Photo courtesy of Nebraska athletics
On Saturday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were finally able to close out a game for their first win of the 2020 season.
The Huskers were led by big plays on both sides of the ball, which is something that has lacked the past few years. Zavier Betts and Deontai Williams were the biggest recipients of these plays that allowed for a 30-23 win over Penn State at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers had their ups and downs on Saturday. Here are grades for each offensive position group.
A new sheriff was in town at Memorial Stadium on Saturday as Luke McCaffrey got the start and won. McCaffrey finished 13-for-21 for 152 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Let’s dive into the numbers.
The Huskers had two drops on Saturday afternoon, including the wide-open drop in the end zone from Kade Warner. According to Pro Football Focus, McCaffrey’s QBR in the NFL arena would have spun out to be 79.9.
McCaffrey struggled on downfield throws, which have been a concern for Husker fans. He went 1-for-6 on passes 10 or more yards downfield, including the pressured throw that caused his interception.
The Good and The Bad
The good news for Husker fans is that McCaffrey was 11-for-13 for 113 yards and a score when he wasn’t pressured. When facing the pressure, McCaffrey was 2-for-8 for 39 yards and his only pick on the day.
The blitz packages from Penn State caused a 4-for-9 day from the youngster in his first start. Growing pains are expected, but it does give McCaffrey something to build off of. The impressive part of McCaffrey’s day was his 66 yards on the ground.
What stood out about McCaffrey’s day on the ground was his ability to make defenders miss and get extra yards after contact. Not many people see McCaffrey as a physical runner, but a willingness to run hard and finish runs just like his brother, Christian, sets him apart.
McCaffrey avoided five tackles from Penn State defenders on Saturday while all other ball carriers only combined for two. McCaffery also averaged a fantastic 3.54 yards after contact per carry. That’s 46 of his 66 rushing yards that were picked up after contact. The other key stat to keep in mind is that McCaffrey finished with no scramble yards on designed passes Saturday.
The Huskers saw an early wrench thrown into their game plan with the injury of Dedrick Mills just three carries into the game. Head coach Scott Frost had an obvious game plan to get the ball in Wan’Dale Robinson’s hands regardless. Robinson yielded 60 yards on 16 carries but showed that burst that Huskers fans love to see.
Robinson struggled a bit in between the tackles with only 1.5 yards after contact per carry. Marvin Scott III was the only other back with more than three carries on the afternoon. Scott finished with 11 yards on five carries, but more impressively, all of his yards were after contact.
Scott or Mills need to step up to provide that power running game between the tackles. Mills got banged up early in Saturday’s game which forced him to leave. The emergence of Scott could prove rather large to the Huskers. Scott showed potential in the passing game as a running back too.
According to PFF stats, Scott was one of the best in pass protection all day. This is a good sign that needs to continue in order to live up to his billing as an all-purpose back. His ability to scamper for the first down after McCaffrey’s left-handed Pat Mahomes-like throw is almost forgotten. The Huskers’ running backs getting 25 carries for 84 yards isn’t going to cut it on most days in the Big Ten.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The wideout group continues to be missing the sort of rhythm you see from Ohio State every Saturday. This group doesn’t have the talent of Ohio State by any means, but Frost and his staff have put an emphasis on recruiting talented guys with multiple skill sets.
Wan’Dale Robinson led the team in targets (seven) and catches (five) on Saturday. Robinson only accumulated 11 yards receiving on five catches, mostly from the backfield area.
Stepping up in Big way
Tight end Austin Allen and wide receiver Zavier Betts were the stars of this group on Saturday. These two were the only players at the pass-catching positions to have multiple catches on the afternoon. Allen had his big catch on the first Husker drive when a scrambling McCaffrey found a leaping Allen through the contact for a sensational 25-yard catch.
Betts also had a big play that everyone has been wanting to see from the true freshman out of Bellevue West. The jet touch pass helped a motioning Betts race around the end for a 45-yard touchdown. Allen and Betts combined for 93 yards on five catches.
Wide receiver Levi Falck graded out pretty well on his 25 snaps on the day. He was rated with the sixth-best performance of any player on the Husker offense this past Saturday. One of the best signs from Saturday’s game is the all-around blocking from the tight end position.
The problem is Nebraska still needs to see more explosiveness on offense from the recently recruited talent at the wideout position. This leads to this question: who else?
The likes of Travis Vokolek, Alante Brown, and Marcus Fleming all graded out below average in their combined 78 snaps on Saturday. Wideouts like Brown, Demariyon Houston, Jamie Nance, and Omar Manning need to step up to make life more difficult for opposing defenses. Consistency will be key for guys like Fleming and Betts if they want to be the ones to emerge from a deep wide receivers class.
The hog mollies up front showed a bit of consistency on Saturday in ways that most didn’t expect. The good news is that the Huskers’ offensive line posted its best grade of the entire season in the pass blocking department. The bad news is that the same o-line graded its worst of the season in run blocking.
Left tackle Brenden Jaimes graded out as the Huskers’ third-best player on the day with an extremely strong day in the pass blocking department. Jaimes also performed well in run blocking, considering the Huskers ran off his end six times for a total of 53 yards. The Huskers accumulated four first downs on these six runs. They also had three of their four 10-yard runs of the afternoon.
Right guard Matt Farniok graded out above average too with a solid day in the middle. He seemed to be the only interior lineman to have a solid day since the rest of the offensive line didn’t perform well.
Where were the struggles?
Left guard Ethan Piper showed a poor performance in the run blocking arena, which hurt the efforts of the Huskers in their interior run game. Center Cameron Jurgens struggled with run blocking on Saturday as well.
This is a perfect explanation as to why the Huskers ran 11 times in between Piper and Jurgens — the A gap — for only 32 yards. Both Jurgens and Piper graded out just above average in the pass blocking areas, but Nebraska’s interior run blocking must improve.
Right tackle Bryce Benhart had a rough afternoon with the power and speed the Nittany Lions threw his way off the edge. Benhart graded as the worst Husker offensive player in all areas on Saturday.
Benhart was a major reason for the interception that McCaffrey threw with just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. With all this being said, the offensive line had an up-and-down day just like the whole team. The tale of two halves lives on for the Huskers.