LINCOLN — Offensive linemen are a predictable sort.
Ask five whether they would prefer to block for runs or passes, and five would most likely pick run blocking.
And generally that was the case with the Nebraska offensive front after the Huskers called more pass plays than run plays in a 34-23 loss at Minnesota. But they understood what offensive coordinator Tim Beck was trying to do.
“As linemen you always want to run,” NU left guard Jake Cotton said. “If we had our way, we'd run every play. But we've got tremendous faith in our coaches, and we do whatever they want us to do. So if they think we should throw, then we're on board with that.”
Nebraska had a season-low 30 rushing attempts at Minnesota, and that included at least five designed pass plays that turned into sacks or scrambles. NU quarterback Taylor Martinez passed it 30 times.
But the Husker line, even without injured All-America candidate Spencer Long, remains confident in what it can do if the Huskers choose power football the next time.
“As an offensive lineman you always want that opportunity,” NU left tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. But he added that he reviewed the Minnesota game tape and saw how the Huskers would be outnumbered even if everybody carried out his block.
“You can't just pound the rock every play,” Sirles said. “You can try, but if there's nine people in the box, we have the playmakers on the outside. Give 'em the ball.
“Yeah, there were some passing attempts that were frustrating for me, but I think Coach Beck called a pretty good game. And I just do what I'm told as a pass protector.”
Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah ran for 165 yards and 8.7 per carry, and the Huskers had eight first-down running plays that gained 7 or more yards. They also had eight that netted 3 yards or fewer, which Sirles said put NU in a tough position instead of putting the Gopher defense on its heels. That left Beck in a tough position.
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“When you get in second-and-9 or second-and-11, it's hard to keep with the running game,” Sirles said. “That was the frustrating thing for us.”
The Huskers entered the Minnesota game averaging 284.8 yards rushing to rank No. 10 in the nation and second in the Big Ten. But several Husker offensive linemen said they weren't sharp with their details and technique against the Gophers.
“We've got to focus on us instead of focusing on them,” said Mike Moudy, who has replaced Long at right guard. “That's what we're doing too much of. We're focusing on what they're doing. We should fix us and come out with just smash-mouth, and that's all we do. I would love to pound the ball.”
Beck expressed mixed emotions Tuesday as he reflected on the plan at Minnesota.
Had Nebraska made some throws and catches, it would have worked. Had Beck known those connections would be missed, and some pass protections would break down, then maybe the running game would have been more of a focus.
“I just wish we would have executed better, ya know?” he said. “We were just very inconsistent, and that's the best way I can describe it. When we looked good, we looked good. When we looked bad, we looked bad.”
Beck said he still trusts the NU line to plow ahead in the run game despite the loss of Long. If not, Cotton said, it's up to those remaining to regain his trust.
“We've got to have 100 percent of the guys doing the right thing all the time,” Cotton said. “It seems like we'd have a (chance) at a big play, but we'd miss a block here or there. So we just need to be accountable to each other and all do our jobs on every play, because you never know when your block will be the one that frees a big run or something.”
When it comes time to pass block, NU tackle Brent Qvale said, the story has to be the same. After the Huskers allowed just three sacks in their first six games — as few as any FBS team — they surrendered four against the Gophers and had another negated by a face-mask penalty.
“That was probably the most disappointing thing for us as an offensive line,” Qvale said. “That's something that was a focus at the beginning of the year, and through the first six games we did pretty well. Now we need to get back to pass-protecting better.”
Sirles watched the Minnesota game tape three or four times, searching hard to pinpoint where and why the momentum shifted after Nebraska took a 10-0 lead. Next time it happens, he said, the line needs to “put a stake in the ground and say, 'Not again. It's not happening. We're going to take this game over.' ”
“And I think as an offensive line we have the power to do that, with as many seniors as we have,” Sirles said. “Just say, 'Run behind us. We'll get us the first down.' We didn't do that.”
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