6 offseason priorities for Nebraska in 2021
Nebraska fans have watched their team go 4 straight seasons without a winning record or a bowl appearance. It’s clear that changes need to be made in Lincoln, but where does one start after a 3-5 season during a global pandemic?
It’d be a good idea to set some priorities as the Huskers head into the offseason. Here are 6 for Nebraska in 2021:
Commit to being a down-hill running offense
Almost everyone in the B1G West has an identity on offense, except Nebraska. That needs to change.
Wisconsin will always have massive men from the Midwest on its offensive line and will run the ball right at defenses. Iowa and Minnesota use stretch zone runs until you’re blue in the face. Purdue is going to throw it around the yard and lead the conference in pass attempts.
What’s Nebraska known for on offense? After 3 seasons of the Scott Frost era, there’s not a clear answer to that question.
Fans want the Nebraska offense that showed up against Rutgers (except the 4 turnovers): 58 rush attempts and 365 rushing yards. A steady and consistent down-hill attack. North and south runs.
Yes, to play that style of offense you need the right players. You need a big, strong and nasty offensive line. Will the Huskers have one in 2021? That’s hard to say right now, but it wouldn’t hurt to try leaning on the O-line and a physical running game.
Feature Wan’Dale Robinson and Luke McCaffrey more
If fans’ wishes come true and Nebraska turns into a physical, down-hill running offense, Robinson and McCaffrey need to be featured more in the play-action or run-pass option game.
Martinez is a good runner, and he’s had success in the quarterback run game. But it’s time to stop relying on his legs — it’s happening too often and is predictable.
Robinson can’t have another season where he scores his 1st touchdown in the last game of the season like he did in 2020. He’s a special talent and needs better game plans to get him the ball, especially in the red zone.
And yes, that’s right: McCaffrey should be either taking handoffs or catching the football instead of throwing it. He’s a dynamic athlete who needs to be on the field; but it’s clear, at least right now, that he’s not a Division I thrower.
Get more touchbacks
Special teams really hasn’t been Nebraska’s strong suit recently. A big reason for that is because the Huskers haven’t had a kickoff specialist who’s been good at kicking the ball through the end zone.
Not since 2018 has Nebraska had a kicker belt over 50 percent of his kickoffs through the end zone — that was Caleb Lightbourn, who had 28 touchbacks in 52 attempts.
Nebraska almost blew its last game against Rutgers because it gave Aron Cruickshank a chance at returning a kickoff, and he raced through the Huskers’ coverage unit for a touchdown. He did the same thing 2 seasons ago in a Wisconsin uniform.
If your kickoff coverage unit struggles to contain returners, touchbacks are a great way to combat that. The Huskers need to find a touchback specialist this offseason.
Head to the transfer portal for a pass rusher
Linebacker Will Honas led the defense with 3 sacks this past season. Nebraska as a team recorded 13, which tied for 8th in the B1G. Both of those stats aren’t exciting anyone any time soon.
Nebraska has been looking for a dude to get after the quarterback for some time now. The Huskers haven’t had more than 30 sacks in a season since 2013 when Randy Gregory, Avery Moss and Jason Ankrah were hunting QBs.
Does Nebraska have a current player on the roster who can get 10 sacks in a season? Probably not. That’s where the transfer portal might come in handy. The Huskers should take a peek for a pass rusher this offseason.
Give the running backs a legitimate shot
We touched on Nebraska’s offense being quarterback-run heavy. Of course the Huskers shouldn’t go cold turkey and stop running Martinez all together, but it would benefit the offense if the running back was a real threat.
At times, Frost’s offense was predictable, and it showed in the amount of carries spread out to the players. Martinez led the team with 91 this past season. Dedrick Mills had 84. McCaffrey had 65. Robinson had 46. Only one of those players is a true running back.
Marvin Scott, Rahmir Johnson, Ronald Thompkins, Sevion Morrison. Those are all guys who could show the coaching staff something if they had a real opportunity, which they never got last season. Maybe future true freshman Gabe Ervin, a 3-star recruit from Georgia who just rushed for over 100 yards in his team’s state title win, is the real deal and could push for playing time.
The coaching staff should decide on the best 1 or 2 and stick with them during the season. Build the confidence and trust there. See what the kids can do with the ball in their hands.
Stop turning the ball over
Not since 2016 has Nebraska been on the plus side of its turnover margin. This season the Huskers were dreadful at possessing the ball — they finished last in the B1G at -11 with 9 interceptions and 9 lost fumbles against 7 takeaways.
How do you stop turning the ball over? One way would be for the staff to call a smarter game. A bad memory from this past season came in the game against Minnesota. Martinez had to leave to the sideline briefly for a minor injury, so McCaffrey was inserted at quarterback. McCaffrey threw an incompletion, then an interception, and Minnesota used the turnover to score a touchdown.
Why even give McCaffrey the opportunity to throw there? Managing the players better would help the turnover situation.