Huskers head coach focused on building a solid, deep offensive line
Yes, Scott Frost is working to retool the culture of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team from a mental standpoint. Just as importantly, he and his staff are tackling an absolutely critical need on the roster, especially if Nebraska is to contend for Big Ten championships: the offensive line.
Greg Austin, in his second season as the Huskers' O-line coach, had a major challenge this year in replacing two of the most experienced big men with guard Jerald Foster and guard/center Tanner Farmer graduating. The duo was in on the majority of scoring drives for the Big Red's 2018 team. As a result, the interior run game has struggled often, and cohesiveness across the board has been sporadic.
The good news is Nebraska appears to be building a proper room full of big men for Austin to craft not only a quality starting line but also develop solid depth for the future. All of this year's starting linemen are likely to return for 2020, and Frost is already anticipating a shuffle up front.
"We're really happy with [offensive tackle] Matt Farniok, and in a perfect world, I think, and hopefully next year we'll be able to move him inside, and he would probably do even better there, but he's been really good for us," Frost said in a press conference last week.
"[Offensive tackle] Brenden Jaimes is really talented and has been solid for us. We're just kind of young in the middle."
The most effective offensive lines are built from the inside out. Frost's comments couldn't be more accurate in this regard. True freshman tight end-turned-center Cameron Jurgens had a rough start to the season with high snaps but has settled into his role. The staff sees him as a player who could legitimately grow into an all-conference candidate. If his improvement continues at the rate it has this year, it's easy to see why Frost is so bullish on the in-state athlete.
Farniok has done his best on the outside, but a move to the interior has been in the cards for some time. The Huskers simply haven't had the proper big men to allow this. With Bryce Benhart (6-9, 295) likely to redshirt this season, Nebraska has a player with an optimal frame to take over the outside duties.
Touching on the interior again, Trent Hixson and Boe Wilson will get competition over the offseason from Broc Bando (6-5, 310) and Ethan Piper (6-4, 300).
Bando has already seen time this season and performed at least as well as the linemen he spelled. Piper was actually brought in as a member of the defense, but his versatility meant that Austin and defensive line coach Tony Tuioti had to battle for his services.
Looking to the future, the Huskers have some commitments that provide Nebraska with even more bodies to help evolve.
Kansas natives Alex Conn and Turner Corcoran offer excellent size for the offensive tackle spot — both are listed at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds — in the 2020 class. The latter is ranked the No. 39 overall prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite Index, and the top recruit that has paid a visit to Lincoln to this point.
The Big Red just received a commitment for the 2021 class from Iowa guard Henry Lutovsky. His addition on top of in-state offensive tackle Teddy Prochazka — another top-tier national prospect — shows how committed Nebraska is to getting back to its roots.
Excellent offensive line play has long been a staple of what brought the Huskers the success fans crave. While the current product isn't anything to write home about, if Frost can continue to recruit and develop Big Ten-quality offensive linemen, he'll be able to unleash an offense he's far more familiar with running.