It was officially announced on Wednesday that Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator will be Mark Whipple. Coming from Pittsburgh, Whipple orchestrated an offense that finished 5th in total yards and 3rd in points scored per game. Whipple also helped develop quarterback Kenny Pickett who is a Heisman finalist and projects to be drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
But what does this mean for Nebraska? Why type of offense will Whipple employ with the Huskers? After the announcement of his hiring I went and watched Pittsburgh play against Tennessee, Clemson and Western Michigan. Here is what I found.
When I watched Whipple’s passing concepts, what really stood out is that he is going to spread defenses out either horizontally or vertically. Whipple uses a lot of “levels” type concepts where he would have the receivers on the same side run similar routes and end up following each other. This way the quarterback can quickly go from one receiver to the next depending on who the defender decides to cover.
Whipple also loves to take shots down the field. While he may stretch you out horizontally, you also have to account for him sending all the receivers on deep routes. That may include lining up the receivers into bunch sets and sending them into different directions, or even just spreading everyone out in empty sets and finding the best match up.
Whipple is a pass-first coordinator. Pittsburgh’s run to pass ratio tends to be close, but he uses the pass to set up the run. Get used to seeing plenty of draws as the Panthers passing attack set them up perfectly. Besides the draws, Whipple ran a lot of similar concepts that we have seen at Nebraska over the last couple of years. Pitt ran power, toss, trap and even zone runs. Often In the games I watched, Pitt liked to pass early and then when they had the lead they would lean on the run.
Something that will look a little different is Pittsburgh did use a tight end as an H-back and would often have him as a lead blocker in a pseudo fullback type role. I could imagine a guy like Travis Vokolek filling that role next season while players like Nate Boerkircher or AJ Rollins could take over in the coming years.
While watching Pitt’s offense under Mark Whipple, I was encouraged seeing plenty of situations and plays where Nebraska’s returning weapons could thrive in this offense. But that all depends on those players returning to Nebraska and not entering the transfer portal.
Not only does Nebraska have talent at the tight end position, but they have plenty of depth. Travis Vokolek looks to be returning while Thomas Fidone, AJ Rollins and James Carnie all have talent. This past season Whipple used Lucas Krull both in the slot and inline trying to get mismatches. Now Whipple primarily liked to go 11 personnel (RB, TE, WR, WR, WR) but he did show several formations that had two tight ends. I would expect Thomas Fidone to play the role of Krull.
Showing glimpses of his potential, Manning had 26 catches for 360 yards and two touchdowns. A physical receiver Manning should have a big role on the outside for Whipple. Manning should provide the Huskers with a possession receiver who is able to help move the chains working over the middle or take shots down the field. Whipple does like to go with trips to one side and then isolate a receiver on the backside. That could be a great place for Manning to thrive.
Speaking of potential, Zavier Betts has all the makings of an NFL receiver and a true go-to guy for the Huskers. However he had limited opportunities this past season, but always made a play when given the chance. Betts has a combination of speed and size. Whipple liked to have his outside receiver work deep which should suit Betts well. His ability to make plays with the ball in the air but also do well on comeback routes fits into this offense.
Pitt receiver Jordan Addison became a Biletnikoff finalist as he gave the Panthers a big play threat averaging 15.9 yards per catch. I could really see Alante Brown settling into Addison’s role as the slot receiver. Brown is one of the fastest players on the team and that speed will be in play in both deep routes but also in their short levels concepts where he can make catches and pick up yards after the catch.
I’m not sure that Nebraska’s 2022 starting quarterback is on their roster. Whipple’s offense suits a more traditional drop back passer, which isn’t Logan Smothers strong suit. The Huskers have been involved in the transfer portal having discussions with Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), Myles Brennan (LSU) and Zach Gibson (Akron). All three of these quarterbacks have different strengths and weaknesses but they all would fit well into Whipple’s offense. If you want further evidence of Whipple’s quarterback development, here is my Film Room on Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.
I’d have to admit that there were other candidates I was hoping for, but in the long run I think that Whipple was a good hire for Nebraska. His offensive isn’t going to be innovative, but it’s well organized and has an identity. Whipple also brings with him plenty of experience that should help Frost out. Whipple has won a FCS National Title, been a Power 5 coordinator and even coached in the NFL. Bringing in a young offensive mind would have been nice, but getting an established veteran may be what this program needs.