It appears that offensive coordinator Tim Beck meant exactly what he said last spring – he is committed to simplifying Nebraska’s attack this fall. That was the main takeaway from Beck’s July 21 speech in Omaha.
It also was good to hear that Taylor Martinez has had a great summer of workouts and his leadership ability is on the rise, although you wouldn’t expect Beck to say anything different. Maybe it was just coachspeak, maybe not. I tend to believe what Beck said. The fact is this: having a healthy, reinvigorated, focused and well-adjusted Martinez at quarterback would do a lot of good for the Cornhuskers on several different fronts.
It’s a luxury having a home-run threat at quarterback. Defenses have to account for him on every play, which should help the Nebraska I-backs as they carry the bulk of the rushing load. Martinez’s speed also opens a lot of doors for the passing game if he can execute the mid-range throws. But foremost on the list of benefits is continuity.
For four consecutive years, Nebraska has not had a returning starter at quarterback – not since 2006 and Zac Taylor, who that fall was voted Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Offensive linemen get used to a quarterback’s presence and cadence and they develop a rhythm. Wouldn’t that be nice, a Nebraska o-line with rhythm and cohesion?
Maybe having Martinez back for a second consecutive year, plus a slimmed-down playbook would cut down on the devastating number of pre-snap penalties. The last few years, Nebraska had too many players thinking about too many options before the ball was snapped. The result? More than seven penalties and 70 yards per game. Only four major-college teams had more penalty yards last season.
When he talks with the media, Bo Pelini favors the term “execution.” He also needs to hammer home the word “discipline.” As he starts his fourth season, Pelini has yet to develop a well-disciplined football team. A disciplined team doesn’t have profound problems with penalties, as the Huskers have the past three seasons.
Under Tom Osborne, Frank Solich and Bill Callahan, Nebraska had fewer penalties than its opponents. Under Pelini, the opposite has been true, and by a significant margin. In 2008, Pelini’s first year, the Huskers had 94 penalties and their opponents 64. That margin narrowed in 2009, when NU had 100 penalties and its opponents had 84, but in 2010, things went from bad to worse as far as penalties were concerned, with the Huskers being whistled 109 times against only 63 for their opponents.
That’s nearly four more per game, and after a while, the extra burden takes a toll. That is not disciplined football, and it cost Nebraska tremendously in losses to Texas A&M in College Station and Washington in the Holiday Bowl. And if NU could have gone penalty-free after Alex Henery kicked the go-ahead field goal with less than two minutes left in the 2009 Big 12 title game, Pelini would have a championship under his name.
The best possible news for Husker fans this fall would be that Brion Carnes is improving daily in his ability to handle the NU playbook, but that Martinez played so well in fall camp and throughout the season that any hint of a quarterback controversy becomes a distant memory. Having a solid sophomore starter and a solid freshman backup on the roster sounds nice if you’re a Husker fan.
And all this is coming from someone who really likes what he saw in Carnes during the spring game. Carnes reminds me a whole lot of a young Turner Gill as a sophomore – a smooth operator with growing confidence. Let’s hope Carnes gets plenty of snaps this fall – as a backup coming in with a big fourth-quarter lead.
But may the best man win. In the final analysis, I believe that regardless of who plays quarterback, the Huskers will finally gain ground this fall on Pelini’s arch-nemesis, the penalty, not because Pelini will stop yelling at officials (not in my lifetime) but because he dismissed Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore, the last holdovers from the West Coast system, and has presumably instilled in his staff a unified approach to all phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams.
The scaled-back playbook and the simplified offense will help a lot. Either quarterback could accomplish this improvement, as long as one becomes the clear leader and executes the offense well. I think Martinez has the better chance for success this season.
Will the new system improve the Huskers’ cohesion on offense? The results will be easy to measure.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org