LINCOLN — When you think about the 14 turnovers committed by the Nebraska offense in the past five games, they account for that many drives that stalled or never got a chance to get started.
That, inevitably, has cut into any rhythm that NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck and his players have been looking to maintain, and often handcuffed a unit that likes to change tempo when it has it.
“No question,” Beck said Tuesday.
The Nebraska offense handed over the football four times Saturday in a five-turnover game against Michigan State. The Huskers still managed 392 total yards and scored 28 points, but their two drives with the most snaps didn't come until after the turnovers had finally ceased.
“I felt like we were kind of in a flow in that game, and then obviously the turnovers kept hurting us,” Beck said. “And so it got us out of the flow quick.”
Nebraska (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) is stuck in a turnover funk that spans all units as it prepares for Saturday's game at Penn State. The Huskers are minus-13 in turnover margin the past five games — with offense and special teams combining for 16 giveaways while the defense has produced three takeaways — after going plus-five through the first five.
It has dropped Nebraska from No. 18 to No. 106th nationally in turnover margin — and put another Bo Pelini-coached team on the wrong side of an important ledger.
“We've just got to continue to pick each other up, continue to work hard and there'll be a lot of things we'll get better at,” NU linebacker Michael Rose said. “We've got three more opportunities to do that this year.”
Offensively, Beck said, NU just has to plow on and trust what it's doing in a system that he admits carries some risk because of the ball-handling, reading, pitching and throwing done by its quarterbacks.
In the Michigan State game, redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong lost two fumbles and threw an interception, while freshman I-back Terrell Newby dropped a pitch.
“Believe me, if there is such a thing that says, 'If we would just do this, we'd hang on to the ball' ... we'd have did it three years ago,” Beck said. “I don't know that there is one. You just keep preaching it and coaching it and practicing on it, putting emphasis on it as much as you can.
“When we hang on to the ball, we can be scary. We just got to hang on to the ball.”
Nebraska actually has been working on some ball skills recently that it normally wouldn't be doing so much of this late in a season, Beck said.
“And it didn't pay off,” he said.
Pelini said Monday that he hadn't been seeing the mistakes in practice that the Huskers made against Michigan State. Pelini also couldn't recall the last time the offense fumbled an option pitch or botched a center-quarterback exchange.
“You just have to stick with your fundamentals when the time comes,” Pelini said. “They're young kids that make some mistakes.”
Beck said Armstrong is normally sure-handed, and he will maintain that expectation as his quarterback heads into his seventh career start Saturday.
“We have a lot of confidence in him to run it,” Beck said. “We'll run him again. It ain't the last time he's going to carry the ball here.”
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NU linebacker David Santos said the Husker defense could have helped the offense by getting the ball back against the Spartans. The Blackshirts instead went without creating a turnover for the third time in four games.
The three turnovers forced by the Nebraska defense in the past five games followed its 12 takeaways in the first five.
“We know we want the ball,” Santos said, “but we just haven't gotten that lucky roll or that lucky hit at the right spot or anything like that.”
Santos said it seems as if it can go in spurts, and it's sometimes hard to explain why the “ball just keeps ending up either on your side or on the wrong side.” The other NU defensive numbers actually have been drastically improved the past five games.
One example of how things have gone of late would be Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The senior cornerbacks combined for seven interceptions in the first four games and none since.
“I don't think anything's changed,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Everybody's still playing aggressive. We have our chances, it's just a matter of catching the ball sometimes.
“It's going to happen sooner or later.”
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