The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team enters some uncharted territory in 2017 as they look to break in a brand new QB, thus ending the long line of mobile threats who may or may not have been able to throw a football. Tulane transfer Tanner Lee is turning a lot of heads in Lincoln, but previous experience feels less than convincing. Add to it that security blanket Jordan Westerkamp, big TE threat Cethan Carter, and pretty much all of last year’s receiving yards went with the turning of the calendar, and well, you have an interesting offensive dilemma in front of you.
That in mind, excitement still abounds. What do you think is a reasonable expectation for this team offensively? Can Tanner Lee get in sync with Stanley Morgan? Will Demornay Pierson-El fight back from an injury riddled 2016? Will Mike Riley finally be able to take advantage of the TE role? Or, is this pro-style offense a disaster waiting to happen?
MNW: My mind was pretty blown when I learned that, by Bill Connelly's "continuity" metric, Nebraska ranks 127th out of 129 in returning production, a projected 6.3 ppg dip. That's...um...yeah.
On the whole Tanner Lee and wideouts question, I remain skeptical like no doubt the rest of the writing staff here will, but I am impressed that he halved his interceptions between his freshman and sophomore years (or, if you prefer, went from 4.17% of attempts to 2.54%). I will just assume it's a function of the Tulane offense, because you could not bother me to look up Tulane's offensive sets, but no one was exactly whipping it around the park in Nawlins--Lee's career high in passing barely cracks 300, and his high as a sophomore was 277 against Maine. By all accounts he's accurate, though, and if that's the case, it might ease the pressure on Morgan or Pierson-El to be the guy for the offense.
But yeah...I'm not Scott Bilo, but no. ALL THREE of Nebraska's tight ends who caught passes are gone?! A bowling ball for a running back behind a good offensive line is nice, but the personnel this season smacks of a team that looks like it should run wisconsin's offense but doesn't actually have two of the four parts it needs. Nondescript transfer quarterback who's white and/or a transfer? Check. Running back who doesn't miss a meal? Check. Tight end? NOOOOPE. Scrappy, lunch-paily, gritty gym rat who's probably also a local kid? If Bryan Reimers turns into a deep threat for the Huskers, I guess Mike Riley could have found his answer; book'em for another 9 wins. But unless there's someone for Lee to huck it to, UNL's ppg drops into the 23-24 range and Ozigbo's running into a lot of 8- and 9-man boxes.
As I wrote this, I also learned that Zac Taylor is a bear who's coming to eat me:
C4B: Breaking in a new QB is never easy, and if you're also planning to break in a new receiving corps as well (which this certainly sounds like you are), it's gonna be a long start to the season. Can you pull some good numbers out of such a group? Yeah, it's certainly possible, but I wouldn't start expecting big things to happen for the first few weeks, though you might have some crazy highlights to look forward to until that point.
BRT: I can't see them replacing what they've enjoyed in the receiving corps the past few years, but I also don't think they'll be awful. Do I have any basis for that hope? Not really, but when in doubt, predict mediocrity.
87townie: I hate going into a season with an unsettled quarterback race. Particularly when you change styles from mobile to a pro set offense. Fans, in their infinite wisdom, get set in their ways. Half the fan-base will revolt the first time the starter has a bad game. The guy looks like a tree stump compared to what they are used to. The constant barrage in the media undermines the starter's confidence, he gets the yips, the "Sackenberg" chants start...ugh.
Oh wait, sorry. I drifted there. Good luck Huskers...you'll need it.
Jesse: I wrote this question and the preview this morning so obviously I have a little bit of a bias to my answer going in. As MNW said, this is a season where you’re going to see a lot of messiness on offense as Nebraska goes from established starters to a bunch of guys no one outside of the Good Life has seen.
That in mind, I like our odds as a whole. The best part of the new guys is that this isn’t exactly a bunch of 2* try-hards. We’re seeing an absolutely beautiful set of athletes who can - and should - push defensive coordinators across the midwest to their wits end. The biggest problem will be consistency and let’s be real, that won’t most likely come this year.
I’m going to hedge quite a bit and say that Tanner Lee looks the part by mid-season and his TD:INT ratio is somewhere around Iowa QB level. Sure, that’s basically saying game manager, but so long as this offense can score something, things should be good in Lincoln and a wave of reinforcements can join the team next year.
WSR: Luckily for Nebraska, there aren’t a whole lot of great teams in the West. Also,
Lincoln is a bit of a fortress. You could say that things are reasonably stable with
Lee and that the transition on offense will lead to a minimal amount of surprise
Stew: I think that with an offense with that many questions UNL should run the dang ball more. However, I just don’t think that’s Riley’s style. I think with that much unknown he’ll revert to what he’s most comfortable with, and that’s throwing the ball ~40 times a game. I don’t think that’s sustainable, and will likely lead to a whole bunch of ints and losses.
How will Nebraska's offense fare in 2017?
This poll is closed
Lee clicks, Ozigbo mashes, Morgan and Pierson-El jet. 30+ ppg.
Lee brings a modest uptick, offense is consistent but not elite. 28-29 ppg.
Meet the new Mike Riley offense, same as the old Mike Riley offense. 26-27 ppg, 4 losses.
No depth and a new QB mean regression. 24-25 ppg.
So bad that Jesse actually utters the phrase "Say what you will about Bill Callahan, at least his offenses scored."