Better or worse? Previewing Nebraska's offense in 2022
The 2022 season is shaping up to be a pivotal Year 5 for Scott Frost at Nebraska. Heading into that season, all eyes will likely be on the Husker offense, and for good reason.
During the 2021 campaign, Nebraska did show strides in many areas, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Huskers trimmed nearly a full touchdown off their points allowed per game from 2020 to 2021 (29.4 points allowed to 22.7) but the offense and special teams play still left a lot to be desired as the team finished 3-9.
Fortunately, Frost did not settle and made sweeping changes to his offensive staff and sought roster reinforcements via the transfer portal. It creates an intriguing mix of talent and coaches in a new look for Nebraska on the offensive side of the ball.
So, what should fans expect from Nebraska in 2022? Here’s an overview of the Husker offense:
We will get to the player personnel later on, but there’s no overlooking the staff overhaul for Frost and the Huskers on the offensive side of the ball. OC Mark Whipple (Pittsburgh), RBs coach Bryan Applewhite (TCU), WRs and passing game coordinator Mickey Joseph (LSU), OL Donovan Raiola (Chicago Bears) and special teams coordinator Bill Busch were all brought on to help fix the offensive woes.
Now, it should be noted that as good as those additions look on paper, there is still a need for the coaching staff to gel – and for players to adapt to new coaches. But there’s no denying Frost was aggressive in finding the pieces he wanted in order to fix the offense.
Passing Game: Even
Trying to project the passing game production of Nebraska might be the toughest offseason task in 2022. That does not mean things will be bad, there are just a lot of question marks, even with the pieces added in the offseason.
Consider that the Huskers lost 5 of their top 6 receivers with receiver Samori Toure and TE Austin Allen the biggest losses. That duo combined for 1,500 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2021. Omar Manning (26 catches for 380 yards) is Nebraska’s top returning receiver.
The departure of Adrian Martinez must also be mentioned. Martinez was not without his warts (10 interceptions in 2021), but he did throw for over 2,800 yards and 14 touchdowns. It’s also worth mentioning that some of Martinez’s struggles were (in part) due to playing behind an offensive line that was one of the worst pass-blocking units in the FBS last season.
How has Nebraska addressed the passing game? For starters, the Huskers added interior OL Kevin Williams out of Northern Colorado and OT Hunter Anthony out of Oklahoma State via the transfer portal to provide depth and experience along the offensive line.
As for the receiver room, Nebraska added Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda (NM State), Trey Palmer (LSU), and Marcus Washington (Texas) via the transfer portal. That trio combined for 1,199 receiving yards and 9 receiving touchdowns in 2021.
Oh, and don’t forget that the Huskers did replace Adrian Martinez via the portal. Former Texas QB Casey Thompson is likely the frontrunner for the starting job, and Nebraska also added former 4-star recruit Chubba Purdy from Florida State for depth in the QB room.
Expecting this group to exceed the passing numbers from 2021 might be asking too much out of the gate on the basis of continuity alone. Only so much can be achieved via practice, and it will undoubtedly take a few games for the timing and cohesiveness to shine through.
The good news is it should not be a step backward, thanks to improved coaching across the position groups and a (likely) better game plan from new OC Mark Whipple. The future for 2023 and beyond is incredibly bright, and the small hiccups that are likely in the passing game this season will be a small stepping stone to bigger things.
Rushing Game: Better
One thing Nebraska has never really struggled with during Scott Frost’s tenure is running the football. In fact, the 181.2 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per rush were the worst for the Huskers in Frost’s 4 seasons.
Even as the lowest mark in Frost’s tenure, the 181.2 rushing yards per game ranked 4th in the B1G. Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota were the only teams to rush for more yards per game.
Fortunately for Nebraska, the lack of continuity that exists in the passing game does not appear in the ground game. The Huskers return their top 3 running backs in Rahmir Johnson, Jaquez Yant and Markese Stepp.
In addition to those 3 players, Gabe Ervin Jr. continues to work his way back from a season-ending injury. And unwilling to settle, Frost picked up JUCO RB Anthony Grant who rushed for more than 1,700 yards in 2021.
While the temptation of some may be to expect an “even” performance from a group of (mostly) returners, it’s not hard to expect a bigger season in 2022. Consider the improvements at offensive line coach with Raiola on staff and the potential to put together more complete game plans with Whipple at OC.
At this point, there’s no reason to believe Nebraska’s running game not returning to form, even if the carries continue to get split up by committee.
Special Teams: Better be better
Special teams. A four-letter word in Lincoln, Nebraska during the 2021 season. We will not even get into the coverage issues in this piece, but the kicking and return games were horrific enough on their own.
The Huskers used 3 kickers during 2021, and every single kicker had at least one miss. As a team, Nebraska missed 4 extra-point attempts and 8 field-goal tries. For a team that lost 8 games by 8 points or less and 2 games by a field goal, those points matter.
In the return game, the Huskers averaged just over 15.5 yards per kick return and had a grand total of 30 yards via punt returns on 9 returns. The lack of production in the return game consistently forced Nebraska to drive the length of the field.
How did Nebraska address those deficiencies? For starters, they added a dedicated special teams coordinator to the coaching staff by promoting Bill Busch.
Nebraska also improved the player personnel on special teams with some transfers. Kicker Timmy Bleekrode was added out of Furman after an efficient career as a kicker and punter.
In the return game, the Huskers added Trey Palmer out of LSU. He produced 115 yards via punt returns in 2021 and has a career average of 26.3 yards on kick returns with 1 punt return touchdown and 1 kick return touchdown.
With the addition of a full-time special teams coordinator and key transfers, Nebraska stands to be much improved in that facet of the game. At least, special teams had better be better in 2022.
With all the work to overhaul the staff and roster this offseason, the outlook for Nebraska’s offense is better in 2022. For the sake of Scott Frost’s time in Nebraska, it sure better be.
The Huskers have never averaged more than 30 points per game under Frost. In fact, their lone season averaging 30 points per game was his first season with the program in 2018.
Expecting Nebraska to suddenly average 35 points on offense might be a bit much. But if the Huskers can get a hair north of 30, it would be a big boost of confidence for Frost and would likely get him another year at the helm in 2023.