Not one to ease into his new position as offensive coordinator, Tim Beck is sending out a loud and clear message to his unit: get better.
In a move straight out of the Bo Pelini school of coaches who don’t bite their tongues, Beck held nothing back as he spoke to reporters after a recent practice. Despite the fact that his Nebraska Cornhuskers thumped their opponents, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs by 33 points this past Saturday, Beck felt as though he didn’t see what he was looking for.
"We didn't play very well. We made a lot of mental mistakes. We did a lot of things that we haven't done since last spring. It blows my mind. We just made a lot of mistakes,” Beck said.
The mistakes which Beck is referring to weren’t strictly limited to the statistical variety. Sure, the Huskers fumbled the ball away four times and ended up recovering half of the time. But what that total doesn’t feature is all of the mental breakdowns that the team seemed to suffer, for one reason or another. In the first half alone, the Huskers racked up negative yards on seven separate occasions.
On 14 of their 18 third downs for the game, Nebraska needed at least six yards to convert – which they were subsequently able to achieve half the time. Most notably, though, they needed to make up a minimum 10 yards on seven different third down opportunities.
That’s just not the way you win against anyone not named the Chattanooga Mocs and, as Beck alluded to, signifies too many mistakes.
So, how does Beck propose to fix those mental breakdowns?
"The sense of urgency's got to pick up."
Beck’s solution is key, because it insinuates that the problem isn’t with the technical side of things and, thus, is more easily fixable. Many pointed to Beck’s new, speedier offense as a possible cause of concern, noting that perhaps the players simply were adjusting to it like many anticipated they would.
"I don’t think it has anything to do with the new system," he said. "We had some young guys in some spots, some older guys who didn't play as precise as we'd like them to play. But it's early in the year.
"It gave us a good benchmark of where we are and what we have to do to get better.”
Getting better will start with the quarterback. Taylor Martinez, despite his final totals of three touchdowns and 135 rushing yards on the ground, was mildly ineffective in the air attack racking up less than 120 yards. This was due to a combination of his own haste to avoid the defense when he felt pressure and, a sloppy effort by the offensive line.
The woes as they related to the offensive line also contributed to running back Rex Burkhead’s unproductive game, as he seemed unable to make any sort of plays down the middle of the field. If you were to take out his one 52-yard run, Burkhead barely averaged over two yards per carry last Saturday. That’s a far cry from the four-and-change he averaged prior to becoming a starter.
All of that aside, though, there is something to be said for this new, faster offense playing to the weakened offensive line’s advantage. In theory, it should help them catch defenses off guard, and thus even things out a bit if for no other reason than thanks to the element of the surprise. That, in turn, will translate into increased production by Martinez, Burkhead and the rest of the offensive players.
Either way,it’s nice to see that Beck isn’t satisfied with just being okay. Whereas some have been quick to write off Nebraska’s Week 1 periods of blandness as rust and nothing more, the new offensive coordinator clearly isn’t going to stand for excuses.
Keep an eye on how the Husker offense performs against a much better defensive club in the Bulldogs this weekend because, it could be very telling in terms of what will lay ahead for the rest of 2011.