LINCOLN — Pick your perception of Nebraska’s offense Saturday in a 40-7 win over Tennessee-Chattanooga, which doubled as Tim Beck’s coordinating debut.
First image: Quarterback Taylor Martinez thuds into running back Rex Burkhead while rifling the football into the chest of an unsuspecting UTC defender.
Second image: On fourth-and-one in Mocs territory, Martinez cannily changes the play into a short-side speed option, zooming around left end for a 43-yard touchdown — even though Burkhead still thought the option was going the other way.
“There was no one on the left side, so obviously we’re running left,” Martinez said, grinning.
First stat: The Huskers gaining just 68 yards on first and second downs in the first half.
Second stat: NU gaining 192 yards on third and fourth downs en route to a 23-0 halftime lead.
The final game tally: 68 plays for 364 yards against an FCS defense. Four touchdowns plus four field goals from junior Brett Maher, who filled Alex Henery’s accomplished kicking cleats superbly for one game.
So then. Pick your perception.
Here’s Beck’s own take: “Average.”
More: “I did some dumb things.”
And: “We were always playing behind the chains.”
In front of 84,883 expectant fans at Memorial Stadium, the curtain lifted on a walking contradiction: an offense both fast-paced and surprisingly austere, both explosive — five plays over 25 yards — and, according to coach Bo Pelini, “sloppy.”
“The logistics of it was fine,” Pelini said. “The execution of it wasn’t very good. Too many busts.”
Nebraska (1-0 overall) routinely snapped the ball before the play clock hit 15 seconds — “that was a positive,” Beck said — but often operated out of a traditional I-formation in doing so.
Beck wanted to see his young offensive line execute a handful of plays better than it did early in the game, when the Mocs (0-1) knifed in to stuff Burkhead on zone and isolation plays.
Offensive line coach Barney Cotton — serving as Beck’s wingman and sitting in the press box for the first time since 1987 — called the plan “very vanilla.” Martinez said Nebraska’s offense “pretty much treated it like practice.” Beck said he held back “a few things” while working on some basic principles of his attack.
“Probably wasn’t very smart on my part — but I’m stubborn sometimes,” he said.
Pelini hinted that part of the problem was a “very inconsistent” offensive line. It featured four guys starting for the first time — senior tackle Yoshi Hardrick, sophomore guards Andrew Rodriguez and Spencer Long and true freshman tackle Tyler Moore — and although they combined for just one penalty (a false start on Moore), they couldn’t plow holes for Burkhead against UTC’s stuff-the-box defense.
“Honestly, I don’t think we came off the ball very well,” Pelini said. “We didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage the way I feel we need to. A lot of that’s not the want-to. A lot of that is the fundamentals and technique.”
Cotton said he wanted to watch the game film before making a final verdict. NU averaged 5.3 yards per carry, but 142 of its 229 rushing yards came on three plays: Martinez’s 43- and 47-yard touchdowns and Burkhead’s 52-yard run to set up the Huskers’ first touchdown. Nebraska’s other 40 carries gained just 87 yards.
“We had a very good camp coming off the football,” Cotton said. “So I don’t foresee that being a problem.”
Martinez amassed 251 total yards (135 rushing, 116 passing) and three touchdowns. He added a 47-yard touchdown run to his 43-yarder, ducking inside a Mocs defender caught between Martinez and freshman wide receiver Jamal Turner. Sensing Chattanooga’s soft defensive back coverage, he audibled into short passes to his receivers several times. He didn’t have a delay-of-game penalty and fumbled just one snap. He led three touchdown drives of five plays or less. He converted six third downs in the first half — all of them longer than 6 yards.
Yet Pelini said Martinez was “up and down” and seemed anxious to start the game, making “too quick of decisions.” Martinez — who completed 11 of 22 passes — frequently vacated the pocket in the first half to scramble. He got first downs because of it, but also overlooked open receivers in the secondary to run.
“He was putting a lot of pressure on himself,” Pelini said. “As the game went on, he let the game come to him. And that’s when he becomes a better football player.”
Said Martinez: “I think I did all right.”
Throughout, NU’s offense got a boost from Maher, the walk-on from Kearney, Neb., who hit field goals from 50, 48, 34 and 21 yards. His 50-yarder was into a 17-mph north wind. Maher consistently flipped the field on his punts, too, with a 52-yard average.
“He had a good day,” Pelini said. “Great day.”
Maher’s punting meant, for much of the game, Chattanooga was facing a long field against NU’s defense, which held the Mocs to 74 first-half yards. Quarterback B.J. Coleman did lead an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, cutting NU’s lead to 23-7.
But the Huskers sacked him three times, hurried him into five more incompletions, and intercepted him at UTC’s own 3-yard line when defensive tackle Jared Crick deflected Coleman’s pass and Cameron Meredith — who also notched a career-high two sacks — caught it like a punt.
Burkhead scored on the next play for a 33-7 Nebraska lead. Martinez added his 47-yarder midway through the third quarter for the final margin.
Forty points the hard way.
Looking a little wiped out after the game, Beck was led into the postgame press area slowly before being engulfed by the media, who leaned toward him as he spoke softly.
More candid than his predecessor Shawn Watson — who hid disappointment behind an upbeat smile — Beck said there were moments Saturday when he was “pounding my head against the wall” trying to manage NU’s offense just so. He saw jitters and anxiousness.
“That’s not an excuse,” he said. “That’s a fact.”
So is Martinez’s parting thought: “We’ve never run this offense before in the game.”
|Yards per carry||1.9||5.3|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Chattanooga.
|Fresno State||Sept. 10|
|Ohio State||Oct. 8|
|Michigan State||Oct. 29|
|Penn State||Nov. 12|
|South Carolina||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 5 games on Sept. 3. See them all »
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