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B1G 2022, Nebraska Potluck #2: Can this offense save Scott Frost?

It’s up to a former UMass head coach and a former Texas quarterback to do it. Or will the Huskers FINALLY run the damn ball for Don in Stromsburg?

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Adrian Martinez is gone.

No, really. It’s over.

More than that, though, after another disappointing season Scott Frost was told by AD Trev Alberts to clean house: in are ​​a bevy of new offense staff headlined by offensive line coach Donovan Raiola and OC Mark Whipple. You all might know Whipple for turning Pitt and Kenny Pickett into a juggernaut last year–though the real ones in the room think “UMass coaching legend”–but he’s got his work cut out for him this year.

Football: Previewing the Cornhusker Offense

Aiding Whipple in that quest, though, is a splashy new quarterback with some eligibility: Casey Thompson threw for 2,113 yards, 24 TDs, and 9 INTs at Texas in 2021, including a scintillating 388 yards and 5 TDs in that 55-48 Longhorn loss to Oklahoma, which must have Huskers fans salivating over what Whipple can do in 2022. Thompson will benefit from the addition of WR Trey Palmer (LSU) and Isaiah Garcia-Castenada (NMSU) to an underwhelming WR room that includes former Hawkeye Oliver Martin and 380 yards of production from Omar Manning.

And they should expect to get a workout. Compare, if you will, Whipple’s college career since making the FBS jump with UMass in 2014 to the Nebraska offensive scheme:

Mark Whipple vs. Nebraska: Pass Ratio

Year Team Pct Rank UNL OC Pct Rk
Year Team Pct Rank UNL OC Pct Rk
2014 UMass 57.28% 14 Beck 38.65% 112
2015 UMass 57.21% 5 Langsdorf 48.76% 55
2016 UMass 56.21% 12 Langsdorf 44.29% 80
2017 UMass 53.92% 21 Langsdorf 56.81% 8
2018 UMass 53.22% 20 Walters 47.95% 57
2019 Pitt 55.86% 16 Walters 39.39% 111
2020 Pitt 54.38% 18 Lubick 42.31% 95
2021 Pitt 53.29% 27 Lubick 44.56% 85

There are, of course, some needed caveats about Whipple, namely that, especially at UMass, his teams were consistently playing from behind and needed to throw to stay in the game. But Pitt throwing almost as much does signal that Nebraska will be making at least some appreciable jump in 2022.

The bigger problem, though, might be how far Raiola can drag the offensive line out of the basement. The Huskers were 126th in pass blocking in 2022 according to Pro Football Focus, so while RT Bryce Benhart returns and a couple transfers in Hunter Anthony (Okie Lite) and Kevin Williams (Northern Colorado) might challenge for time, replacing C Cam Jurgens and dealing with injuries to tackles Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran means…uh…

…well, there will still be opportunities for a deep stable of Husker running backs. Rahmir Johnson is back from injury and looked dangerous before an injury in 2021, while Anthony Grant has made his way back to D1 ball (Florida State to New Mexico Military to Nebraska) and Jacquez Yant toted the rock a decent amount last year.

All that said, writers:

1. Whipple’s a pass-first guy who wants to spread you out and use a number of different routes out of bunch formations to mess with defenses. Does Nebraska have the quarterback in Thompson–or FSU transfer Chubba Purdy, OR actual Husker Logan Smothers–to get it done? Who starts, and how does it go? Especially because…

2. Will a pass-first identity take hold–or even work?–in Lincoln? Don’t you want to feed this fearsome backfield?

MNW: I’m a huge Mark Whipple guy, so this actually has me a little concerned. I’m curious to see who becomes the Andy Isabella in the Husker offense–a real scrappy, lunchpail guy…I guess congrats in advance to Brody Belt for a 1,000-yard receiving season! Calling that shot now.

I don’t know why it couldn’t get done outside that offensive line. It’s going to actively lose them a game or two when Thompson is running for his life and throws a few Adrians. BUT the quarterbacking play could well win them something, because not only could Thompson tuck it and run once in a while, but those running backs…yeah. I like Mark Whipple, and if he can get a little of the offensive line play to hold up against Iowa or wisconsin…watch out.

misdreavus79: I haven’t looked into it with any sort of thoroughness (am I officially an OTE “Writer” now?), but I assume Thompson had options. He didn’t come to Nebraska to ride the bench. So we can safely cross that one out. He’s going to start, and the fact that he didn’t even have a bad season at Texas means he’s likely to do quite well in Lincoln. Yes, Penn St–er, Nebraska will need to ensure the line keeps him upright, but there’s no indication that the job isn’t already his, and that he can’t do well under Whipple’s tutelage.

As per whether a pass-first offense can work at Nebraska, well, it’s working pretty well at Purdue, so if all it does is get the Huskers nine wins (and exactly four losses), I think they’ll take it. On the other hand, if they start being able to score at will, like Pitt did last season, the West is there for the taking.

Thumpasaurus: Tim Beck? Man, that takes me back. Anyway, all the star receivers in the world won’t make a bit of difference unless either the offensive line holds up OR the read-option can have enough success running the ball (with both options, QB and RB) to give them time to run their routes. You can mask a subpar offensive line with the right combination of scheme and skill players, but the quarterback needs to be transcendent. Also, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean you should.

Casey Thompson is the most talented quarterback in this room. The same was also true of Adrian Martinez. Can Thompson get past the meltdown against Oklahoma where he suddenly became ineffective in the second half and was part of an epic blown lead? He didn’t last year, and Scott Frost couldn’t make that happen for A-Magic. It’s all up to Walt Bell, isn’t it?

Interesting how after Michigan saved their program by replacing a former UMass head coach at coordinator, both Nebraska and Indiana have pinned their hopes on BRINGING IN a former UMass head coach at coordinator. [MNW: That is wildly unfair to Whipple. Walt Bell is a joke.]

If this works for both of those teams, we’ll know that it has to be offense. A desperate Northwestern could probably tap Charley Molnar from his current job as Idaho QB coach, but Pat Fitzgerald is more likely to have Don Brown coach the offense.

WSR: It doesn’t matter, but it’ll be Casey Thompson. And if you’re concerned about that for more than one second, stop. Look up the meaning of “Flat track bully” and there may be a picture of Thompson near it, although he does deserve credit for one quarter of good QBing against Baylor’s defense. Other than that he did a great Graham Mertz vs. Illinois impression in racking up huge numbers against Oklahoma’s “defense” and Kansas. It’s also one hell of a stretch to assume that he’ll even be upright for the whole season, because the one biggest calling card of Scott Frost’s time in Lincoln has been OLs so bad that Tim Brewster would talk shit about them. I’ve been asking for proof of concept and/or life from the fat kids for year, and have not seen either.

One thing that could give Nebraska fans hope is that maybe Thompson will be comfortable because they’re pretty much the Texas of the B1G in that recruiting and preseason attention have outpaced results for a long time now. Hook em Corns?

Will this offense work? Sure. Bill Callahan got to a Big XII title game using that approach, and he wasn’t relying on an OC that got hot for one year with a QB before setting up generational wealth by taking a big check from Nebraska and giving his son a job. Bringing in a failson onto an offensive coaching staff in the B1G always works well for production.

Green Akers: Thompson should be just fine, and there’s an argument that right now, he’s the second-best QB in the division behind O’Connell. His decision making certainly can’t be worse than A-Mart’s was, even if he doesn’t have the same physical ceiling.

Questions like ‘Can X System Work In [Place]’ always strike me a kind of funny. Any system can work anywhere if it has the players who are good at the things they need to be good at and the coaches are agile enough to not insist their preferred plays work no matter what the opponent does in response. What I think this kind of question is getting at, really, is will the fans be patient enough with a system that deviates from what has worked for their team in the past.

And…Ionno. Michigan fans rejected Rich Rod like an incompatible blood transfusion, but if he had won more, they would’ve gotten over the lack of a fullback. If Whipple’s presumably pass-heavy system gets Nebraska bowling again and back in the West picture, I doubt you’ll hear many Don In Stromsburg types grousing about not running the triple option.

Poll

Is Mark Whipple the answer for the Husker offense?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Yep, spread offense + playmakers = some success.
    (34 votes)
  • 17%
    Even Bill Callahan made a Big XII Championship...
    (19 votes)
  • 23%
    Nah, run the damn ball.
    (25 votes)
  • 27%
    No, but this goose is pretty much cooked, anyway.
    (29 votes)
107 votes total Vote Now

Food: Can you eat helium?

Like the death of the Osborne Option Offense, all good things must come to an end. And that is why, writers, with much sadness, I must relay to you:

ESPN

I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself, writers, before you tell me…

1. How do you feel about the Nebraska balloon tradition ending?

2. What’s one tradition at your school that ended? Do you miss it?

WSR: “Helium shortage.” Sure. Or they realize that helium is expensive and two coaching buyouts are not. But go with that instead of the easy points of saying that it’s for the good of the environment.

I miss having a gigantic all-time lead over wisconsin. We should get back to doing that.

misdreavus79: I don’t think you can eat helium. Mainly because it’s a gas, but also because, well, it’s helium, and, like, it could kill you. That aside, it is sad to see traditions end, but for this one, at least there’s an explanation. A tradition the Penn State used to have prior Bill O’Brien and James Franklin coming on was to operate as if it were still the 1980s. I am not at all sad to see that go.

Green Akers: Considering releasing 100,000 balloons is an environmental war crime, it’s fantastic that the hand of the market has finally slapped some sense into the Corn powerbrokers.

MSU’s administration has successfully obliterated tailgating to an extent that I honestly cannot imagine why anyone bothers anymore. As I tell them in every alumni survey I’ve ever filled out, if they want me to make the huge investment that season tickets would be, I need bang for my buck, which would mean opening lots more than a few hours before kickoff and re-centralizing it instead of scattering people in 50 different parking lots spread over a campus the size of a small city. But they won’t do that because academia has never been convinced to change its mind about anything. So I’ll continue picking a game or two a year to see in person and spend the rest of my Saturdays in my vastly superior viewing experience at home.

MNW: I actually liked the balloons, but the environmental impact is bad and so it’s probably a good idea that this ends. Bonus points, though, to Andrew for noting the free market fucking over a Nebraska tradition. But then again, it was never about a truly free market, was it, Nebraska? So maybe the Husker chemistry lab can get on it.

I’ve got two answers for the bygone traditions:

The first had to do with NUMB. Whether it was throwing marshmallows in the bells of the sousaphones or doing disgusting things to apples or double-correct rights in the pregame countermarch, it was better in my day. Harrumph.

The second is more important. About 10 years ago the Ryan Field PA scared the hell out of us by–in a very serious tone–asking us to direct our attention to the scoreboard (then “CatVision” shut up it’s great). We then saw this, with a backing from Belgian techno pop artist Danzel:

“Put Your Hands Up In The Air” briefly turned into a fun little Northwestern fourth quarter tradition for 5-6 years, with cameos from John Shurna swishing a three or some local weatherman in Chicago debasing his entire profession by shouting at us. I miss it dearly.

Thumpasaurus: Traditions are fun, but when they have a negative impact on creating an equitable future for all, they’re worth sacrificing.

I can’t recall if Illinois had anything like that. Certainly nothing major since my freshman year in fall 2007.

Poll

Balloons?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Bring ‘em back when you got the helium.
    (31 votes)
  • 70%
    Good that it’s finally gone.
    (74 votes)
105 votes total Vote Now