Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck was looking at some pretty grim numbers in the first half of the Huskers' game against Penn State on Saturday.
Not only had two long Husker drives — of 15 and 12 plays — resulted in just two field goals, but down and distance, especially in the red zone, was a nightmare.
“At one point, I had like 33 plays, and seven of them were second-and-long,” Beck said after NU rallied for a 32-23 victory. “I don’t know how many of them were third-and-long, so probably half of our plays were second- or third-and-long.”
Six plays in the red zone in the first half resulted in minus-10 yards, and as a result, the Huskers trailed 20-6 at halftime.
“That situation was eating us up a little bit,” Beck said.
The second half was a different story.
Nebraska converted three of its first four red-zone opportunities into touchdowns and outscored the Nittany Lions 26-3 after halftime. How did NU do it?
There’s the old mainstay — execution. The Huskers made fewer mistakes on offense in the second half. Getting better gains on first and second down, Beck said, allowed the offense to get untracked.
Nebraska rode the toss-sweep play all the way to the red zone with Ameer Abdullah (31 carries, 116 yards) following pulling guards Spencer Long, Seung Hoon Choi and Cole Pensick and fullbacks Andy Janovich and C.J. Zimmerer into the teeth of the Penn State defense.
Over and over again.
"Ameer, he’s a tailback at Nebraska,” Beck said. “That’s what they sign up for.”
Beck said he felt like his offense was controlling the line of scrimmage, especially in the second half, with the toss-sweep.
“It was good. We were able to get some yards,” Beck said. “(It’s effective) because it’s different. A lot of people don’t run that play anymore because you have to have two backs and you have to have a fullback."
After pounding away with Abdullah, the Huskers turned to freshman Imani Cross on short yardage in the red zone, and he delivered. The 225-pound Cross scored on two short runs in the third quarter.
“It felt good,” Cross said. “We were winning and I helped us win. I was glad the O-line did what they did and they propelled me into the end zone.”
Nebraska converted 9 of 18 third downs, probably none more important that one early in the fourth quarter. On third-and-5, Taylor Martinez launched a long pass to tight end Kyler Reed, who evaded a tackler and rambled 56 yards to the Penn State 10-yard line.
“We needed them (big plays on third down) because we had a lot of third-and-longs,” Beck said. “They (the Nittany Lions) showed us another front, a blitz we hadn’t seen them do. Ameer did a great job in protection in picking up a looping D-tackle, and that allowed Taylor to get the ball off.”
Then on third-and-goal from the 5, Martinez connected with Jamal Turner for the go-ahead touchdown.
It was all part of something Nebraska fans are getting used to: The comeback.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence, I know that,” Reed said. “We’ve proven that in the way we came back. We’d like to get up early on a team for once. Next week we have another opportunity to do that and another week to get better. But it feels pretty good right now.”