No Husker position group improved more over the course of the season than the offensive line/tight end group. This was partly because they had the most room for improvement at the beginning of the season.
When Nebraska announced its depth chart at the beginning of the season, it was clear this group was going to need some time. The Huskers had no seniors and were starting all underclassmen in junior tackles Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok, junior guard Boe Wilson, sophomore guard Trent Hixson and redshirt freshman Cam Jurgens.
On top of that, Hixson was a former walk-on who received a scholarship at the beginning of the season, and Jurgens was recruited as a tight end and moved to center last season.
The youthful inexperience was clear as the unit struggled for much of the year, particularly in pass protection. They allowed 28 sacks over the whole season, good for an average of 2.33 per game, which ranked 10th in the Big Ten. This number could have been worse if the Huskers didn’t have the mobile quarterbacks they have.
“Overall, we’ve just been average,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said about the offensive line in September. “I think you talk to [offensive line] coach [Greg] Austin, talk to the offensive line, they would say they’ve been average.”
Average is a pretty generous term for their performance throughout much of the beginning of the season.
This group began to mesh as the season went on, having a standout performance against Wisconsin. While they still gave up four sacks, they were able to carve out consistent holes for the running game, leading the Huskers to 273 yards on the ground against the No. 2 run defense in the country at the time.
Before that game, Austin thought the group had progressed and he was right.
“As of recently, they’ve been better,” he said. “There’s certain plays we want back from Minnesota with some of the interior guys, but overall especially with the tackles, our tackles have done a great job.”
The run-blocking success continued against another stingy run defense in Iowa as they ran for 184 yards in that game.
Heading toward next season, the offensive line will look to grow on a strong finish to the season. Jurgens particularly struggled at the beginning of the season, but showed signs of growth at the end of the season and is posed to take a big jump.
Jaimes was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention by both coaches and media for the second straight season and should lead this unit as the best player among them. Freshman Bryce Benhart will be a player to watch, as he may be able to step in and contribute this coming season considering that he beefed up this offseason.
For the tight ends, it was a pretty average season. Junior Jack Stoll led the group with 25 catches for 234 yards and one touchdown. Sophomores Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal were the only other tight ends to catch a pass this season, with Allen having seven catches for 83 yards and Rafdal recording one catch for nine yards.
None of these players took a substantial jump from last season, which is slightly concerning as there were more touches available in the pass game this season as opposed to last season. Freshman Chris Hickman is a new name who could come in and contribute as he saw the field toward the end of the season, although it is unclear if he will stick at tight end or move to wide receiver.