Husker Offense: Few Changes, Many ‘Options'

There are still some constants in this life. Death. Taxes. And option football at Nebraska.

Whether or not you believe Mack Brown's coach-speak that the 6-3 Cornhuskers are "back" following their come-from-behind win at Texas A&M, the team's option attack was never missing.

Texas may use five-wides in the red zone; Oklahoma is a fineness team with a ground game that emerges only the second Saturday in October. Nebraska, though, basically employs the same offensive scheme as it did with QB Eric Crouch , and the teams before him, and the teams before him, and the teams before him…

Nebraska persists with its option-oriented attack primarily because of the longevity of the Cornhusker coaching staff and because its smash-mouth version of it has been relatively effective in the austere Midwestern tundra.

"When Coach (Tom) Osborne took over, they ran the same offense," Brown said. "When Frank (Solich) took over, he was the running back coach so they just did the same thing. They've changed very few coaches. They've stayed in-house. In fact, (former ‘Husker QB) Turner Gill is their quarterback back. He ran this offense, and they've won so many games with it, it would be really hard to question it."

The ‘Huskers run a throng-pronged option game predicated upon the fullback. On the basic "dive option", the fullback is the ball carrier, while on a "lead option" the fullback becomes the lead backer on the sweep. On the "loaded option", the fullback blocks the defender assigned the quarterback with the fullback in order to get the quarterback matched up with the safety.

Nebraska has taken heat from national media and, of course, its own fan base, for operating what critics insist is an anachronistic, one-dimensional game plan that lacks a viable passing attack.

Indeed, QB Jammal Lord will never be confused for Ken Dorsey, Kliff Kingsbury or even Chris Simms. The ‘Huskers are dead last in the Big 12, and No. 114 of 117 NCAA Division-I teams, in passing offense (106.2 yards per game, six TDs, six interceptions). But they lead the league, and are No. 4 nationally, in rushing (279.1 yards per game).

"One of the reasons why they still (run the option) is because nobody sees it." Brown said. "We saw it against Kansas State and Iowa State, we're lucky that we've got three consecutive weeks of option. You have to be more disciplined against an option team (with defenders assigned to specific ball-handlers, plus recognizing play-action passes) and that slows everybody down a little bit. You have to penetrate and get some negative plays. Then you have to widen it out and make it go sideways. You cannot let people run north and south with the option."

Brown added, "You have to put a lot of guys around the line of scrimmage who can react to their play-action passes. If you don't, against teams like Nebraska and Kansas State, you'll never see a pass. They're coming in to run right at your face and be physical and hurt you."

Brown describes Lord as a "running back who can throw the ball", pointing out that the quarterback dashed for 159 yards against the Wrecking Crew defense Saturday. Brown said NU coaches have learned what Lord can "do well" (I.E., it won't be his arm that brings his team back against double-digit deficits. See Penn State 40 - Nebraska 7; Iowa State 36 - Nebraska 14).

The ‘Huskers have been plagued with turnovers (NCAA No. 80 in turnover margin) but, to listen to Brown is to be convinced they've got that problem ironed out just in time for Texas.

"They've turned the ball over a lot and they didn't Saturday," Brown said. " They lost two fumbles Saturday and A&M lost two interceptions so it ended up even. Jammal is a much player now than he was at the first of the year. On the last drive against Oklahoma State, he threw the ball really well and gave them a chance to still win that game."

The ‘Huskers running game has gotten a shot in the arm from freshman David Horne, who shed his red shirt following the loss to Iowa State. He has tallied 422 yards (105.5 ypg) in the previous four contests.

"David Horne had made a big difference for them," Brown said. "He's real fast. He looks kind of like (RB) Selvin (Young) sometimes. He doesn't have to stop to make cuts. He's a big-time player."


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