Enthusiasm Over Changes Seems Warranted
By Shane G. Gilster • Photos by NU Sports Information
The Nebraska offense in 2021 averaged 447 total yards per game, good enough to rank 20th in the country. For the record, Georgia, the national champion, churned out about 443 yards a game and ranked 26th. The difference is that Georgia finished 14-1. Nebraska? 3-9.
How can this be? The answer floats in a horrid stew of abysmal special teams play, bad field position, turnover margin, red zone failures and untimely turnovers and penalties.
Regardless, Georgia, which had comparatively few of those problems, goes down in college football history books. Nebraska gets a total offensive overhaul.
It’s hard to guarantee Nebraska will gain more yards in 2022, but it’s clear the offense will be different.
New scheme, new offensive coordinator (Mark Whipple), new position coaches, new quarterback (likely Texas transfer Casey Thompson).
Whipple, with a 34-year resume, brings an NFL passing offense fueled by the performance of its quarterback. In his last job as offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, Whipple developed his quarterback, Kenny Pickett, into who many project to be the first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.
In Pickett’s final year as a Panther, the Heisman finalist recorded 4,319 passing yards, 42 passing touchdowns and a 67.2 completion percentage. Whipple’s offense, for the most part, uses its passing attack to set up the run game. This past season the Panthers ranked as the nation’s No. 8 passing offense with 337.4 yards per game.
How long it will take for Nebraska to approach those numbers is anyone’s guess. Based on the team’s limited media availability during spring drills, it seems the Huskers are acclimating to the scheme and have the parts to make it go.
Thompson has said the team is building better continuity and is playing at a faster pace. The learning curve might be the highest for Thompson, who has had to get to know his new teammates as well as a new scheme. Still, his enthusiasm speaks volumes about how he feels about the direction of the offense.
Thompson describes Whipple’s offense as aggressive and diverse with an ability to stretch the defense both vertically and horizontally with a fast tempo. It’s important to note that Thompson as the starter is not set in stone, but he has taken first-team reps this spring.
Whipple, in past interviews, has described the depth chart as fluid and that coaches won’t be able to see what their team will look like until around the Oklahoma game. That would be Week 4 of the season and the last non-conference game.
The Nebraska offense, at least on paper, moved the ball better than most in 2021. And it’s been well-documented that, despite the win-loss record, the team’s margin of defeat was less than a possession per game. Now, with multiple returners and new figures at key spots, including quarterback where the previous starter was much-maligned, at least some degree of enthusiasm seems warranted.