Nebraska Offensive Line to Determine Cornhuskers Success in 2011

Bleacher ReportAnalyst IApril 30, 2011

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 26: Mike Caputo #58 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the rest of the Nebraska offensive line powered their way past the Colorado Buffaloes during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Colorado 45-17 (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

That Bo Pelini is playing a shell game and playing coy when asked direct questions about his plans for the Nebraska offensive plans in 2011 is hardly surprising.  Not only is Nebraska starting play in 2011 as a new member of the Big 10 conference, the Cornhuskers are overhauling the offense.  That overhaul comes with its own problems for Nebraska but also comes with a distinct advantage.  That is that no one knows for sure what to expect from the Cornhusker offense in 2011.

Protecting the secrets and ingredients of the offensive plan like it is the Manhattan Project certainly makes perfect sense.  Nebraska is preparing for eight new opponents in 2011, while the rest of the Big 10 will prepare for one.  No sense in helping Big 10 defensive coordinators by putting the entire offense on film during the spring for all to see and study for the next five months. 

But all of the dipsy-doo, hide and seek and poker faces will be a moot point if one facet of the Nebraska offense doesn't begin to click

Tim Beck and Bo Pelini can roll out the 2007 New England Patriots of Tom Brady and Randy Moss, and it won't matter at all if the Nebraska offensive line doesn't become much more consistent. 

Look at the 2010 game tape.  Specifically look at the losses to Texas, Texas A & M, Oklahoma and Washington.

There is a consistent theme in the four losses suffered by the Cornhuskers during the 2010 season.   That theme was the offensive line being over-matched at the point of attack over and over.  There isn't game tape that Big 10 defensive coordinators can use to determine what sort of offense Nebraska may run in 2011.  But be sure that they will take note of what the defensive fronts of Texas, Texas A & M, Oklahoma and Washington did to slow the Cornhusker offense. 

Doesn't matter what plays Tim Beck calls if the Nebraska offensive line continues getting over-matched in key games.

It is easy to blame the lack of offensive production during these four losses on quarterbacks lacking pocket presence, quarterbacks unable to throw a pass to a wide open receiver and those receivers dropping the ball.  All of this is a moot point if the Nebraska offensive line doesn't improve in 2011. 

Early in the 2010 season, it looked like as if the Cornhuskers were having a renaissance of sorts in the offensive line. Wins over Kansas State and Washington led to lots of thoughts and reminiscing of the Pipeline offensive lines of the mid 1990's.  Pancakes, knockdown blocks, linemen getting on linebackers 15 yards down field had many convinced that the Nebraska offensive line was back for good.

Then came Texas, and it all changed. 

Texas and Will Muschamp put it on tape, and Texas A & M, Oklahoma and Washington followed the Longhorn lead.

For the most part, prior to the loss to Texas, the Nebraska offensive line only faced defensive lines that played an even front 4-3 alignment.  That is, defensive lines lined up with the defensive ends outside the offensive tackles and the defensive tackles in the guard tackle gap.  That left no defensive player over Nebraska center Mike Caputo.  This even front formation allowed Nebraska's guards and the athletic and smart, yet undersized, Caputo to get off the ball and get down the field.

Will Muschamp put Kheeston Randall, a large mountain of a defensive tackle face up, right across the line of scrimmage from the Nebraska center.  Nebraska's offense was stopped stone cold.  Texas A & M ran an uneven 3-4 front as their base defense and blew up the Nebraska offensive line on the first series causing a re-injury to the foot and ankle of Taylor Martinez.  Washington's Steve Sarkisian even took note and played a 3-4 alignment in the Holiday Bowl which was a complete change from their usual 4-3 defensive alignment. 

If the Cornhuskers are to compete for the Big 10 Championship like many think they will, the offensive line is the key to the offense.  Bo Pelini made a couple moves this off season to try to bring back the nasty, the swagger, the confidence that used to seep from Nebraska offensive lines.  Former Husker offensive lineman Jon Garrison was hired as an assistant, and 1994 All American guard Brendan Stai joined the Cornhusker staff as a volunteer assistant.  Stai brings a presence, a confidence of not only expecting but demanding a certain level of play of Cornhusker offensive lineman.

Offensive line coach Barney Cotton, Stai and Garrison must reach inside the minds of the Nebraska offensive lineman to get them to unlock their full potential.  Anything less, and the results of the 2011 season will fall short of expected potential.