Big Red Bowl Breakdown: NU O-Line

Check out part three of our series as we break down the Huskers by position, and see just how it matches up with their Gator Bowl opponent, the Clemson Tigers.

Going into the season, of course, the offensive line was looked at as the potential strength of the team. You had well over 60 starts between the group that would pave the way for the slightly tweaked offense under Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson.

 

Things didn't work out quite the way most thought.

 

Through the Missouri game the unit garnered more of a reputation for penalties, missed assignments and underachieving than it did plowing the road for what was figured to be a very potent offensive attack.

 

It's amazing what a 52-17 thrashing can do for a team.

 

Following that debacle against Missouri, the offense was simplified, the coaches saying that they were going back to square one and just catering to what this group did best.

 

Since then, an offense which could only put 315 yards in total offense on San Jose State, totaled 369 against Missouri, 471 against Texas Tech and 610 against Kansas State.

 

In addition, a rushing attack which proved almost futile early on, netting just 76 yards against Missouri and 55 yards against Virginia Tech, has over 205 yards per game since the loss to the Tigers.

 

Then there is time of possession, a statistic which can be misleading in a score-a-minute conference like the Big 12. But there's little doubting the philosophy that if you have the ball, those offenses don't.

 

Since the Missouri game the Huskers have been almost ridiculous when it comes to holding onto the rock, keeping it for a whopping 40:12 against Texas Tech. They had it over 38 minutes against Baylor, over 37 minutes against Iowa State, over 36 against Kansas State and just 24 seconds shy of holding it for a full 40 minutes in the season-finale' against Colorado.

 

That kind of control made Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini admit that despite his defensive background, he preferred this type of approach. "Hey, I have always said that the best defense is keeping the other team's offense off the field," he said.

 

Another thing which has helped Nebraska this year is that eight players have started games, including sophomore Jaivorio Burkes who has started at both left and right tackle this year. But even if some hadn't started, the Huskers still saw 10 offensive linemen in total get reps, equaling 100 games in experience this season alone.

 

Penalties which hampered the team weekly and seemed to often find the culprits on the offensive line, have steadily gone down throughout the season. Where Nebraska was at one point last in the conference in fewest penalties and one of the worst in the entire country, they have climbed to 10th in the conference overall.

 

So, probably more than any unit on the team or even any individual, the offensive line has changed dramatically from where it started the year, and they might not have regained the title as the best unit on the team, but where they were perhaps once considered the Achilles Heel, this group is definitely a strength.

 

THE MATCH UP

 

One of the most obvious comparisons to the Clemson defense for Husker followers is Virginia Tech. When asked about how Clemson approaches things from a defensive standpoint or how that team looks athletically, the Husker coaches have said that Virginia Tech is somewhat the same.

 

For Husker fans, though, one of the big comparisons is going to be up front, and as big as the Hokies were, Clemson is bigger.

 

From DE-to-DE, Virginia Tech goes 267, 293, 290 and 256 pounds. Clemson has two 300-plus pounders on the interior. Size isn't everything, of course, but Nebraska, like anyone, likes to be able to move people off the ball, control the line, thus controlling the clock.

 

Unfortunately for the Tigers, time hasn't really been their friend.

 

While they tank as one of the top scoring defenses in the country, giving up only 16.58 points per game, their opponents actually have the ball more time each game on average than they do. And they haven't been able to provide consistent pressure on the backfield, ranking 51st in tackles for loss and 106th in sacks.

 

That might be a bit of a wash in this instance as the Huskers rank 50th in sacks allowed and 68th in allowed TFLs.

 

What Nebraska has going in its favor there, though, is the fact that amongst the teams they have faced this season you have a number that ranked fairly high in regard to sacks versus Clemson's defense, which only faced one team which when it came to stopping sacks, was ranked in the top 25.

 

Nebraska Opponents

 

Sacks by                      Natl Rank

W. Michigan                 56th

San Jose St                  12th

New Mexico                83rd

V. Tech                        T-21st

Missouri                       46th

T. Tech                         T-25th

Iowa St.                       93rd

Baylor                          83rd

Oklahoma                    3rd

Kansas                         47th

Kansas St                     81st

Colorado                      52nd

 

Avg Rank                     50th

 

Clemson Opponents (FBS)

 

Sacks allowed              Natl Rank

Alabama                       21st

N.C. St.                       94th

Maryland                      78th

Wake Forest                90th

Georgia Tech                35th

Boston College             48th

Florida St.                    66th

Duke                            58th

Virginia                         24th

South Carolina              114th

 

Avg Rank                     62nd

 

 

One of the most telling stats, however,  could be 3rd down conversion percentage. The Huskers rank 14th in the country converting third downs 48.4 percent of the time, whereas Clemson ranks 48th in the country in stopping teams from converting on that particular down. The lack of being able to put pressure on the QB, along with the loss of their top pass-rusher in Ricky Sapp, due to injury, could make this even more interesting.

 

AND?

 

The stats don't necessarily weigh in Clemson's favor here, and it goes back to just how different the leagues are in which they play. The ACC might be considered a league which has a far more prototypical approach to offense, whereas the Big 12 seemingly comes off the bus throwing it 40 times per game.

 

That means defenses in each league are going to be concentrating the most on what they are most likely to see in the course of a conference-schedule. With that being said, though, because almost everyone in the conference passes the ball all over the place, putting that much more emphasis on getting to the QB to at least disrupt what they are doing, some of Nebraska's stats carry perhaps a bit more weight.

 

It should be noted that Alabama and Georgia Tech both rely on running identities for much of their success, though, the Crimson Tide was the third most productive passing offense Clemson faced all year.

 

The war on the field starts and ends in the trenches. The Husker offensive line has rekindled a bit of hope that they might not be THE strength of the team, but since the Missouri game they certainly haven't been a liability. With their experience, size and depth this group has came around and become a definite asset to the running game, keeping quarterback Joe Ganz comfortable when he decides to stand in the pocket and controlling the clock an almost insane amount of time.

 

This is where it begins and ends with Nebraska, but the same goes for Clemson. If they can't stop Nebraska from continuing their recent trend of ball control and efficiency on offense, this may be a sizable defensive line, but it will be a tired defensive line in the latter stages of the game.

 


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