LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Forget the numbers Taylor Martinez put up. His big day couldn’t disguise the kinks that showed up in the debut of Nebraska’s new offense.
The 10th-ranked Cornhuskers could get away with it against Chattanooga in a 40-7 win Saturday.
They won’t get away with it in less than a month when they begin their first run through the Big Ten at Wisconsin. There are three games in between, starting with this week’s home game against Fresno State.
“We have a lot to do, and everyone knows that,” said freshman Tyler Moore, among four first-time starters on the offensive line.
First-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck installed a no-huddle system that features a lot of triple-option and short passes.
Martinez, the second-year starting quarterback, is given a lot of freedom to audible and freelance. Like last year, he was off and running at the first sign of trouble in pass protection. He rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns and was 11 of 22 for 116 yards passing.
“He managed our football team. His ball security was good. His decisions were good,” Beck said. “If he plays within the offense, he’ll get the statistics.”
Martinez bailed out his offensive line, which was forced to go with so many young players because of a rash of injuries in preseason camp. The running game between the tackles was almost non-existent against a Mocs’ defense that crowded the line of scrimmage.
Nebraska averaged 2 yards on first downs, not counting Martinez’s 47-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Huskers converted 9 of 18 third downs. On all but four, they needed at least 6 yards. They faced third-and-10 or longer seven times.
“We never were able to feel comfortable in certain situations,” Beck said. “It felt like we were always playing behind the chains and always had to try to make a play on second and third downs.”
Though Rex Burkhead ran for 75 yards, 52 came on one play, an option along the left sideline. He averaged only 2.3 yards on his other 10 carries.
The passing game also showed flaws. First-time starter Quincy Enunwa caught four balls for 58 yards, but the top returning receiver, Brandon Kinnie, had two drops. Martinez also continues to struggle with throwing behind receivers.
Beck said there is an opportunity for rapid improvement.
The only turnover was a fumble by backup quarterback Brion Carnes in the fourth quarter. Five true freshmen played on offense, including three running backs.
Braylon Heard and Aaron Green combined for five carries for 19 yards, and fellow I-back Ameer Abdullah returned five punts, including one for 28 yards. Receiver Jamal Turner caught a pass for 19 yards, and Moore became the first true freshman to start an opener on the offensive line.
“You’re dealing with a young football team, and you don’t know how they’re going to come out,” Beck said. “I think early on, watching from the press box, you could tell there was some nervousness in them. They settled down. I don’t think that’s an excuse. That’s a fact we settled down, but still I don’t think we executed as well as we could.”
Beck said he also needs to become more polished as a play-caller.
“I did some things during the game, pounding my head against the wall saying we’re going to work on a certain play and I just kept running it because I want live work at it,” he said. “It probably wasn’t very smart on my part, but I’m stubborn sometimes and I said we’re going to run this play and get it right and I kept calling it.”
Coach Bo Pelini said the opener gave the team a benchmark for where it needs to improve.
“I told the guys in the locker room that now is the time to roll up your sleeves and go to work,” he said.