The new no-huddle system drew criticism not just from fans but even first-year coordinator Tim Beck—and that was after a 33-point season-opening win over Chattanooga.
Beck isn’t nitpicking. He knows the showing against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent such as Chattanooga won’t be nearly good enough in three weeks when the 10th-ranked Huskers (1-0) open Big Ten play at No. 8 Wisconsin.
“We didn’t display the expectations of ourselves, the staff and certainly the tradition of Nebraska,” he said. “It’s our job to fix it.”
Among the concerns: execution of the triple-option was clunky at times, the line failed to establish dominance over an overmatched opponent, Taylor Martinez continued throwing behind receivers and was too fast to pull the ball down and run at the first sign of trouble in pass protection.
“I’ve never been around a football team that was the finished product after Week 1,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “If your players look at it and coaches look at it with the right perspective, you’ll shore up areas that need to be shored up.”
Fresno State (0-1), which played nine freshmen and 13 sophomores in last week’s 36-21 loss to California, would appear to be a good tonic. The Bulldogs allowed 413 yards, 314 in the first half, and gave up nine plays of 20 yards or longer.
“We are going to get a huge, huge test this week, so we are going to need to play at a very high level,” Bulldogs coach Pat Hill said. “We have to be very disciplined with our eyes, especially on defense against the option.”
The triple-option was Nebraska’s identity in the 1980s and ’90s, but Beck wouldn’t have put it back in the playbook if it didn’t suit Martinez. The sophomore said he ran about five option plays a game in high school, and he’s established as one of the top running quarterbacks in the nation.
I-back Rex Burkhead said he and Martinez must establish a stronger “pitch relationship” before conference play starts in October.
The Huskers have a valuable resource in athletic director Tom Osborne, who was college football’s option guru during his Hall of Fame coaching career. Martinez said Osborne has offered some input.
“A little bit, because that was his cup of tea back in the day, and he ran the option to perfection,” Martinez said.
“Just keep attacking the defender and make the defender make a decision, and once he makes a decision either run off him or pitch off him,” Martinez said.
Fresno State sophomore quarterback Derek Carr, brother of Bulldogs legend and 2002 NFL top draft pick David Carr, will make his second start. He was 21 of 33 for 150 yards, with one touchdown and an interception, against Cal. He was sacked four times.
“I think as the year goes on we are going to find out that Derek Carr is a very good quarterback,” Hill said. “He’s stepping into the box with his first two games against two very talented defenses, so his room and margin for error is very small.”
Robbie Rouse averaged 5.1 yards a carry and finished with 86 yards and a TD against Cal, and Hill is counting on the 5-foot-7 junior to help the Bulldogs keep the ball away from the Huskers.
The Bulldogs could find the going tough against Nebraska’s big and fast front seven.
“California has a good defense. Nebraska has a great defense,” Hill said.
Fresno State’s offensive line has four new starters and had to be juggled after center Richard Helepiko sprained an ankle on the third play against Cal. Helepiko has been ruled out Saturday.
The Bulldogs’ situation got even more complicated Friday when the school released a statement acknowledging that some players from the 2010 team have been punished for their roles in a welfare fraud scam. It was not clear how many of the players are on this year’s Fresno State team.
Fresno State has won seven of its last 11 games against BCS opponents but have lost 12 straight against Top 25 teams. The Bulldogs have come close in some of the losses, including a 50-42 defeat at then-No. 1 Southern California in 2005, a seven-point loss at home against Oregon in 2006 and a two-point triple-overtime loss at Texas A&M in 2007.
“History shows that they give a lot of people problems,” Pelini said. “The venue isn’t going to bother them. They’ve played in a lot of different places against a lot of good football teams. They’ve held their own and won a lot of football games. We have to step it up this week and I think our team knows that.”