September 5, 2011

Monday notebook: Beck not hiding frustration

After offensive coordinator Tim Beck finally got a chance to breakdown the game film from Saturday's win, the initial frustration he had with his offense's performance escalated tenfold by the time the unit reconvened for its weekly meeting on Sunday.

On Monday, Beck said he made his displeasure with Nebraska's overall lack of offensive execution and fundamentals loud and clear.

"It wasn't a very pleasant meeting, I can tell you that," Beck said.

In one of his most candid interviews since taking over as offensive coordinator, Beck was very up front with his evaluation of the offense in its first game under his new system. He said the most glaring aspect were the numerous mental breakdowns his players had throughout the game.

"We didn't play very well, and we made a lot of mental mistakes," Beck said. "We did a lot of things we haven't done - there were a couple mistakes from players that they haven't done since last spring maybe. It just blows my mind. I don't know what happened. We just made a lot of mistakes."

By the end of the day, Nebraska's offense had settled for four field goals, fumbled four times, losing two, and didn't score a point for the final 21 minutes of the game. Beck said part of what made the performance so discouraging was the fact that he came into the game with such high expectations from his offense.

"I have a lot of confidence in our players," Beck said. "I believe that they're good players and I believe we have a lot of talent. We just didn't display the expectations of myself, our staff, I think even some of the team and certainly the tradition of Nebraska. We did not play the way we should play, and it's our job to fix it. I'm going to. I'm going to fix it."

The good news was that Beck said he felt his players responded to his critique, and mostly every one of them seemed determined to correct the problems that held them back against the Mocs.

"I really think the majority of our players felt that way," Beck said. "Again, I'm not a statistics guy. I don't want pats on the back. I want our kids to play well, win or lose. If we go out there and lay it on the line and play with good technique and good fundamentals, then what happens, happens. That's what I'm more concerned about. I don't care about touchdowns, points yards - none of that stuff matters."

Senior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie echoed Beck's sentiment, saying none of the Huskers' offensive players walked off the field Saturday feeling as if they had played their best football.

"We won, but it just didn't feel like a great win," Kinnie said. "We know that we have a whole lot more work to do. All of the offensive guys knew that. It was like we came off the field and were like, 'Yeah, we beat Tennessee-Chattanooga.' We know we have a lot of work to do and a lot of mistakes were made."

For many, Beck's comments Monday will be viewed as a refreshing change from his predecessor, who often times would attempt to make things not seem as bad as they might have actually been.

That's definitely not Beck. If something needs to be addressed, he seems to have no issue with confronting the problem head on.

"That's where I'm from," Beck said. "You don't sugarcoat it. It is what it is. I'm not going to tell them they're better than they are, but I'm still going to love them and hug them and let them know that I appreciate them when they do good, and we tell them that. We didn't do good, not to our standards."

- Robin Washut

Room for improvement left for Martinez

Sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez accounted for 251 yards of total offense with three rushing touchdowns in Saturday's win over Tennessee-Chattanooga, but his performance didn't exactly garner rave reviews when all was said and done.

After the game, head coach Bo Pelini said Martinez looked "anxious" in the pocket at times, especially early on, and said it looked as if Martinez was putting too much pressure on himself to make a big play on every snap.

On Monday, Pelini's assessment hadn't changed much after reviewing the game film.

"I think he had a good camp, and I don't think he had his best day Saturday," Pelini said. "I know there are a couple (plays) that he would want back, but I think he has progressed a long way as far as that is concerned."

Martinez finished the game 11-of-22 passing for 116 yards, including several passes missed wide-open receivers.

While there were obviously some things that needed to be cleaned up in his passing, Martinez was still able to provide some of the big plays with his feet he showed early last season. With the help of touchdown runs of 43 and 47 yards, the Corona, Calif., native was just one of three Big Ten Conference players to rush for more than 100 yards over the weekend.

However, Martinez carried the ball 19 times in the game and was sacked once, exposing himself to several big hits from UTC defenders. Martinez said the offensive game plan wouldn't normally require such a big workload for him this season, as Saturday was just a matter of taking what the defense gave him.

"It's pretty much just based on Coach Beck's decision," Martinez said. "The option game depends on what they're giving me, and their linebacker just kept flying to Rex (Burkhead) and I was pretty much just keeping the ball every time."

The other good thing for the Huskers was that Martinez seemed well aware of his mistakes in the passing game, and he was confident he would only get better as the season went along.

"I think I did all right," Martinez said. "I think I could've done a lot better maybe hitting receivers, maybe leading them a little more. I kind of threw a little behind them, but I think I did decent."

Even better, Martinez said the ankle injury he suffered in last season's win over Missouri that plagued him all year was a non-factor on Saturday.

"I felt pretty good," he said. "I felt the best I have since the Missouri game."

- Robin Washut

Defensive injury updates

The only real concerning injury to come out of Saturday's game was to junior Mike linebacker Will Compton, who "tweaked" his foot on the first defensive series of the game and did not return.

Pelini said Compton would be listed as day-to-day, but added that the injury wasn't serious and it did not happen on the same foot he broke early last season. Compton did not practice on Monday.

"He is doing good," Pelini said. "He's a lot better today. He is probably day-to-day. We will see how he progresses… There are no breaks. No issues as far as that is concerned. There is no structural damage to the foot."

With Compton sidelined, redshirt freshman Trevor Roach saw significant action in his place at the Mike position and ended up finishing second on the team with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.

Pelini said he was very pleased with the way Roach stepped up when Compton came out, but he wasn't surprised that the Elkhorn, Neb., native played the way he did based on how he's performed in practice going back to the spring.

"I thought he did good," Pelini said. "I thought he played well. Obviously, he has a lot of things to improve on, but I thought he did some really good things. You know, I thought he handled the situation really well. He was thrust onto the field after the second or third play or whatever it was. There were a lot of guys that would get big-eyed but he handled it really well."

Pelini also gave an update on the status of senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who missed the game while continuing to rehab from a leg muscle injury he suffered in the third week of fall camp.

Pelini said Dennard continues to show great progress in his recovery, but he gave no timeframe of when Dennard would return to action. Like Roach, Pelini said he was happy with the way sophomore Andrew Green stepped up in Dennard's place.

"He is doing a lot better," Pelini said of Dennard. "He is getting a lot closer. Our young corners played really well besides that one time when Andrew tripped up and didn't use his help on the one touchdown. I thought those guys played well. They did some pretty good things. A few technique errors needed to be cleaned up there, but I thought for the first time out they played well."

- Robin Washut

Moore, Long have solid debuts

There were plenty of emotions going on for the right side of Nebraska's offensive when the game kicked off on Saturday, as true freshman tackle Tyler Moore and sophomore guard Spencer Long made their starting debuts.

Both players said the rush of their first game was still sinking in, and while neither was totally satisfied with his overall play, they agreed that the game was a moment they would never forget.

"It was unreal, man," Long said. "Just an adrenaline rush like you wouldn't believe. My heart was pounding."

Statistically speaking, Moore and Long held their own up front, helping the Huskers rack up 229 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns while combining for just one penalty the entire game.

That one penalty came on a false start by Moore in the second quarter. Despite the fact that he became the first true freshman in school history to start a season opener, Moore said the penalty and a few other mental errors left him with a lot of room for improvement going forward.

"I'd say I did OK, but I also have a lot of stuff to work on," Moore said. "I hold myself to high standards."

Moore said he was aware he was doing something no other Husker lineman had ever done before him when he took the field on NU's first possession, but he made sure to forget about it as soon as possible and focus on the task at hand.

"I had heard about that, I think my dad told me about it," Moore said. "It's a pretty cool thing, but you've got think about it real quick and get rid of it, because that won't put points on the board. It doesn't do anything for you."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Individually, Kinnie said he wasn't frustrated about finishing with just two catches for seven yards and having a few other passes miss him badly when he was open on Saturday.

"A win is the most important thing to me," Kinnie said. "I could care less about that type of stuff. It's going to come. Coach Beck is going to call the plays, I'm going to run them. That's just what it is. As long as we're getting a W in the win column, I'm fine with everything."

***Pelini said he expects Fresno State to bring a run-based pro-style offense to Lincoln on Saturday, but said the Bulldogs aren't scared to test defenses deep with the arm of quarterback Derek Carr.

"They want to run the ball and they want to run it physically," Pelini said. "They want to get the ball down the field to their wide outs on play-action. They'll max protect to try to get their receivers deep on you. I think they have a good play and they stay with it. They believe in their defense and offensively they're going to run the football and try to be really balanced when they attack."

***Coincidentally, Martinez will be taking on a Fresno State team that recruited him heavily coming out of high school. While the Bulldogs signed his Corona High School teammate and current sophomore defensive end Ben Letcher, Martinez never considered Fresno a potential destination.

"I was fully committed to Nebraska," Martinez said.

***Now that Martinez is among the top rushing leaders in the Big Ten, junior running back Rex Burkhead said he's going to have to pick it up if he's going to keep up with the quarterback for the team rushing yardage lead.

"After the first touchdown, (Martinez) was like 'I kind of stole that away from you,'" Burkhead said. "But yeah, it's fun to have a teammate that is such an electrifying player and can make long runs every time. You want to be able to step up to his level during the game, so back and forth we're kind of competing. It's just makes it fun."

***When asked about the huge hit he laid on UTC running back Chris Awuah along the sideline, Stafford admitted his eyes lit up a bit when he saw Awuah turning the corner right towards him.

"He ran through the hole like he thought he was scot-free," Stafford said. "So I had to come stop that."

***Tyler Moore was one of the top recruits coming out of the state of Florida last fall, and as you could expect he was heavily courted by in-state programs like the University of Florida. When Moore announced he was going to Nebraska, he got some backlash from people around the area for spurning the Gators. In the end, though, Moore couldn't be happier with his decision.

"Back in Florida, everyone was like 'Why are you going there? Why are you going there? All it is is corn there,'" Moore said. "I got that a lot, and people talking trash when Florida had won a couple titles. But I think we're going to have a lot better chances than they are over the next couple years."

***With Spencer Long and Roach playing big roles for the Huskers, the town of Elkhorn was well represented on Saturday. In fact, there are a total of five players on Nebraska's roster from Elkhorn High School, including senior tight end Kevin Thomsen, sophomore tight end Jake Long and freshman offensive lineman Aaron Hayes.

Spencer Long said he and his fellow Elkhorn teammates learned valuable lessons about football and life under Antlers head coach Mark Wortman.

"We learned how to work at Elkhorn," Long said. "It's a good place to grow up playing high school football. You don't really care about all the hype and all the bull crap, you just kind of go do your thing and work hard."

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