||Sunday, December 30
Husker offense more complex than it appears
By Wayne Drehs
PASADENA, Calif. -- To outsiders, it looks ridiculously predictable. Run left, run right. Option left, option right. Play action pass here, play action pass there.
Miami defensive tackle Matt Walters was among those outsiders. He, too, figured the Nebraska offense was strictly a power game, designed to smack you around while running the football right up your gut.
And then he saw Nebraska's game film.
"Shocked," Walters said. "Completely shocked. I thought they had a few plays here and a few plays there that they just ran to perfection."
They don't. In fact, Walters said, Nebraska runs one of the most complex offenses the Hurricanes have faced all year.
"They have like five different formations and ten different personnel groups with which they can run the same play," Walters said. "And then they can use the same formation and same personnel group and just tweak their blockers a bit to change the face of everything. Utterly complex. Thank goodness we have a month to prepare."
It's been this way at Nebraska forever. The veer, the wishbone, the run and shoot, the West Coast offense, they've all come and gone. But at Nebraska, the method with which they play football has stayed the same -- move the football on the ground and keep defenses honest with the pass.
Over the years, there's been a tweak here and a tweak there, but for the most part, the offense that Tom Osborne ran 20 years ago is the same one Frank Solich runs today.
And contrary to popular belief, it's not just as simple as handing the ball off and finding a hole. After all, given enough time, anybody could figure out how to stop that. But few over the years have figured out how to stop the Huskers.
"Thirteen to 14 different sets, nine or ten different motion calls, it's pretty complex," Solich said. "You ask any defensive coordinator in our conference and they'll tell you it's not a lot of fun to prepare for. We even have a complete passing game, with a three-step drop, a five-step drop, and a shotgun drop. We don't use it much, but it's there in case we need it."
Learning such a varied attack is no easy task. Senior offensive tackle Dave Volk said it took him about 2 ½ years to feel entirely comfortable with all the different nuances of the offense.
"People on the outside just don't get it," Volk said. "They don't have a clue. Our options can look like a power play. Our power plays can look like an option. Both can look like a pass. We have five, six, seven different ways to run the same play. Often, people on TV will say that we missed a block or somebody turned the wrong way or something like that, but in reality, that's exactly what we were trying to do."
While attending the Lakers-Raptors game at the Staples Center last Friday, the Cornhuskers were booed loudly upon their introduction to the crowd. While some Cornhuskers took it in stride, other's didn't.
"I think people forget we're still young kids," said junior Dahrran Diedrick. "You know most of us are between 17 and 22 years old. And getting booed at the Staples Center? I was just shocked."
Senior defensive tackle Jeremy Sletcha was just as surprised.
"At Nebraska, we're used to everywhere we go, getting respect. You come out here and some people could care less about us," he said. "I've never, ever, been in a place where we are visiting somewhere and we all get booed. It motivates you to go out there and prove that you deserve to be here."
Volk, the senior offensive tackle, had a different reaction. "I thought it was great," Volk said. "I felt like a pro wrestler. And I always wanted to be the bad guy."
Oh yeah, you blend
What they don't think is big-time football.
Yet the past few days, snooty shoppers driving down Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills couldn't help but notice Nebraska's Big Red Truck propped up on a sidewalk behind the Beverly Hills Hilton.
The 18-wheeler, which carries almost all of Nebraska's uniforms, pads and other equipment, sticks out like, well, a big red semi in the middle of Beverly Hills.
"Beverly Hills is a place that likes to stand out," Solich said. "And if that's the case, then I guess our truck probably stands out too. I'm sure some people are walking by there wondering what that's all about. But it serves a purpose."
When asked what's been the best part of the trip so far, senior tackle Jeremy Sletcha voted, without hesitation, the visit to the new Disney theme park -- and for good reason.
"Those rides were tremendous," Sletcha said. "We don't get a lot of chances to do stuff like that in Nebraska, you know."
Wide receiver Wilson Thomas has been impressed by a different part of L.A. all together -- the rain, which has occurred on and off since Saturday.
"You know that song, 'It never rains in Southern California?' Well, we came out to practice and it was pouring," he said. "And it was actually really funny to see how the people down here reacted to it."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nebraska truly is a Big Red Machine