LINCOLN, Neb. — Space has been hard to come by for the Nebraska offense.
With the offensive line injured from tackle to tackle, the Nebraska playmakers in the backfield just haven’t been able to find holes and make plays the past few weeks.
Until Saturday, when offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf created some space himself.
Of the Huskers’ three touchdowns in their 24-17 win over Minnesota, two were throws from senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong to running backs out of the backfield. Langsdorf has been insistent Nebraska (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) needs to run the ball well in order to win. On Saturday the Huskers ran the ball, but with a twist.
Instead of traditional runs between the tackles, Langsdorf leaned on run-pass options early on that turned into quick throws and a lot of yards.
“We did it really to try and pull somebody out of the box so we could run easier,” Langsdorf said. “So when they didn’t cover the guy we threw it to him.”
A good example was freshman Tre Bryant’s 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave Nebraska a 10-7 lead.
On fourth and 2 from the 35, with Minnesota crowding the box, Bryant leaked out into the flat.
Armstrong found him, and Bryant scurried into the end zone.
“Usually teams actually cover that area,” Bryant said after the game. “They cover man so when I catch it, like against Purdue, right when I caught it I got hit. And I guess (Minnesota) just had a bust in the coverage.”
The play was a run-pass option. Armstrong could’ve run if he saw an opening, but elected to throw to Bryant.
Nebraska began that pattern early on. On the first drive, Armstrong put sophomore Mikale Wilbon in motion and threw it out to the running back for an 11-yard gain. Armstrong could’ve given it to Bryant on a handoff, but didn’t.
From there, the precedent had been set.
With the Huskers trailing 17-10 in the third quarter, Langsdorf drew up a screen pass for senior RB Terrell Newby. Nebraska has leaned heavily on the run on first downs this season, but instead of handing it off on first and 10 from the Minnesota 31, Langsdorf had Armstrong flip it to Newby out in space.
Newby, who hasn’t been able to break off for a long run in weeks, got a few blocks and was able to shake off a few defenders for the 31-yard touchdown.
Seemingly every time Nebraska threw out to a back, it paid off. Running backs averaged more than 25 yards per catch on Saturday.
And down the stretch, the quick throws helped Nebraska run out the game.
After getting burned time and time again out in the flat, Minnesota (7-3, 4-3) started putting less defenders in the box. And in the second half, Nebraska’s run game opened up.
Newby finished with 85 yards on 16 carries, and the team finished with 157 yards on the ground and 4.9 yards per carry.
The Huskers ran for 147 of those yards in the second half, and it worked primarily because of the quick throws.
“That helped our balance and helped our rhythm a little bit because we were able to complete those and get some of those to hit, soften up the coverage a bit and get some good yards running,” Langsdorf said.