This browser does not support the video element.
LINCOLN — If there were a breakfast spot inside Memorial Stadium, the description for the “Nebraska Offense” item on the menu might read a little like this:
Sunny-side up, with buttered toast.
Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, in his first appearance with reporters since March, couldn’t have been more optimistic about the prospects of NU’s offense. The pandemic robbed the Huskers of spring camp and has delayed a padded training camp by nearly two months, but Lubick, coach Scott Frost’s new right-hand man, chose to see the positives on Thursday.
“I think the guys have done a lot of stuff with this pandemic off the field and bonded in that way,” Lubick said. “And I think we’re on the same page.”
NU players are mentally ahead of where they otherwise might have been. Lubick has already installed the Huskers’ offense and is in the process of perfecting that installation during more physical workouts. Lubick’s challenge — the one hanging out there since the final, disjointed drive of Nebraska’s 2019 season — is to get Frost’s system humming like it did at Central Florida, like it did when Lubick and Frost both were at Oregon, mowing through opposing defenses any which way they pleased.
The Huskers have done so in spurts — 53 and 54 points against Minnesota and Illinois in 2018, 54 at Maryland last year — but they’ve also been hot-and-cold, especially when passing the ball, especially inside an opponents’ 20-yard line.
Lubick was hired to do what Troy Walters couldn’t — cut a path toward a persistently explosive offense.
Matt Lubick likes what he sees from a Nebraska offense that will spend more time in 2020 on its "bread and butter."
Because the media don’t see full practices — and because there haven’t been many practices since COVID-19 leveled America — reporters rely on what they’re told and read between the lines.
Lubick, and run game coordinator Greg Austin, were straightforward offering their ideas. Nebraska’s offense has to decide what it does well, perfect that, stick with it and try to make the execution of those staples as easy as possible for quarterback Adrian Martinez and every other offensive player.
That means narrowing the scope of what Nebraska could do to where the talent lies, instead of picking a play out of the scheme bag — say, that shovel sweep pass on first down at Purdue’s 2-yard line. Lubick’s 17-minute chat with reporters had more hints and allusions to the shift. Austin is more blunt.
“We’ve been very, very adamant about being deliberate with what we’re doing, especially in the run game,” said Austin, who also coaches NU’s offensive line. “We were gonna hang our hat on a few schemes and we’re going to run them and we’re going to get really good at it.”
Austin’s daily practice regimen with linemen is built on this structure. The “main thing” — or concepts — are hammered home in meetings and individual work. The plan radiates from there, Austin said, out to schemes and a set of plays.
“Here’s what we’re doing, here’s how we’re going to do it,” Austin said. “Here’s the many different ways that we’re going to do it. Here’s the many different fronts, here’s the many different looks that we’re going to get to it. We have to be really good at ‘this,’ right, we’re going to be really good at ‘this’ and we’re gonna be really good at ‘this’ and we’re gonna be really good at ‘this.’ And then we’re going to certainly have some things that change up our tendencies.
“But nevertheless this is our bread and butter, and we’ve been buttering bread here for the last few months.”
The goal is get everyone around the quarterback — be it starter Adrian Martinez or backup Luke McCaffrey — executing their jobs better. Tight end Jack Stoll said Lubick harps on players going “full speed,” even as they make mistakes, because Nebraska’s high-rep practice style gives players a chance to learn from their errors in practice.
Adrian Martinez is Nebraska's starting quarterback, but the team feels good about backup Luke McCaffrey, and the two are engaging in a “friendly competition.”
Last season, as Frost often said, the performances around the quarterback — NU played three — were often lacking. A bad snap against South Alabama. A group of receivers who couldn’t consistently get open at Colorado or Minnesota. A back missing a crucial block on a third down against Indiana. An entire offensive line struggling to block Iowa’s front four.
None of it was Lubick’s fault; he was merely a consultant for Nebraska last season while he took a year away from the sport. Now it’s on his shoulders.
“When we watch clips of last year’s season, it’s the people around him,” Lubick said of Martinez’s play, which dropped from his prodigious freshman season. “It’s the line with protections, being able to run the football and take pressure off him in the passing game, it’s the receivers getting open, it’s the running backs blocking. It was a combination of things. And he did some great things last year. And, like everybody, you could have played better. And the same with that goes with our whole offense.”
Lubick did a thorough scout of last season that included three questions:
» What did the Huskers do well?
» When NU’s offense didn’t do something well, why? Is it even worth doing?
» What is someone else doing that Nebraska should do?
Cam Jurgens had rough moments in his first games as the Husker center. But after a strong end to the season and a smooth offseason, he's promised those erratic snaps are a thing of the past.
Based on Thursday’s interview, prioritizing tight end targets was one goal. Position coach Sean Beckton said tight ends have moved up in the target pecking order, to some degree; his guys are no longer the last option on a play. And by moving right tackle Matt Farniok from tackle to guard, Nebraska gets better in the interior run game. Farniok may be, Austin suggested, NU’s best “strike-and-drive” guy on the line. Plowing big holes for big backs like Dedrick Mills, Ronald Thompkins and Marvin Scott could be in the Huskers’ best interest.
Lubick’s experience in the Oregon scheme is one reason he was hired by Frost, but Lubick has coached in lots of pro-style offenses, as well. Could he bring a flavor of that to Nebraska?
The Frost offense contains all of it, Lubick said. It’s just a question picking what Nebraska can repeatedly do well.
“We have all the run game that you’d see from an NFL team on Sundays, and we have the ability to drop back and throw it,” Lubick said. “We also have the ability to read guys in the run game and get off a lot of plays and do it fast.”
Three weeks from what could be the toughest game of a shortened season, Lubick — a bachelor and football junkie — is in his element. The season is back. Schemes have moved from Zoom sessions to practice fields. And the more players get to know Lubick, Stoll said, the more they like him.
“He’s one of those guys who lives and breathes football,” Stoll said. “That’s what you want out of your OC. He’s just been great to have around. What he’s come up — what’s he done to help specifically the offense — has been tremendous.”
Nebraska announced a “Sea of Red Sellout” campaign in which supporters can purchase virtual tickets, small cutouts that will be placed in East Stadium and life-sized cutouts that will stand in the Tunnel Walk.