Huskers are wary of buying into hype about offense
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska's offense wasn't perfect, but it was pretty close to it in the opener against Southern Mississippi.
Now the question is whether the No. 17 Cornhuskers can duplicate the performance on the road this week against UCLA.
"I don't want to be building our team up to something it's not. It's one game,'' offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "We have a long ways still to go in the season, and we have to stay humble and work hard.''
The 49-20 win over the Golden Eagles showed everyone outside the program what Beck and his players have been talking about since the start of fall camp. That is, the Huskers are much more confident and comfortable in the second year in his spread-option offense.
The two obvious highlights were the 632 yards of total offense, the most since coach Bo Pelini took over in 2008, and Taylor Martinez's career-high 354 yards through the air and five touchdown passes.
Beck was just as pleased that the offensive line committed no penalties and there were no turnovers or any of the silly dropped passes that were a problem last year.
The Huskers were the 36th-most penalized team in 2011, and false starts and holding calls accounted for a disproportionate number of calls.
Nebraska was flagged twice against Southern Miss, for offensive and defensive pass interference. The two penalties were the fewest since two were called in a 2006 game against Kansas State.
Saturday marked the first time Nebraska's didn't fumble since the 2009 Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona.
The offensive line had new starters in left tackle Brent Qvale and center Justin Jackson. Line coach Barney Cotton rotated seven players for most of the game, with Andrew Rodriguez, Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles splitting time at the tackle spots, Seung Hoon Choi, Spencer Long and Cole Pensick alternating at guard and Jackson in the middle.
Beck said the line play was especially good considering the Huskers didn't know how Southern Miss' new coaching staff would scheme against them.
"They were blitzing a lot and doing some different things we hadn't seen or anticipated,'' Beck said, "and I thought our guys adjusted extremely well on the fly.''
Martinez completed 26 of 34 attempts on the best passing day of his career. Graduate assistant Joe Ganz, the Huskers' record-setting starter in 2008, works closely with Martinez on the practice field and in the film room. He said Martinez's performance was indicative of the offseason work he put in to improve as a passer and leader.
"He's really grown and matured,'' Ganz said. "What I'm most proud of is that he's more calm in the pocket. He's taken command of our offense and he's become a true leader. He put in his work, and guys really respect what he did.''
The Huskers head west to face a UCLA team Saturday that, like Southern Miss, has a new coaching staff. Jim Mora's Bruins won their opener 49-24 against Rice on the road.
UCLA returns seven starters from a defense that allowed 417 yards a game and ranked 89th last season. The Bruins allowed 358 yards and three touchdowns to Rice.
Beck doesn't read much into UCLA's defensive struggles. Teams make their greatest improvement between the first and second games, according to one of the most-quoted axioms of football, and the game is on the Bruins' home turf at the Rose Bowl.
"I feel good about where we're at. But like I said, we've got UCLA next week, right?'' Beck said. "They ain't going to feel good about it.''
Nebraska could be short-handed.
Rex Burkhead, the Huskers' All-Big Ten running back, left Saturday's game in the first quarter because of a low-grade sprain to the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Pelini said after the game that Burkhead is "day to day, week to week.''
"It always is a concern when you lose a player the caliber of Rex Burkhead,'' Beck said. "It's going to take a lot to hold him out, I can tell you that.''
Tight end Ben Cotton (rib cartilage injury) and receiver-return man Tim Marlowe (broken collarbone) also missed most of the game.
Marlowe is the only player ruled out of the UCLA game.
Penguins squeak past Ducks in shootout
Johan Franzen scores two as Red Wings pound Devils in Detroit