Published Friday, November 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm / Updated at 10:20 pm
FOOTBALL
NU's offensive line responding to challenge

It wasn’t just the two Nebraska offensive line coaches who were telling their unit at the start of this week that Saturday’s game at Michigan State will be decided in the trenches.

Other NU position coaches went out of their way to relay the message to the Husker offensive line.

This game’s going to be won or lost up front.

The O-line has heard it from everyone, including offensive line coaches John Garrison and Barney Cotton.

“We’ve been called out. At the beginning of the week,” Garrison said Friday morning. “The offensive line’s been challenged. Not by me, but from the other staff. Sometimes our guys need to hear it not only from the offensive line coaches but from the rest of the staff.”

The O-line has responded in practice so far.

“Our guys know,” Garrison said. “We’ll see how they perform.”

Garrison complimented the unit’s commitment and work ethic as he spoke for about an hour in front of about 250 Nebraska fans at the Big Red Breakfast on Friday, held at the Ramada Plaza Omaha Hotel and Convention Center. The offensive line, and the entire team, practiced well this week, Garrison said.

But desire has never been an issue with this group of linemen, Garrison said. It’s the players’ on-field performance that hasn’t always met their own high standards.

Garrison said there was a “foul taste” in the offensive line meeting room during film review of Nebraska’s 23-9 win over Michigan. There were too many missed assignments early.

The linemen were able to identify the Wolverines’ often-complex looks, but couldn’t communicate the pre-snap adjustments effectively. That led to the errors, and it’s been a point of emphasis this week.

“It’s as important, if not more important, than anything we’ve got right now,” Garrison said. “That’s kind of what’s holding us back.”

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The Huskers will be tested against a Michigan State defense that Garrison said isn’t overly complex but often dictates action because of its aggressiveness. The Spartans will blitz on running downs. They’re regularly trying to anticipate snap counts.

And that’s why the performance of Nebraska’s offensive line is especially important.

“Early in that (Michigan) game, we struggled a little bit up front — and we struggled a little bit offensively,” Garrison said. “We understand the responsibility that we have as an offensive line. We’re the heartbeat of the team.”

Also on Friday:

>> Garrison praised the leadership of junior guard Spencer Long. Long, a former walk-on from Elkhorn, is not a natural vocal leader, but he’s gone out of his way to speak up. “He’s one of the guys that will be one of the first ones to stand up there, address the team, address the offensive line, call guys out if we’re not getting it done,” Garrison said.

>> NU is last in the Big Ten in penalties per game, averaging 7.8 infractions in league play. It’s an area of concern. The entire team will do up-downs when a player commits a penalty during practice, Garrison said. And sometimes they’ll also stop a segment of the practice and start it from the beginning if a penalty is spotted.

>> Junior Cole Pensick, a regular in the seven-man rotation, takes practice reps at both guard spots and the center position, Garrison said. ... Junior Jeremiah Sirles is playing through “a lot” of shoulder pain. ... The offensive linemen are as close as they’ve ever been, Garrison said. And they have the right attitude. Said Garrison: “I don’t know if we’re the most talented group up front, but I know they’re going to try to run through a brick wall for you.”

Contact the writer:

402-473-9585, jon.nyatawa@owh.com; twitter.com/JonNyatawa

Contact the writer: Jon Nyatawa

jon.nyatawa@owh.com    |   402-473-9585    |  

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football and baseball, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008.

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