Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck is calling the shots for one of the most potent offenses in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers rank second in scoring offense (37 ppg), and lead the league in total offense (482 ypg), rushing offense (269 ypg), pass efficiency (146.88), and long scrimmage plays of 20+ yards (62). Over the past few weeks, they've played their best football against some of the top units in the conference.
Beck obviously has no shortage of weapons to work with, and the staff has done a great job of maximizing the talent that they have in Lincoln. Backup running back Ameer Abdullah has stepped in nicely and ranks in the top six in the conference in rushing, while quarterback Taylor Martinez (who many criticized for accuracy and throwing mechanic issues last season) leads the conference in passing efficiency, and receiver Kenny Bell ranks fourth in the league in receiving yardage. Figuring out how defenses are going to scheme against such a balanced attack, with playmakers at every position has been a challenge on game day, forcing the offensive staff to make a ton of adjustments on the fly.
“It's so hard to explain. To figure out how teams play Ameer Abdullah, Jamal Turner, Taylor Martinez, Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed. How do they play them?" Beck told the World-Herald Bureau. "Nobody has the kinds of weapons we do offensively. You watch film on somebody and figure 'oh, that's what they're going to do.' They don't do that against us. Because you can't."
Sounds like a problem that a lot of offensive coordinators would love to have.
“Some games, you might as well not even practice.” Beck added, noting all of the in game adjustments that are needed to adjust to the opponent's defensive scheme.
One of the strategies that Beck and the offensive staff have used is what Ameer Abdullah calls the "stretch and puncture" where playcalls get the linebackers moving laterally, and then Beck calls something that challenges them vertically.
Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) will wrap the regular season up at home against Minnesota and then on the road at Iowa. They've put themselves in position for a quality bowl game, where they'll once again find themselves with plenty of time and practice to think about how defenses will scheme against their offensive weapons.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini was asked on his weekly radio show Wednesday night if his sideline demeanor has contributed to Nebraska's penalty issues this season. At 6.89 penalties for nearly 68 yards a game, the Cornhuskers are among the most-penalized teams in the country.
The caller described Pelini's sideline demeanor as "not the face of Nebraska." The caller went on to say he would not send his son to play for Pelini.
In a surprise to no one, Pelini took exception to the caller's question.
“Then don't send your kid to play for me, my man," said Pelini. "My players and I are close. I’d run through a wall for them, and they’d run through a wall for me … I’m a passionate guy, I’m an emotional guy. My players appreciate that about me and I’m not changing. How about that, my man?”
Pelini summarized his sideline persona by saying, "I like to compete. When I'm not competing, I'm different than I am when I'm (on) the field. My players appreciate that about me and I'm not changing. How about that?"
Listen for yourself below (audio compliments of Rivals).
With his Nittany Lion squad having to deal with scholarship reductions over the next few years, Bill O'Brien and his staff are putting an emphasis on evaluating and targeting the right recruits and developing their non-scholarship players.
When you think of traditionally strong walk on programs, teams like Wisconsin and Nebraska come to mind. O'Brien has started to make calls to staffs and athletic directors at programs around the country with a rich history of developing walk-ons in an effort to ensure that him and his staff get the most out of their "run-ons" over the next few years.
O'Brien started calling his non-scholarship players "run-ons" earlier in the season in an effort to give them credit for the hard work and hustle that they exhibit year round.
“Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, those places have great traditions of run-on programs, and those guys they just have done an excellent job, whether it was Coach Pelini or Tom Osborne or Frank Solich when he was there. They've really been one of the pioneers for run-on-type programs in the history of college football.”
“I'm going to reach out to a few programs." O'Brien added in the Patriot News. "I'm going to leave that between myself and our staff right now but a few programs here in the off season. Personally I will reach out to some of those coaches or athletic directors and see how exactly they went about doing that. And I already have, I already have done that and will continue to do that.”
In the eyes of the staff at Penn State, developing their walk-ons into contributors will be the key to success in the immediate future.
Earlier in the year, secondary coach John Butler explained that the lower amount of scholarships is going to challenge the staff to evaluate talent like they never have before, and then ensure that they maximize that player's given abilities. They'll be looking for those scrappy overachievers, with a ton of Penn State pride, who have to work ethic to go from walk on to major contributor by sheer effort and will.
"The biggest thing about the sanctions is when we recruit over the next four years we’ve got to make sure that every kid we bring in we can maximize his ability. We as a coaching staff have got to be able to get every single ounce of talent from every single kid. There’s no room for error. In the past, if you missed on a guy, he transferred and you replaced him. We can’t do that."
The staff has done an outstanding job since their arrival of maxmizing the talent that they inherited in Happy Valley, and making the most out of a very challenging and unique situation. The next few off seasons will decide the shape of the program as they continue to move forward.
If the success that they've seen so far this season is any indication, the Penn State community has got the right staff (from top to bottom) for the challenge that lies ahead.
Another full slate of college football action is now just a mere hours away. What matchups stand out to us on the final college football Saturday of October? Here's nine games that we'll be keeping our eyes on throughout the day.
Florida vs. Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): Florida has won 18 of the last 22 in this series, and win No. 19 will lock in a trip to Atlanta in December for Will Muschamp's team. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease will test Georgia's 72nd-ranked run defense early and often; the Gators have run the ball 319 teams this season and thrown it just 134 times. Georgia will look to turn around an unimpressive three-game stretch that includes a 35-7 loss to South Carolina and two wins by a total of 12 points over Tennessee and Kentucky (combined SEC record: 0-9).
Texas Tech at Kansas State (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX): It's pretty safe to say not many people saw this as a battle for Big 12 supremacy this preseason. The teams that combined to knock West Virginia out of any title conversations square off with first place on the line. Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville's reputation as a giant killer preceeds him, according to blogger Matt Hinton, Tubberville is 7-4 versus top 5 opponents since 2000. Texas Tech, which boasts the Big 12's top defense statistically, meets the conference's most diverse attack: quarterback Collin Klein is the second-most efficient passer in the nation while also rushing for 14 scores, and tailback John Hubert has four 100-yard games on the year. Meanwhile, Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege meets the Big 12's leading pass efficiency defense fresh off a whitewashing of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith (season-low 143 passing yards, two interceptions).
Duke at Florida State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Saturday's Duke-Florida State game featues a team in control of its own destiny to win the ACC championship, and Florida State. Yes, it is Duke that is alone in first place of the ACC's Coastal Divison, while Florida State needs to win out and a Clemson loss to win the ACC's Atlantic Division. The Blue Devils clinched their first bowl appearance since 1994 with last week's 33-30 win over North Carolina, but to achieve more than that David Cutcliffe's team will need to find a way to slow down the ACC's most statistically-sound team. Jimbo Fisher's squad leads the ACC in nine categories including total offense, scoring offense, total defense and scoring defense.
USC at Arizona (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): Pac-12 South leading USC travels to Tucson to face 4-3 (1-3 Pac-12) Arizona in what figures to be an easy Trojans win, right? Not exactly. Behind Rich Rodriguez's fifth-ranked total offense, Arizona is the 13th best team in college football according to Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings, six spots ahead of USC. The Wildcats have played better than their record indicates, after close losses to Stanford and Oregon State, Arizona is fresh off a 52-17 pounding of Washington. After losing its conference opener at Stanford, Lane Kiffin's team has feasted on the lower rungs of the Pac-12 standings with wins over California, Utah, Washington and Colorado (combined Pac-12 record: 4-13).
TCU at Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m. ET, FSN): Perhaps Mike Gundy and Gary Patterson can console each other on the hard luck each staff has been dealt at the quarterback position. After redshirt freshman quarterback J.W. Walsh ably stepped in for opening-day starter Wes Lunt, accounting for 461 yards of total offense in a win over Iowa State last week, before he was lost for the season with a knee injury. Oklahoma State will either turn back to Lunt, a true freshman, or to third-string quarterback Clint Chelf. On the opposite sideline, redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin continues to improve as TCU's newly-minted starting quarterback. Boykin threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns in his third start on Saturday versus Texas Tech. Like the majority of games pitting the Big 12's middle class, expect a down-to-the-wire outcome with both teams reaching the mid-30's.
Ohio State at Penn State (5:30 p.m., ESPN): Technically, this is the most meaningless game on the Big Ten schedule in 2012. Or, depending on what you read, it could be the most meaningful college football game played this year. This game could wind up deciding the Big Ten Coach of the Year, as both first year coaches' fingerprints are evident through the improvements each quarterback has shown from 2011. Bill O'Brien's has completely transformed Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin, improving the senior's 2011 totals (1,571 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions) through just seven games. McGloin leads the Big Ten with 1,788 passing yards while tossing 14 scores against just two picks. His counterpart, Ohio State sophomore Braxton Miller, places second in the conference with 2,349 yards of total offense and ranks second among all FBS quarterbacks with 959 rushing yards.
Notre Dame at Oklahoma (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly stated earlier this week he wants his program to emulate the success that Oklahoma has enjoyed under Bob Stoops. His team can start with a win in Norman on Saturday night. The closer and more low-scoring this game plays the more it will benefit Notre Dame. Oklahoma teams tend to pounce early on any displays of weakness but can fold in a 60 minute boxing match. After going a solid half-decade without losing in Norman, Oklahoma has lost two of its last six home games. Both losses contained a minus-2 turnover margin for the Sooners, good news for Notre Dame and it's plus-9 turnover balance. Notre Dame needs to improve on its 43 percent third-down conversion rate to keep Oklahoma's explosive offense on the sideline.
Michigan at Nebraska (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2): The Big Ten's most-explosive offense hosts the league's most sneaky-good defense in a game that could ultimately decide the Big Ten's Legends Division title. Nebraska leads the Big Ten and ranks among college football's top dozen offenses in yards gained (512.4 per game, 6.9 per play) and scoring (41.6 points per game) faces a Michigan team that arrives in Lincoln quiety riding a three-game winning streak. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's unit has held its last five opponents to 13 points or less and checks in at No. 10 nationally in total defense (277.1 yards per game, 4.4 yards per play).
Mississippi State at Alabama (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Both of these teams have benefitted from back-loaded schedules to arrive at this game with a 7-0 record. Only one of these teams has something to prove, however, and it's not the Crimson Tide. Mississippi State hasn't beaten Alabama since Nick Saban's first season and has scored 10 combined points through the first three quarters of the past four meetings. Fortunately for Dan Mullen, his team excells at the best ingredient to creating an upset - Mississippi State leads the nation in turnover margin. But unforunately for Mullen, Alabama checks in just two spots behind Mississippi State in the national rankings.
Nebraska and offensive coordinator Tim Beck come into this weekend's match up with Michigan leading the league in rushing offense, total offense, and scoring offense. But they don't expect to run into a Wolverine defense with a basic game plan.
“They know how people are trying to attack them. Their defensive package has grown," Beck has noticed this season. "They’re doing more things out of it. And they’re veteran players. They seem to have found a gear.”
Last season, Michigan's defense (which had improved over a hundred spots under Greg Mattison since 2010) held the Cornhuskers to just 9 completions on 23 attempts for 122 yards, and 260 total yards of offense when it was all said and done. Beck credited their offensive struggles against the Wolverines to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's creative looks and alignments.
“It’s like facing a knuckleball pitcher, it’s weird because you haven’t seen it.” Beck explained of the looks they got last season.
To remedy that, during the offseason Beck and the staff prepared some creative looks for the offense to run against, often imitating schemes and alignments that teams, like Michigan, did throughout the 2011 season that gave them trouble.
The extra preparation seems to have helped. Compared to 2011, Nebraska has played three common conference opponents at this point through the season (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern), and have eclipsed last season's point total in two of those three contests, while also putting up more yardage against each of those opponents than they had in 2011.
Against Wisconsin last season they put up 335 yards of total offense in a 31 point loss. This year Nebraska put up over 100 more total yards (440 yards of total offense) and earned a close 30-27 victory.
Against Michigan at 8pm ET on Saturday night (on ESPN2), Beck and the offensive staff will have their guys better equipped to handle the knuckleball.
With another full slate of games ahead of us tomorrow, here's what we'll be keeping an extra close eye on throughout the day.
LSU at Texas A&M (12 p.m. ET, ESPN): This is an opportunity for a statement game for Texas A&M. Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury's explosive offense (tied for sixth nationally in total offense, 7.09 yards per play) faces John Chavis' second-ranked LSU defense. If Texas A&M pulls out the win, it will be because quarterback Johnny Manziel (24 touchdowns through six games) found a way to solve an LSU defense that has surrendered just 13 scores this season. These programs have met 50 times previously, although Saturday will be the first meeting in College Station since 1995. Texas A&M wants to re-kindle this rivalry, but the only way to to do that is with a win.
Rutgers at Temple (12 p.m. ET, Big East Network): Raise your hand if you knew this was a battle for the top spot in the Big East standings. Steve Addazio has led Temple to a 2-0 start in the Owls' return to the Big East despite ranking last in the league in total offense and total defense. Addazio's team relies heavily on the run (2.1:1 rush-pass ratio), while Rutgers ranks second nationally in rush defense at 60.8 yards per game and 2.25 yards per carry allowed. Both of these teams' success lies in forcing turnovers (Rutgers leads in the nation in turnover margin, Temple is No. 12), so whoever can carve out an advantage in that area will likely win the game.
Iowa State at Oklahoma State (12 p.m. ET, FX): A year removed from winning the Big 12 championship, Mike Gundy's team is still trying to sort out exactly what it is. The Cowboys lead the country in total offense by a wide margin, nearly 34 yards per game over No. 2 Baylor. But their most impressive win to date is over Louisiana - Lafayette, and they come into Saturday off a 20-14 win over 1-5 Kansas in which the Jayhawks outgained OSU 398-371. Paul Rhoads' team will try to make this game close and low-scoring. Iowa State is 19-1 in Rhoads' tenure when holding teams under 24 points, and 3-21 when giving up 24 points or more. Iowa State is also 10-6 under Rhoads in games decided by a touchdown or less.
South Carolina at Florida (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): Mark Richt and co. will be rooting hard for the Gators, as a Florida win essentially sets up a winner-take-all matchup for the control of the SEC East at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party next week. Meanwhile, a South Carolina win means Steve Spurrier's team will just have to get by Tennessee and Arkansas to clinch a trip to Atlanta for the second time in three years. The Gamecocks have won two straight in this series while limiting the Gators to just 26 combined points.
BYU at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC): This game will likely play out like seemingly every Notre Dame game this season - gritty, close and low scoring. Both of these squads rank among the nation's top seven nationally in scoring defense, allowing just over 22 points per game combined. Bronco Mendenhall has an opportunity to put a peacock-sized feather in his team's cap as a win would put the Cougars in a great position to finish 2012 at 9-3 and a top 25 ranking. On the other sideline, all that's on the line for Notre Dame is keeping intact its first 7-0 start since 2002 with a primetime showdown at Oklahoma on the immediate horizon.
Nebraska at Northwestern (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): Bo Pelini's struggling defense faces perhaps the most diverse attack in the Big Ten. Any hopes either team has of playing for the Big Ten title likely dies with a loss on Saturday. Expect Nebraska and its Big Ten-leading scoring offense to try to outscore Northwestern, while the Wildcats will attempt to exploit the Cornhuskers' penchant for turning over the football (No. 104 nationally in turnover margin. Oh, and there's this:
Kansas State at West Virginia (7 p.m. ET, FOX): Bill Snyder's tough-as-nails bunch travels to face West Virginia in the friendly confines of Milan Puskar Stadium. The last time Dana Holgorsen's team played at home it lit up Baylor for 10 touchdowns. A Kansas State victory puts the Wildcats firmly ahead of the pack in the Big 12, while a loss for West Virginia ends the conference and national title aspirations that seemed so promising just one week ago. West Virginia's highly publicized offense is more productive of the two but Kansas State's is actually more efficienct, churning out 0.65 points per play to WVU's 0.58 points per play.
Florida State at Miami (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Consider this a referendum for two young coaching tenures. Both teams need wins to stay in the hunt for the ACC Championship but, most importantly, both teams need a win over each other. Al Golden is looking for his first victory over FSU, while a loss by the Seminoles means nothing short toppling Florida can make this season a success. Jimbo Fisher's team dominates the ACC statistically, leading the conference in total offense, total defense, scoring offense, scoring defense, pass efficiency, pass efficiency defense and rushing defense. They also place second in the ACC in rushing offense behind Georgia Tech, but possess the conference's best yards per carry average (6.28).
Baylor at Texas (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Texas returns home reeling after consecutive losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma. Mack Brown's teams traditionally play their best football following Oklahoma, going 13-1 immediately after the Red River Rivalry. Baylor carries in a two-game losing streak of its own, surrendering a total of 17 touchdowns in losses to West Virginia and TCU. Baylor leads the nation in passing offense with nearly 400 yards per game faces a Texas defense that has allowed Big 12 quarterbacks to go 65-of-101 for 903 yards with eight touchdowns against two interceptions. The numbers aren't much better for Texas' rush defense as opposing Big 12 offenses have carried 133 times for 810 yards (6.1 ypc) for 10 scores. Solace for Texas comes in the fact that Baylor brings in a defense ranked among the bottom four nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. Expect an old-fashion Big 12 shootout that lasts deep into the night.
Washington at Arizona (10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks): After a 3-0 start Rich Rodriguez is still searching for his first Pac-12 win. Washington is also looking for its first victory since the upset of Stanford on Sept. 27. Scott from our staff will be on hand in Tucson. Follow him on Twitter @FootballScoop for his observations of the game.
The Chicago Tribune did an interesting article last night on some of the changes that Pat Fitzgerald and the staff made to Northwestern's game day schedule for their 3:30pm ET kickoff against Nebraska in Evanston, which can be seen on ABC.
After what Fitzgerald and the staff felt like was a sluggish start against Boston College in week three (which was also a 3:30pm ET kickoff), Coach Fitz sat down with the members of his Leadership Council, and asked them what prevented them back from having a a fast start.
Players told him that the game clashed with their usual nap time.
Normally players show up at the football complex at 6:50am for meetings, followed by a practice from 8:50am to 10:30am, then they head to class and grab a nap in the early afternoon.
So Coach Fitz and the staff decided to rearrange the schedule a little bit to see if they can correct the slow start. For Saturday's match up, Northwestern will get in breakfast a little earlier than normal, and allow the players to take a brief nap at around 9:30am.
When asked about it, Fitz noted that he could hardly believe he agreed to allow a nap six hours before kickoff.
"Unbelievable. This is what I get paid to do. Seriously. Create nap time. It's pathetic."
How this one shakes out remains to be seen, but credit Coach Fitz and the staff on addressing why they started slow with the Leadership Council, and then taking their advice (however unconventional it may seem) on getting the issue resolved.