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2017 Nebraska Spring Football: Offensive Line Preview

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Nebraska could have their best offensive line in over a decade. They have the players. They have the potential. Do they have the coaching?

David McGee

Nebraska’s offensive line in 2016 was wonderfully consistent at being inconsistent, at least by the measurement we use around here, which is the ability to successfully run the ball. The 2016 Husker offense finished the season 73rd nationally in rushing offense at 169.15 yards per game, 87th if you switch to yards per attempt with 4.20.

Both of these statistics are the equivalent of a sharp stick in the eye.

What made the year even more confusing was that at times the line showed itself capable of being marvelous. The offense reeled off an 18-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 10:42 against Illinois, and then, against Indiana held the ball for 7:45 in the fourth quarter with a drive that went 15 plays, resulting in a field goal and a 27-22 lead with less than a minute left. Nebraska prevailed over Minnesota by scoring the game-winning touchdown with a 13-play drive that covered 91 yards and took 5:40.

That brilliance was juxtaposed against the madness of an offense that could only manage 90 yards on the ground against Iowa for a 2.90 per attempt average, and 61 yards against Tennessee for a 2.18 per attempt average, the lowest of the season.

Sadly, Nebraska wasn’t much better at passing, finishing 86th nationally in yards per game with 211.7. What the line did do well was pass block, however, and finished 14th nationally in sacks allowed with only 15 on the season, or 1.15 per game.

Perhaps it’s best to forget what happened last year, look ahead to next season and hope that the offense gets much better.

Gone:

Dylan Utter, Sam Hahn, Corey Whitaker

Utter started every game at center last season, while Hahn started the first nine games of the season until he gave way to Jerald Foster who returned from injury. Whitaker started two games in 2016.

Returning:

Nebraska returns most of its line, actually, and in looking at what’s coming up, might have a shot at having a pretty darned good line going into 2017.

Nick Gates started every game at left tackle last season, while David Knevel started the first eight games at right tackle before being injured and giving way to Cole Conrad, who started the last five. Tanner Farmer started 11 games at right guard.

Include Foster, who was injured for the start of last season, and that is a pretty decent amount of returning starting experience.

Include the potential in guys who redshirted or didn’t play a whole lot last season, and you have the makings of what might be one of the better lines Nebraska has seen in a decade.

2017 Returning Offensive Linemen

No. Name Ht Wt Yr Hometown (Prev. School)
No. Name Ht Wt Yr Hometown (Prev. School)
74 Jalin Barnett 6-4 310 So. Lawton, Okla. (Lawton)
61 Bryan Brokop 6-5 275 RFr. New Lenox, Ill. (Lincoln-Way West)
62 Cole Conrad 6-5 305 Jr. Fremont, Neb. (Archbishop Bergan)
79 Michael Decker 6-4 285 So. Omaha, Neb. (North)
63 Tanner Farmer 6-4 295 Jr. Highland, Ill. (Highland)
71 Matt Farniok 6-6 300 RFr. Sioux Falls, S.D. (Washington)
67 Jerald Foster 6-3 310 Jr. Lincoln, Neb. (Southeast)
68 Nick Gates 6-5 290 Jr. Las Vegas, Nev. (Bishop Gorman)
65 Christian Gaylord 6-6 300 So. Baldwin City, Kan. (Baldwin City)
72 Zach Hannon 6-5 315 Sr. Kansas City, Mo. (Rockhurst)
76 Dwayne Johnson Jr. 6-6 300 Sr. Houston, Texas (Bellaire)
59 Jake Kitten 6-2 290 RFr. Santee, Calif. (Santana)
77 David Knevel 6-9 315 Sr. Brantford, Ontario, Canada (Pauline Johnson Collegiate)
50 John Raridon 6-4 275 RFr. West Des Moines, Iowa (Valley)
56 Boe Wilson 6-3 295 RFr. Lee's Summit, Mo. (Lee's Summit West)

The keyword above is POTENTIAL, as it always is.

One would expect Michael Decker to take over for Dylan Utter, although Decker didn’t play a whole lot last season when it appeared he might get the chance. Jalin Barnett should be mature enough to garner more playing time at guard, while Matt Farniok and John Raridon were four-star recruits that redshirted last season, and may get ample opportunity this season. Farniok will play tackle, while expect Raridon to compete for the starting center position. If Decker couldn’t beat out Utter last season, it’s a good chance Raridon will overtake him and start at center. (Obviously a lot can change in an offseason.)

Newcomers

These are the newcomers. It’s very rare for an offensive lineman to see playing time as a freshman, and given all the depth that’s in front of them this season, I’d expect all of these guys to redshirt this coming season.

2017 New Offensive Linemen

Name Ht Wt
Name Ht Wt
Broc Bando 6-5 280
Trent Hixson 6-4 260
Brenden Jaimes 6-5 250
Hunter Miller 6-5 275
Matt Sichterman 6-5 270
Chris Walker 6-8 275
Matt Watts 6-4 270

Expectations

I’ll admit, I wonder sometimes what Mike Cavanaugh is doing with his offensive line. We know that he likes to play the best five, and not rotate a whole lot, and that sounds fine, but it’d be nice to know why Decker wasn’t taking over for Utter more often, especially late in the season when Utter appeared to be slowed significantly by injury and was getting run over on more than one occasion.

Or why, when the Ohio State game was a blow out that Nick Gates was still in the game instead of being spelled by someone like Christian Gaylord who had already used his redshirt? Gates was hobbled the second half of the season, yet there wasn’t a guy who could give him a rest to heal, apparently. Isn’t it the offensive line coaches’ job to get another guy ready if that’s the case?

I don’t expect Nebraska to run the ball heavily in 2017. I expect a balanced offense, which means a fairly balanced run/pass ratio. I expect that the offensive line will play a big part in the success of next year’s football season, and I do expect the team to be successful because of a good offensive line.

If that isn’t the case, then Mike Cavanaugh might need to be looking elsewhere for employment. If he can’t build an offensive line from the group of guys that will be available this coming season, Nebraska needs to find someone who can.

It doesn’t give me any great pleasure to say that, but that appears to be how college football operates these days. There isn’t a lot of patience, and Mike Riley suddenly seems like a quick-trigger man.

My hope is that all of this is rendered moot by Nebraska’s excellence on offense during the 2017, resulting in winning the Big Ten West, and a chance at a conference championship.