How a cold night in New Jersey gave a glimpse of what is to come on Nebraska’s offensive line

Nebraska lineman Bryce Benhart (54) heads off the field following warmups before the Penn State game Nov. 15, 2020 at Memorial Stadium.

CHRIS BASNETT Lincoln Journal Star

On a cold night in New Jersey, the future became the present for Nebraska’s offensive line.

That night against Rutgers, the Huskers started three freshmen and a sophomore on their offensive line. It marked the first time in the program’s history that NU had three freshman offensive linemen in the starting lineup.

And all Nebraska did was rush for 365 yards and average 6.3 yards per carry.

“We’re growing from that Rutgers game,” Bryce Benhart, one of those freshmen, said this week. “This is the opportunity to build off that. This spring ball is very important, and this last winter offseason, lifting and conditioning, was very strong for us (and) helped us.

“Now we’re rolling this momentum into spring ball, and we’ll have another opportunity to get better, faster, stronger this summer and then fall camp before the season starts.”

Benhart manned right tackle in that Rutgers game, his eighth start of the eight-game season. On the other end of the line, freshman Turner Corcoran became the first true freshman ever to start for NU at left tackle.

And as NU moves forward through an important spring, those two will try to entrench themselves as anchors on the line.

“I thought it was huge to get that confidence rolling, to get that first game under (my belt) and just feel the tempo of how the game is going for an entire game, not just eight snaps during an Illinois game and then an Ohio State game,” Corcoran said. “It felt like I could hang a little bit with the big boys in the Big Ten.”

Nebraska’s offense will be in good hands should Benhart and Corcoran continue to hang with the big boys. They’ll join sophomore center Cam Jurgens, and a host of other young players battling for playing time in spring workouts.

“Looking at that last game of the 2020 season — it’s hard to keep track of what year guys are in anymore with the COVID exception (to eligibility) — but we started a freshman left tackle and a redshirt freshman left guard, and Cam, I don’t even know what he is even more. Technically, I guess he was a redshirt freshman. Benhart is a redshirt freshman,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “Excited to have all those guys back. Thought they played probably the best game of the year as an offensive line and as a unit in there with four really young guys.”

Corcoran slid in at left tackle after Brenden Jaimes opted out of the regular-season finale, and was joined by freshman left guard Ethan Piper. The now-departed Matt Farniok played right tackle.

Just as critical as Corcoran getting valuable experience was the Nebraska offense not having a drop-off in production because of it.

“You talk about a guy that’s making his first start and just the jitters that come along with that. He got an opportunity to get in a couple other games, but it’s that first start and it’s special,” NU offensive line coach Greg Austin said. “Now we’re over that and now it’s time to play football. And he did a nice job. He did a really good job in that last game against Rutgers. It seems like he handled it like the man and the player that he is. He’s a very mature kid and we’re expecting some big things moving forward from him.”