LINCOLN, Neb. – When it's running right, Nebraska's offense is a thing of beauty.
"We're explosive and the best in the Big Ten," receiver Tim Marlowe said. "We can be the best in the country at times when we take care of the football."
The Cornhuskers lead the conference in rushing, scoring and total offense. But they also are 12th, and last, in turnover margin. And only 11 teams in the nation have committed more than Nebraska's 15 turnovers in six games.
"I think if we don't turn over the ball, we should be undefeated," quarterback Taylor Martinez said.
Reality bites. The Huskers (4-2, 1-1) go into Saturday's game at Northwestern (6-1, 2-1) in fourth place in the Big Ten's Legends Division and off a bye week in which ball security was the point of emphasis.
Of the 166 points scored against the Huskers, 62 came after Nebraska had committed a turnover. That's 37 percent.
"It's an area we focus on and talk about," coach Bo Pelini said. "Obviously, we've got to protect the ball better and we've got to take advantage of our opportunities when we get the opportunity to get the ball out."
Nebraska's defense has been unable to compensate for the offense's loose grip on the ball. The defense has gained six turnovers against Bowl Subdivision opponents, and only one was turned into points.
In the 63-38 loss at Ohio State, the Buckeyes converted three Martinez turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) into 21 points. In the 36-30 loss at UCLA, the Bruins scored a TD and field goal off turnovers, taking a nine-point lead with 2:13 left after a Martinez interception was returned to the Huskers' 16.
Martinez accounts for eight of the Huskers' 15 turnovers.
The third-year starter acknowledged he's guilty of trying too hard to make plays. That was especially true against Ohio State.
"Well, of course, if you are down 18 points you are going to try and make some plays to bring the team back," he said. "You have to take some chances to make a comeback. You can't be conservative."
All four of Martinez's fumbles have come as he was being sacked.
"Well, it is kind of hard if you are getting hit in the back without seeing someone," he said.
As far as Pelini is concerned, Martinez owns those fumbles.
"I put it on him," he said. "Obviously, it's a team game. There are other guys involved with that, but he's got to put the ball away."
All the trouble holding onto the ball has overshadowed otherwise impressive offensive statistics. The Huskers are running for 292 yards a game, 75 more than their 2011 average. Their 507 total yards a game is 127 ahead of last season, and their 44 points a game is two touchdowns better.
Martinez, despite his turnovers, still is first in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in pass efficiency.
"It's awesome to watch when we're flying around penalty-free and taking care of the football, but not when we start letting things snowball with offside calls and ball security," Marlowe said. "If we take care of the football and the penalties, there are not many defenses out there that are going to slow us down."