Tim Beck’s offense isn’t unlike a basketball team that likes to run, press and wear down opponents.
And like that basketball team, Nebraska’s offense can’t rely solely on its starting corps to be effective in its up-tempo style.
That’s why sports writers and fans alike were consulting game rosters Saturday, trying to find names to attach to No. 82, No. 88 and No. 21.
Neither Tyler Wullenwaber, Tyler Evans nor Steven Osborne had a career reception entering this season, but they combined to catch four of quarterback Taylor Martinez’s 26 completions in Nebraska’s 49-20 victory over Southern Miss.
In all, 10 different Huskers — six of them wide receivers — had receptions.
All in the first half.
“I didn’t think 10 different people would catch a pass,” said junior receiver Quincy Enunwa, who had a team-high six catches, “but I knew that our receivers would get in and make plays.”
So did Kenny Bell.
“I’m sure the fans and media were surprised, but that was no surprise to me,” said Bell, a sophomore starter who caught only one pass, but for a 26-yard touchdown.
“We’ve been rolling through receivers all camp like that. With a tempo like ours, you get tired, but the thing about it is, they (the defense) get tired a lot faster than we do, especially when we’re just rolling guys through.”
That, of course, is part of the method to Beck’s madness as an offensive coordinator.
It always has been. Only now, the coaches have more players ready to do their part.
“Last year, we didn’t have that luxury,” wide receivers coach Rich Fisher said. “We didn’t have a guy that could go in and spell a guy at every position.”
Depth is important across the board in this no-huddle system, but it’s primarily important at wide receiver, given the amount of down-field running they have from play to play, and the little time between plays.
So with more wide receivers he trusts to play, Fisher has developed a substitution system that gives autonomy to certain players.
When somebody needs a blow, that player merely signals to his designated backup, who’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.
“That’s a nice thing to have,” Fisher said. “But again, those guys have earned that right.”
And for Nebraska to be as efficient as it wants to be, and play as fast as it wants to play, a fluid rotation of fresh, ready bodies is needed.
“We can go really fast with the style of offense we run,” Evans said. “You know who you’re going in for and you know what personnel you’re going in for. You see it, and you just go — repetition, repetition, repetition. Eventually, it’s kind of second nature. You know when you’re going in and you just go in and you just play it.”
Evans, a sophomore from Waverly, knew during fall camp he’d likely be a part of the rotation, given the amount of snaps he was receiving. He may have earned time last season had it not been for a meniscus injury after only two games.
Evans was third in the rotation Saturday, behind senior Tim Marlowe and sophomore Jamal Turner, but figures to see more time now behind Turner with Marlowe recovering from a broken collarbone.
Wullenwaber, a sophomore from Utica, rotates with Bell, and redshirt freshman Taariq Allen rotates with Enunwa.
“Just from practice and taking that many reps, you know when you need to go in,” Evans said. “You know if a guy’s out there who runs a deep route, and we’re trying to go, he’s going to come off and you’re going to go in. You just have to know and trust the guy behind you and in front of you.”
Fisher, though, won't play a player for the sake of filling a spot in the rotation. He's not interested in any drop-off — in production, assignment or effort.
That means this newfound playing time for guys like Evans, Wullenwaber and Osborne has been earned in spring and fall camp.
“Coach Fish, he said if you’re good enough to play, you’re going to play,” Evans said, “and if I trust you and you do what I want you to do, you’re going to get out there.”