LINCOLN — Nebraska trotted out its offensive unit with 1:20 left Saturday at Michigan State, needing to go 80 yards for a touchdown or about 50 to reach field-goal range.
To some teams, it might have been a situation where the offense had to shift gears into a whole new pace of play.
For NU, which already spends a lot of time trying to play fast, the transition into two-minute drill really only required a slight tap on the gas pedal.
“Basically it’s just our offense out there and running it a little faster,” Husker receiver Quincy Enunwa said.
Nebraska went 80 yards in nine plays to beat Michigan State 28-24, helped by a pass-interference penalty that set up first-and-goal from the 5 with 17 seconds left. The touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez to Jamal Turner came with six seconds to spare.
And head coach Bo Pelini agreed Monday that the hurry-up system Nebraska runs lends itself to success in those very instances.
“When we were a slower-paced offense, one that made a lot of audibles at the line, we weren’t as prepared to handle situations like that because we weren’t quite as used to going fast,” Pelini said. “Now we’re up on the ball a lot, we’re going at the line a lot, our signaling happens a lot easier ... so you’re able to get a lot more plays accomplished in a lot shorter amount of time without jumping through a lot of hoops.”
The Huskers’ confidence in their two-minute offense showed before a Spartan Stadium crowd of 73,522. Pelini also said it was interesting to look up and see 1:20 remaining, because that’s often the time NU will put on the clock for its offense in practice.
Now just go do it — and never mind that you’re also out of timeouts.
“For a team like Michigan State, which huddles up and runs the clock down, it’d definitely be a lot more difficult,” NU receiver Tim Marlowe said. “We’re used to not getting in the huddle. We’re used to hurrying up to the line and just getting the signal from the sideline. Really, it’s almost like we run a two-minute offense every play.”
Nebraska got the right start with a 22-yard pass from Martinez to Enunwa. Then facing fourth-and-10, it stayed alive with Martinez finding tight end Kyler Reed for a 38-yard play to the MSU 20.
Martinez looked left for Kenny Bell and then for Turner before finding Reed, knowing that he might not be able to get a first down had he taken off running.
“And luckily he got open,” Martinez said. “That was a huge play.”
After two incomplete passes, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was called for the penalty on Bell in the end zone. Reed then couldn’t get his feet down in the back of the end zone on a first-down play with 11 seconds left.
Martinez struck on the next snap.
It was semi-reminiscent of Nebraska going 76 yards in six plays and 2:02 for its go-ahead score at Northwestern, although later in the game (that TD came with 2:08 remaining). The Huskers only a few minutes earlier in that fourth quarter had also covered 80 yards in 10 plays and 2:36 against the Wildcats.
To be honest, Martinez said, not all that much changes other than the sense of urgency to make those possessions result in points.
“It’s pretty much our normal offense because we go at such a fast pace,” he said. “We pretty much just got to execute and know in our heads we have to score.”
The confidence doesn’t just stem from a no-huddle offense that translates well to the two-minute attack. Pelini said it also comes with having a junior quarterback who has made 34 career starts and has seen the situation before, both in games and practices.
“Let’s face it, he’s getting better as a football player,” Pelini said. “And as you get better and your confidence grows, you have a belief that you can go ahead in a situation like that and have some success.”
Nebraska ran its two-minute drill most effectively before halftime in the season-opening game against Southern Mississippi, needing just 39 seconds to go 77 yards in five plays. It also has had some failings, including just before halftime against Michigan and Northwestern.
After pulling it off Saturday, I-back Ameer Abdullah said the Huskers should feel even more comfortable the next time around.
“Being in that situation more than once this season has really helped us out for future situations like that,” Abdullah said. “A lot of people say on our team if maybe we were in that position last year the outcome wouldn’t have been the same, and I believe it.”
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