Big Ten

2011 Nebraska Offense: A Confusing System You Can't Describe

The Nebraska offense has a severe identity crisis. It wants to be so many different things -- but doesn't do any one thing very well.

Think about it. How would you describe Nebraska's offense in 2011? Does it run the option? Well, yes, it does from time to time. But it's not really a traditional option-type offense. So you wouldn't describe the Huskers as an option team.

Is it a West Coast offense? No, not really. It isn't precise or efficient enough. It doesn't carve up opponents with short passes.

Is it a pro-flex type creation? Well, maybe. If I knew what pro-flex meant. But it sounds cool, if it works.

Here's the point I'm driving at: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck arrived after last season and said he was "junking" the offense.

"You can't be afraid to start over," Beck said in February. "Junk everything and get a system in place. [It's] a mistake a lot of football coaches [make] who coach a lot of years in a lot of different philosophies, techniques and verbiage and it becomes a bunch of stuff."

I would argue that -- despite his declaration that he would do the exact opposite -- Beck has fallen into his own trap. Right now, the Huskers embrace too many philosophies and don't know who they are offensively. They run a little bit of everything, but they don't do any one thing very well. 

I'm now convinced: Taylor Martinez is a very good athlete who isn't a great quarterback. And, despite his speed, he's certainly not a great option quarterback -- although the Huskers want him to run option plays with Rex Burkhead from time to time.

But Martinez doesn't do that effectively. A true option quarterback holds the ball until the last possible instant before cutting upfield with the ball -- or pitching it off to the waiting running back. No matter what, the quarterback is going to take a pounding.

It's a tough comparison, but compare Martinez to one of the best Nebraska option quarterbacks of all-time: Tommie Frazier. He was the classic example of speed and trickery. He knew exactly when to hold the ball and exactly when to pitch.

The option is based on repetition. You have to practice it over and over so the running backs and quarterback live inside each other's brains. It's not something you can do part-time. Everything -- from blocking to overall philosophy -- must be centered around the option.

Nebraska wants to be a part-time option team. That's a recipe for failure.

Too often, Martinez has pre-determined if the ball will be kept or if Burkhead will get it. Once a defense understands that, the game changes. 

And here's the problem: Nebraska doesn't really want to be a true option team. It's almost as if they do it because of the school's option history -- and because Martinez is an excellent runner.

Did Beck get here and realize he had no other choice?

See, that's where this offense gets weird. They also want to be a passing team -- and they don't do that very effectively either. Martinez can be hit and miss, some balls looking perfect, other balls sailing and badly missing targets.

The best example of Nebraska's offensive problems were on display in Madison Saturday night. The Huskers were up 14-13 and playing well. The offense was moving the ball, Martinez was playing well. 

But then the Wisconsin defense cracked the code -- and Nebraska couldn't adjust offensively. The Badgers realized they were better off letting Martinez beat them with his arm, which led to three of the worst interceptions you'll ever see.

So here was Nebraska trying to be a passing team, which it really isn't. Martinez doesn't read defenses yet, and he obviously doesn't feel comfortable standing in the pocket as defensive pressure intensifies. Simply put, Martinez isn't your guy if you want a traditional passing team.

Back in February, Beck said you can't be afraid to "junk everything." He's right -- but he's now running an offense that has a lot of used parts. He's cobbled together a system that asks Martinez to do far too much. 

Remember, even Tommie Frazier wasn't a great passer. But he didn't need to be great -- in passing. Because he ran the option, he just needed to be an adequate passer in rare circumstances, which kept defenses honest. 

Martinez and the Nebraska offense is trying to be too many things all at once. It's a wonderful idea in theory -- but never works in practice.

Actually, it doesn't work in the big games either.

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