Tim Beck knew patience would be an important trait to possess this past Saturday.
The Nebraska offensive coordinator had looked over the Penn State stats closely. He saw that offenses didn’t do much of anything against the Nittany Lions in the first half. But in the second half?
Penn State’s defense had given up a little ground there. Enough to have a coach still believing good things could happen even when behind 20-6 at halftime.
“I had those kind of stats under my hat, knowing, hey, maybe we could wear them down in the second half because they’ve given up some points in the second half,” Beck said. “So I kind of felt that might just happen with them. Just be patient, keep plugging away.”
The patience came with a reward, as Nebraska gained 250 of its 438 yards in the second half, outscoring Penn State 26-3 during the third and fourth quarters in the comeback win.
Beck’s explanation for why this offense sometimes doesn’t find its rhythm until later in the game?
One big reason, Beck says, is that defenses begin games showing Nebraska things that weren't on film.
“It’s so hard to explain and figure out how teams play Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Taylor Martinez, Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed. How do they play them? Nobody has those kind of weapons that we do offensively,” Beck said. “And when you watch film of somebody, they do something and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what they’re going to do.’ But they don’t do that against (us), because they can’t.
“You plan, ‘Oh, if they do that, we’re going to attack them like this.’ Then you come out and they don’t do it. Some games, we might as well not even practice. Because what we see isn’t what we practice. So you’re trying to teach those kids on the run, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Do this. Throw to here. They’re playing to this coverage.’ (Penn State) had some neat things that took us a while to figure out a little bit.”
Adjustments have been crucial. So has Nebraska’s offensive pace.
“Our tempo clearly helps us because we wear people down. People get tired,” said Husker running backs coach Ron Brown. “They have a nice structure (defensively), but that structure, it’s like Mike Tyson said, ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.’ And then what? And that’s what happens. You get tired. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
Brown compares each game to a 15-round boxing match.
To keep with that theme, Husker coaches even sometimes show players film of old fights featuring the likes of Hagler and Hearns.
Because Nebraska’s tempo and players’ conditioning, Brown is always confident in how the offense will perform in the late rounds. Now, coaches would just like to see the Huskers finish off some drives earlier in the game.
“We talked about starting fast,” Brown said. “We know we’re going to finish good. We’re not concerned about that. We want to start better.”
* Treating it like a playoff: Many Nebraska fans were keeping close tabs on Michigan yesterday, knowing that a Wolverines' loss coupled with a Huskers' win would all but seal the Legends Division race.
As for Husker players? If they were keeping an eye on it, they weren’t letting on.
“Michigan beat Northwestern in overtime, is that right?” quarterback Taylor Martinez said after Nebraska’s win.
While the race to Indy remains tight, Martinez said the Huskers are just worried about taking care of their own business, knowing that they own the tiebreaker and can take the division by winning the next two games.
“I think for us, we look at it as a playoff system, like you’re in high school. … So now we won the first one like the quarterfinals,” he said.
* Oh, that’s nice: Kyler Reed made one of the biggest plays of the game when he plucked a pass out of the air then showed off his wheels, racing 56 yards.
His third-down catch set up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. It also made him the fifth tight end in Husker history to have more than 1,000 yards receiving.
That's nice and all, but Reed wasn’t too focused on his individual achievement after the game.
“I didn’t even know,” he said. “I don’t really look at milestones right now. We have one goal, to make the Big Ten championship. I just want to help my team any way I can. When they call on me, I just have to do my job.”
* Overtime pays off: Husker coaches put a lot of faith in Imani Cross on Saturday, calling him on short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The true freshman mostly delivered, scoring touchdowns on two of his eight carries.
Why so much trust in a young guy?
"He’s a mature, big, physical man,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said. “He’s a man.”
It's also easier to trust a guy who works hard.
Cross’ diligence is hard to miss. He is quite often the last Husker off the practice field, staying an extra 15 or 20 minutes longer to do some drills by himself.
“I understand I’m not where I need to be as a football player,” Cross said. “And I want to get to the best I can be. And I believe that after practice, there are still things I can work on. There are things in practice we don’t get to, so I want to get to those things.”
Special number of the day
That’s how many years it’s been since Nebraska last finished a season undefeated at home.
That possibility exists for the Huskers Saturday when Minnesota comes to town for Senior Day in Lincoln.
QUOTES ON THE RUN
“I got lucky. It wasn’t going to me. It was a birthday present … well, it’s not my birthday. It was just a gift.” – wide receiver Kenny Bell on his 22-yard catch on off a tipped pass in the third quarter
“No. It wasn’t windy where I was sitting.” –offensive coordinator Tim Beck when asked if the wind affected his playcalling
“You can’t leave the game in the referee’s hands, we know that. They’re not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. That’s just on us.” – Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris
“It’s sad and bittersweet. I’ve had a really good time here. It was the best choice of my life coming here. It’s going to be sad stepping into the stadium and doing the tunnel walk one last time.” – defensive end Cameron Meredith on Senior Day