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Husker offense gaining confidence

Lane Hickenbottom/For The Independent
Nebraska wide receiver Todd Peterson catches a pass running a route across the middle Saturday against Baylor.
The Grand Island Independent
Posted Oct 25, 2008 @ 09:06 PM


 It was unanimous among the Nebraska players and coaching staff after Saturday's game with Baylor that the offense left some points on the field and will have a lot to improve on before squaring off with the Big 12's top offense next week.

But an offense that has shown an ability to stay on the field and consistently move the chains on third down the past four weeks will be taking some confidence with them to Norman, Okla., to face the Sooners.

Nebraska patiently piled up 497 yards of offense against Baylor, running 83 plays and converting 11 of 17 third downs in the process. Meanwhile, the Bears were anemic in going 0 for 1o on the drive-sustaining down.

Over its past four games, Nebraska has averaged just over 78 plays per contest. The team has converted 37 of its last 61 third downs and has possessed the ball for just under 150 of the last 240 minutes of play.

While the Huskers have split those contests, these are trends that offensive coordinator Shawn Watson would like to see continue.

"Any time you're possessing the football, that means you're staying on the field converting third downs, making first downs and getting four or more yards on first-and-10," Watson said. "The kids are playing really well."

Of the 17 third downs Nebraska faced on Saturday, Watson opted to throw on 14 of them, including going to the air four times in which the Huskers needed three yards or less.

"We've created ourselves a little bit different on third down," Watson said. "We try to give teams some oddball things and things that are unusual on third down so they can't lock in on us and we keep them off balance. The way we have designed our third-down nickel package has been a big help to us."

Todd Peterson was a big help on third down on Saturday, too. The senior out of Grand Island has been a consistent target on the pivotal down this season. Two of his six catches for 57 yards on Saturday kept the chains moving on third down.

"A lot of that has to do with scheme, but Todd gets open, too," Watson said. "He gets a lot of credit for that. He delivers some catches. Sometimes it isn't perfect, and Todd makes it perfect with his catches."

Through the first three quarters, Nebraska's biggest play from scrimmage was an 18-yard touchdown run by Marlon Lucky in the first half. A quick passing game that nibbled away for short yardage forced Baylor to play tighter in coverage in the second half, and Nebraska got the big play it was looking for as a result when Ganz pump faked to Swift and hit him for a 53-yard touchdown to take its first two-possession lead of the afternoon with 12:11 left to play.

"They were playing us awful tight and we were waiting for the moment to pull the trigger on it," Watson said. "It was the perfect time to do it, and it worked out perfect."

Lucky was the other big-play recipient, taking a third-and-16 middle screen 69 yards. But some of the points Nebraska left on the field happened two plays later when Quentin Castille fumbled on Baylor's 3-yard line. Nebraska also failed to convert a 4th-and-1.

"We're sitting here today with almost 500 yards of offense and disappointed in a lot of things because we could have been a lot better," Watson said. "We left some points on the field again, and we've done that the past two games."

Watson said he's seen the kinds of miscues that happened offensively on Saturday snowball on the Huskers in the past. While he'd prefer that they just not happen, he likes the way the team has been able to play through them.

"Maybe in the past there was a letdown or we faltered because something happened that slid it the other way," Watson said. "They have been very persistent finding their way through difficulties and adversity.

"That happens when a team starts coming together. When it starts happening -- that ’it' I'm talking about is chemistry -- that is what I'm enjoying most about this football team. But we did enough today to keep us humble and come back Monday and keep working."



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