With Minnesota playing man coverage and loading up the line of scrimmage, Nebraska just missed on several game-changing pass plays in Saturday's loss.
Drops, tough catches or tough throws, it just didn’t happen for the Nebraska offense.
This week’s opponent, Northwestern, has a different style of defense, but it’s likely those big plays will still be available in the passing game.
“They have different techniques and different coverages,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “I don’t know that they’ll do the same things as Minnesota.”
A safe bet would be that the Wildcats will try to take the ball out of the capable hands of running back Ameer Abdullah and force whoever starts at quarterback — a banged-up Taylor Martinez, confident redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong or strong-armed senior Ron Kellogg — to beat them through the air.
The Huskers couldn't do that against Minnesota, and it cost them.
“I just wish we would have executed better,” Beck said. “Hindsight is 20/20, but if we catch some balls and protect better … we just didn't.”
While Northwestern must prepare for three different possibilities at quarterback, Beck has to come up with an offensive game plan that will take advantage of the Wildcats defense, which is ranked 65th in the country against the run and 88th in pass yardage allowed.
Beck is cagey about it. On one hand he said, “I don’t think we’re drastically that much different with the three of them. There might be a handful of things different for Taylor or Tommy or Ronnie, but the bulk of the game plan is the same. Sometimes I would say, ‘Boy this could be a pretty good play,’ but if a guy is not as good at it, I might not call it.”
On the other hand, he said, “I know if we had to play somebody and we didn't know which quarterback was going to play and each had a different skill set, it would be difficult.”
Beck said he would settle for more consistency from his offense.
“We've got to throw the ball on time better, we need to protect better and we need to be more consistent in the running game,” he said.
Husker wide receiver Quincy Enunwa made the distinction between dropped passes and catches the receiving corps should have made against Minnesota.
“It’s never as bad as it looks and it’s never as good as it looks,” he said. “Once you watch the film, you really get to see what could have happened. There were a few plays that should have been touchdowns. There was that screen pass where I ran into (Brent) Qvale, that could have been a big play. There were a lot of plays we left on the field.”
Enunwa and his fellow receivers know they fell short in production last week — just 139 passing yards and the aforementioned drops.
“We expect to catch every ball,” he said. “There are tough catches we should make, but at the same time there are tough passes the quarterback should make as well. I want to work as hard as possible to not let that happen. After practice I’m there trying to be the last guy. I want to work on those things.”
The key for Nebraska’s offense against Northwestern will be hitting the big plays when they are there for the taking.
“You have to take what the defense has given you and get into the right plays and execute at a high level,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “That’s what offensive football is. The most disappointing thing is probably that we had chances for some big plays last week. Those are the things you have to take care of.”