depth. But what about the offense? More specifically, what about this physical running attack? The fact that the offensive line couldn't do much against Missouri wasn't the reason they lost. But it's still part of why this team didn't have much of a chance.

When I saw Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel complete a 26-yard pass to tight end Chase Coffman and junior linebacker Phillip Dillard was covering, I asked myself why in the heck they have a middle linebacker covering a kid who never seems to drop a ball.

But then I asked who they could get who would have any more success?

When I saw Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin score almost immediately in the game, and with seemingly nobody covering him at all, I asked myself why someone wasn't at least in the same zip code.

But then I asked who they could get who could even stay two steps with the all-everything Tiger.

That's how it went with this game, especially on the defensive side, because where some might see match ups I saw nothing but nightmares for an obviously outgunned Husker defense.

However, it was the offense which really had me scratching my head.

It's easy enough to say that against Missouri's offense, that if you aren't Oklahoma, you are probably going to get burned more often than not. When you have horses like a Heisman hopeful in Daniel, another Heisman hopeful in Maclin, along with perhaps the best tight end in the conference, that's going to create some issues for you on defense.

But just like it was when Nebraska went into Columbia last year, the Tigers weren't exactly impressing the nation with their prowess on defense. Yet once again the Husker offense failed to do much of anything.

It certainly started off promising, Nebraska answering an early Missouri score with a score of their own, keyed mostly by senior quarterback Joe Ganz, who was doing most of his damage out on designed rollouts.

But when it came to trying to pound the ball, you know...run it, that's when the surprises really start to show.

Senior running back Marlon Lucky averaged 3.3 yards per carry, his two longest runs, one of nine yards and the other eight, both came when Nebraska was at least 35 points behind.

Sophomore Quentin Castille saw the most
It seemed that the offensive line (Lydon Murtha left
Keith Williams right) was getting pushed more than
they were doing the pushing
time he's seen all year, carrying it 12 times, just two carries behind Lucky, for a whopping 2.2 average for the game.

Then there is Roy Helu, the sensational sophomore running back, who has done nothing but get everyone excited that the Huskers might have found their all-purpose back - he also averaged 2.2 yards on the ground every time he touched the ball.

As a team Nebraska managed 79 yards on the ground.

Against Virginia Tech last week they managed 55

What am I missing here?

Even going as far back as Spring the message was about being physical, establishing the line, moving the chains and imposing your will on the other guy.

Going into the Fall, it was a continuation of that theme, and maybe I'm just that kind of guy, I bought into it, because let's face it, if you don't think the offensive line is going to be good you are admitting that this team is simply not going to do much during the course of the year.

But after two absolutely woeful running performances, combined with suspect pass protection, I have come to the conclusion that the unit I fully admit I touted prior to the season as potentially one of Nebraska's biggest strengths, is showing themselves to be their Achilles heel.

But how?

It can't be size. The starting offensive line and even the second string, averages over 300 lbs. Per man.

It can't be quickness, because the entire theme of the off-season leading up to this was about how that's all they worked on, and how an even bigger line, perhaps a bit out of shape, slimmed down, got quicker so they could be more explosive off the ball.

Then there was the return of the "pancake", the identity of Nebraska lines for decades, a way to quantify dominance in the trenches.

Yet, if you take out the 330-yard performance on the ground against New Mexico State, a team which has given
Even Roy Helu, who came into the gave
averaging over six yards per carry,couldn't
manage much against the Tigers
up close to that each of the games since they played the Huskers, this group has averaged just under 93 yards per game.

That's not even as good as the 2005 Huskers, who set a standard for rushing futility as they averaged 96 yards per game.

But again, how?

When the 2005 Huskers took the field even then Head Coach Bill Callahan knew what he had, and after a few games of frustration trying to move the ball on the ground, he went air-Husker as former Husker QB Zac Taylor threw the ball a then record 55 times against Iowa State, piling up 431 yards, also a record at the time, as they beat the Cyclones in double-overtime, 27-20.

Don't take this as an indictment of first-year Head Coach Bo Pelini though. It would seem obvious at this point that he saw the struggles of last year's team, and being a defensive guy, that's where his attention has been since perhaps the day he stepped into Lincoln.

Shawn Watson, the Offensive Coordinator now, was the Co-Offensive Coordinator then, and Ted Gilmore back coaching the wide receivers. Even with a few new guys like Offensive Line Coach Barney Cotton, Running Back Coach Tim Beck and Tight End Coach Ron Brown, this offense was going to retain the kind of continuity needed for them to keep rolling and give this defense time to grow.

After further review, that little assumption was wrong.

But for me, and I think this goes with any team, it starts right there on the line. On offense you have to be able to block and protect, and on defense you need to be able to hold your ground and/or get some push up field.

The defensive line probably got as trounced in this game as convincingly as they had seen since the forgettable campaign of 2007. But this offensive line is the biggest mystery of all.

Going into the season they had more experience than any other unit, and on either side of the ball. Going into the season they were touted not just big, strong and quick, but deep, Cotton saying that he planned on rotating double-digit numbers of guys if he could.

He even went into the
Bo may be a defensive guy, but he
might have to get more involved with the
offense from now on
Virginia Tech game saying that was indeed what he had, that up to 11 guys could end up seeing the field.

The indictment of the line hasn't even included the 12 penalties the group has amassed in five games, from holding to false starts and the personal foul on senior Matt Slauson, which he got against Missouri this last evening. That was one of a whopping 14 penalties the team as a whole compiled throughout the course of the game.

It's pretty simple, and anyone will tell you this who is in the coaching profession: If the line isn't getting it done, you're going to have a whole lot of problems.

That's why I am a bit reluctant to just say that the offense as a whole has simply not produced, and that the whole thing needs to be scrapped and taken back to scratch. Everything Ganz is able to do stems totally from what his offensive line is or isn't doing.

Quite honestly, exactly what have they done thus far?

Bo Pelini said after the game that as a coach you don't point a finger, you point a thumb, and that if anyone was going to point any fingers at the team they need to point them straight at him.

OK, I will give him that, because coaches are going to get way too much credit when they win and probably way too much blame when they lose.

But if the line was supposed to be physical, we haven't seen it. If they were supposed to be pancaking guys all over the place, when they face a decent team, I still have yet to see it done.

There isn't any answer to any of this, though, unless they figure this out and everything they said they were going to do, actually gets done.

Is it the play-calling that puts the line in bad situations? Is it coaching that has put this line behind the eight-ball from the outset? Is it simply a lack of toughness or the will to get it done?

I don't know. It's not my job to know, but you don't have to be a coach to see:

Where that line goes this team is going to go, and as Ganz said himself after the game, you can only run so many rollouts in a game before they won't work anymore.

I can't say how much Bo has or hasn't been involved with the offense, but that passion he has and that intensity might be better served on the other side of the ball. At least on offense they can't say they simply don't have the depth or the experience. But there is something they don't have. That seems to be apparent.

Whatever that is they better find it and soon.

Nebraska Football Tickets

Big Red Report Top Stories