Was Nebraska Really Holding Back, Experimenting vs. Chattanooga?

| by Alex Groberman

There are two very distinct schools of thought concerning the Nebraska Cornhuskers' 40-7 victory over the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs this weekend.

One group firmly believes that some very obvious holes -- particularly on offense -- were exposed this past Saturday, when there was an undeniable lack of fluidity to how Tim Beck’s new offense looked on the field. The second group, however, buys into what Bo Pelini said after the game – that the Huskers were experimenting, fine-tuning and finalizing their strategies for the coming year against what was clearly a hapless second-tier opponent.

So where does the truth lay? Probably somewhere in the middle.

You don’t run up a 33-point win over anybody by accident, no matter how miserable of competition you’re playing against. Taylor Martinez looked healthy for the first time in a long time as he sprinted all over the field, creating something out of nothing at seemingly every turn. The defense, for all of the praise and build-up they’ve gotten leading up to the beginning of the season performed more or less to expectations. Heck, even the secondary -- aside from one slip-up -- looked fine.

And they did tally up forty points, so there’s that. Maybe Pelini and Beck really were experimenting with some new systems that created mild confusion sporadically throughout the game because they knew the win was already signed, sealed and delivered. Perhaps it was all the byproduct of what essentially ended up being a real-game practice.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t explain some of the difficulties that he Huskers seemed to have throughout, though. For example, while he did rack up three touchdowns and 135 yards on the ground, why did Martinez accumulate less than 120 yards through the air? As great as it is to have a dual threat quarterback, a special emphasis should still be placed on passing over rushing whenever possible. This both preserves the most important piece of a team’s offense health-wise, and it puts them in better position to score.

Yet on an almost consistent basis, Martinez was getting pressured by Chattanooga in a way that they never should been able to do. Too often, the talented passer was forced to run when he should have been given the a few seconds to survey the defense and deliver a timely pass. There were just too many third-and-longs, too many instances of bad positioning.

And less-than-stellar blocking extended past just Martinez. Rex Burkhead, the team’s new starting running back, had limited success on Saturday – particularly when he was trying to run in between the tackles. For the day, the gritty back finished with 11 runs for 75 yards – however 52 of those yards came on a play that Burkhead largely carved out for himself.

The offensive line has some very notable concerns, and that was evident throughout.

So, clearly there are forces at work here beyond just holding back or experimenting, which is what the Nebraska brass is trying to spin Saturday’s outing as. The Huskers did show some weaknesses, and those holes will no doubt be filled (or at the very least attempts will be made to fill them) and hopefully fans will see a better effort versus Fresno State.

At the end of the day, Nebraska boasts a fierce team and should do some big things in 2011. Still, it’s interesting that Pelini and Co. have to engage in damage control this early in the year.