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Official Husker Locker Blog

2010 Sep 07

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: No More Vanilla

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By HuskerLocker

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As Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson put the finishing touches on his Western Kentucky gameplan Friday night, he pulled aside Tim Marlowe for a word.

Jet sweep, Watson told the rarely-used sophomore wide receiver. It’s on the play sheet. Might use it. Be ready.

“I was waiting all game on the sideline for it,” Marlowe said.

Midway through the third quarter, there was Marlowe sprinting toward quarterback Taylor Martinez, taking his first career carry, and zipping around the left end for a 13-yard gain.

“Almost took it all the way,” Marlowe said. “Got tripped up a little.”

Options? Oh, Nebraska has them in 2010.

“We’re user-friendly, man,” Watson said.

NU racked up 536 yards vs. WKU - averaging nearly a first down on each snap - its highest total since the 2008 Kansas State game. Martinez set a rushing record for NU freshman quarterbacks with 127 yards. Sophomore running back Rex Burkhead touched the ball 7 times for 104 yards. Senior wide receiver Niles Paul had 6 touches for 100 yards.

Efficiency, thy name is Nebraska.

Of course, Huskerville being the town of worrywarts that it is, concerns naturally gravitated toward senior running back Roy Helu - who only carried the ball five times - and senior receiver Mike McNeill who didn’t catch a pass. Where were their turns at the wheel?

On Tuesday, McNeill leaned back in his chair Tuesday, smiled a bit and thanked Big Red Nation for its sympathy cards.

“I’ve faced this question several times,” McNeill said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t let it get to me. I just gotta keep playing. The touches will come when they come.”

As if spoken by Watson himself.

The OC held court at the Tuesday presser this week instead of the muggy heat of the Hawks Center, and unpacked his “box” on how the new version of Nebraska’s offense works. It’s about targets, weapons and creativity.

Watson took a minute to explain with the Huskers’ plan to use Paul.

“We target him all over the lot,” he said. “You’re not going to see him ever line up in one specific position. He’ll be all over place. He’ll handle it in the passing game, he’ll handle it in the run game.”

Paul, of course, will often be in his customary Z position that’s ideal for deep balls and the post route he ran for a 33-yard touchdown from Cody Green. He’ll line up in the slot sometimes. Or he’ll flip to the wide “field” side while Brandon Kinnie hugs the boundary.

Watson will create plays where Paul is the only target. Or the primary target. Or the secondary target if the safety bites on a hook route, as a Missouri Tiger did in the 2009 game. There’s tunnel screens and bubble screens, sweeps and reverses. And the get-up-and-go-get--it fly pattern that Paul perfected toward the last half of last season.

In other words, Paul is David in the old Biblical tales. Never quite in the same spot doing quite the same thing, the better to confuse and frustrate the guys who want to chase him down.

“Because then a defense can’t say ‘They just do this.’ Or ‘this guy just does this,’” Watson said.

Another key piece: Swiss Army Rex. The sophomore Burkhead, whom Watson said can excel in all three phases of a running back’s game: Running, catching and blocking. On his first grab Saturday night, a 28-yarder, Burkhead zipped into a 20-yard swath of turf left vacated by the Hilltoppers linebackers. Martinez won’t have an easier pass all year.

But if defenses take away Burkhead on that route, the linebacker probably leaves open McNeill to work the seam. Or Kinnie on a dig route. Or Martinez to scramble.

You see? Whack-a-mole. If an offense can get six different moving weapons, requiring the defense to account for all of them, you reduce the game to playmakers. Pick-up ball.

“We’re stretching our wings on it always,” Watson said.

New year, new tune? Sure. It can crumble if the offensive line falters or gets beset with injuries. Like it did in 2009, when Nebraska’s offense turned into the pigskin equivalent of cream-of-wheat.

For now -

“We don’t believe in vanilla,” Watson said. “Vanilla’s bad.”

See also: No Panic from Bo on D - And Here's Why

Tags: football, shawn watson, taylor martinez, tim marlowe, mike mcneill, niles paul, rex burkhead

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