LINCOLN — Somewhere in the middle of the postgame mayhem and euphoria Saturday, it had to dawn on Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck and his colleagues that there wasn't some kind of magical tape in the equipment room to hold together this Husker offense.
If it didn't occur to them then, it surely will this week as NU prepares for its trip to Michigan.
“We're a little bit of a M*A*S*H unit right now,” NU offensive line coach John Garrison said. “We've got to figure out some things in the next couple days to get ready for Ann Arbor.”
The Huskers started the game Saturday without Taylor Martinez, Spencer Long, Jamal Turner and Jake Long. They finished it without Kenny Bell and Jake Cotton, and for a few seconds had to hold their breath when Jeremiah Sirles was down in the final minutes.
So the offense that was loaded to start the season is now finding out just how fortunate it is to have that kind of depth.
“If you would have said at the beginning of the year you're going to be sitting here with one loss in the conference and all those guys aren't going to be playing when you go to Michigan … ?” Beck said. “You tell me how you would go. So I'm proud of the guys.”
To be sure, the injury situation was a little easier to digest Saturday after the Huskers' improbable finish in the 27-24 win over Northwestern.
Injuries, no doubt, had at least something to do with the offense struggling for nearly the entire second half before Ron Kellogg led NU to midfield in the two-minute drill and then connected with Jordan Westerkamp on a tipped 49-yard touchdown pass as time expired.
“People just have to go play,” backup center Mark Pelini said. “You've got to play for the guys that can't be out there.”
Pelini likely will be the Huskers' starting center now with Cole Pensick moving to right guard. Mike Moudy, already replacing Spencer Long at right guard, returned to left guard after Jake Cotton suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee starting the third quarter.
The Jake Long hamstring injury has Nebraska relying on freshmen Cethan Carter and Sam Cotton at tight end. Bell (groin), Turner (calf) and Tyler Wullenwaber have been part of a run of injuries at receiver that have pushed underclassmen such as Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Sam Burtch into larger roles.
Tommy Armstrong and Kellogg have taken over at quarterback — with the exception of one game — since Martinez was sidelined after the loss to UCLA.
“We're beat up, but we're gonna find a way,” Garrison said. “There's no excuses.”
That's why Garrison all but covered his eyes as Sirles was slow to get up after Northwestern intercepted an Armstrong pass and returned it to the NU 7-yard line with 2:25 left. How much could the Huskers take?
“I thought it was another one,” Garrison said. “And that would completely change the game, because now you're short a tackle.”
Sirles said he just tweaked a shoulder, and he was back for the final drive. I-back Ameer Abdullah got banged up last week but still came through with 24 carries Saturday. Receiver Quincy Enunwa had to walk off an awkward landing Saturday during a six-catch game.
“Nobody quit, even when guys were going down,” Enunwa said. “We had about three or four guys go out, and people just kept going in and doing their job. It was great for the team.”
Nebraska can continue its rotation at offensive tackle with Sirles, Andrew Rodriguez and Brent Qvale. It might have to look at playing Pensick, Moudy and Pelini full time at the inside spots unless coaches decide to use Ryne Reeves or Givens Price.
Receiver has to be the other concern.
“Now the depth is an issue,” Beck said. “We had some guys toughen up and play with injuries. We had some guys out there playing hurt, and I'm proud of them.”
It might become mandatory as Nebraska looks at four games over the next four weeks, including a pair of road trips. Just slap on some athletic tape and go.
“I think everyone knows what's in front of us,” Pensick said.
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Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:
Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini talks after Nebraska's win over Northwestern:
Video: Nebraska quarterback talks after Nebraska's win over Northwestern:
Video: Nebraska wide receiver talks after Nebraska's win over Northwestern: