Switch to no-huddle offense in 2011 gives No. 18 Nebraska tools for pulling off comeback wins
LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska switched to the no-huddle offense last year with the idea of dictating tempo and wearing out defenses.
The system also has proved valuable when the 18th-ranked Cornhuskers have had to play from behind.
This past weekend's 28-24 victory at Michigan State marked the third time the Huskers have won after wiping out double-digit deficits in the second half.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez and his mates say they take a business-as-usual approach when the clock is running down.
"It's pretty much our normal offense," Martinez said Monday, "because we go at such a fast pace."
Down 24-14 to Michigan State, the Huskers ran six plays covering 58 yards in 2 minutes, 9 seconds to make it a three-point game.
They got the ball back with 1:20 left and used nine plays to go 80 yards, converting a fourth-and-10 to keep the drive alive and scoring the winning touchdown with six seconds to play.
Two weeks earlier, Martinez led quick fourth-quarter drives of 80 and 76 yards to overcome a 12-point deficit and beat Northwestern.
There wasn't nearly as much drama as Nebraska came back from 17 points down in the third quarter to beat Wisconsin in September. Scoring drives of 77 and 75 yards, the first lasting 87 seconds, pulled the Huskers within three points. A couple field goals put them over the top early in the fourth quarter.
Without the three come-from-behind wins, the Huskers (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) wouldn't be in control of the Legends Division heading into Saturday's game against Penn State (6-3, 4-1).
Coach Bo Pelini said Martinez has successfully orchestrated the late-game dramatics because of the poise and confidence he's gained as a three-year starter.
Martinez's maturity was apparent on the last drive against Michigan State when Nebraska faced fourth-and-10 at its 42 with 40 seconds to play. He checked down to his third receiver, finding tight end Kyler Reed open for a 38-yard catch-and-run that kept the series going. Four plays later, after a questionable pass-interference penalty on Michigan State, Jamal Turner caught a well-placed 5-yard pass in the corner of the end zone.
"Let's face it, he's getting better as a football player," Pelini said of Martinez. "You get better and your confidence grows, and you have a belief you can get in that situation and have success.
"I don't want to find myself exactly in that situation again, but he's a guy who can execute when need be."
The Huskers implemented the no-huddle offense last year after Tim Beck took over as coordinator.
Before coming to Nebraska, Beck was receivers coach and passing-game coordinator for the high-speed offense that carried the 2007 Kansas Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl victory under Mark Mangino.
Beck came to Nebraska in 2008 as running backs coach and last year replaced offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.
Pelini said Watson's West Coast offense had a complex system of audibles and wasn't adept at accelerating when the situation dictated it.
In Beck's offense, players are right up on the line of scrimmage after the previous play. The next snap often comes with more than 20 seconds to spare on the play clock.
"Our signaling (of plays) happens a lot easier," Pelini said. "You're able to get more plays accomplished in a short amount of time without jumping through a lot of hoops."
The best thing is that nothing really changes when the Huskers go into two-minute mode, as they did against the Spartans. Their hurry-up offense is, well, their normal offense.
"A lot of teams might find different plays and come out of different personnel formations and stuff," receiver Quincy Enunwa said. "We really just ran our offense and went down the field on them."
The Huskers practice two-minute situations once a week. Pelini said the keys are managing timeouts and throwing to the right spots on the field so receivers can get out of bounds and stop the clock.
"The guys have a lot of confidence," Pelini said. "There is a lot of heart in this football team. They don't panic.
"They don't stop believing that they're going to be able to get it done."