What's not to like?
Nebraska's offense ranks 10th nationally in scoring, 13th in total yards, fifth in rushing and 11th in pass efficiency.
It boasts a quarterback with 30 career starts, a bevy of dynamic, veteran skill players and an offensive line of five upperclassmen.
Efficiency. Explosiveness. Experience.
On paper, few offenses in the country — and in recent Husker history — can match it.
But ask yourself this question as Nebraska prepares for its biggest test of the season: How strong is your faith in Taylor Martinez and Tim Beck?
The answer goes a long way in determining the Huskers' fate Saturday night.
For all of the numbers Martinez and Beck have piled up in Lincoln, they haven't beaten an opponent like Ohio State in an environment like the Horseshoe. In fact, their track record away from Memorial Stadium is littered with regrets.
This is a chance to right wrongs and — for Martinez — an opportunity to establish himself among the nation's elite.
Martinez has compiled enough experiences — good and bad — to fill the careers of three average players. But to critics, especially on the national level, he's still an average quarterback, with as many liabilities as strengths. Not the type of player Nebraska can ride to Pasadena.
That perception can change Saturday.
Few people expect Nebraska to win. And fewer expect Martinez to win the quarterback duel with Braxton Miller, college football's new dual-threat star.
Martinez can relate to Miller's spotlight. Two years ago this week, Kansas State hosted Taylor's coming-out party on Thursday night ESPN. Bill Snyder's defenders, in chasing Martinez, looked like someone had poured concrete in their cleats.
It was the second in Martinez's incredible string of road performances.
At Washington, 2010: 137 rushing yards, 150 passing yards, four touchdowns, no turnovers.
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At Kansas State, 2010: 241 rushing yards, 128 passing yards, five touchdowns, no turnovers.
At Oklahoma State, 2010: 112 rushing yards, 323 passing yards, five touchdowns, one turnover.
That's 363 total yards per game with 14 total touchdowns and one turnover. Nebraska averaged 52 points and went 3-0.
Now look at Martinez's past 10 starts away from home. He averaged 41 rushing yards and 136 passing yards — 177 total. He had eight total touchdowns and 11 turnovers.
During that span, Nebraska averaged 21 points and went 3-7.
The only wins: Wyoming, Minnesota and Penn State, a program reeling from scandal.
Beck called plays for only four of those seven losses — he was the running backs coach in 2010. But he's responsible for Wisconsin, Michigan, South Carolina and UCLA. He's responsible for Nebraska's alarming second-half performances the past 12 months.
Dating back to Madison last year, the NU offense has had 38 second-half possessions on the road. It has scored 30 total points.
The latest stumble came at UCLA, when Nebraska scored six second-half points on nine drives. Beck abandoned the running game and Martinez desperately tried to make big plays. NU lost.
How do you become a championship team when you can't transport your offense to the road? Beck and Martinez must help each other get over the hump.
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For Beck, that means taking pressure off his quarterback. Call plays with Martinez's vulnerabilities in mind. Stay patient with the ground game, even if Nebraska falls behind.
For Martinez, that means keeping his coordinator on schedule. Avoid drive-crippling sacks. Take care of the ball. Since 2010, Nebraska is a dismal 2-7 away from home when Martinez commits a turnover.
Most of that period, the Huskers were trying to win big games in spite of their quarterback, not because of him. That's not how elite programs do it.
Things are changing. Slowly but surely, this is becoming Martinez's team. And without a vintage Bo Pelini defense, Nebraska will go as far as the quarterback takes it.
To beat Ohio State, Martinez will have to keep pace with Miller. Make plays with his feet and his arm. Perform as he did in the second half against Wisconsin, when he spearheaded a 17-point comeback.
Trailing 27-10 in the third quarter, Nebraska faced a third-and-6 from its own 27. Fail to convert and the Badgers may have buried Big Red.
Instead, Martinez took a shotgun snap and hit Kenny Bell down the sidelines for 20 yards. Next play, he dashed 38 yards for a touchdown.
Just like that, momentum shifted.
Now the offense hits the road, where the past two years are full of bad memories.
The good news? There's still time to rally.
Contact the writer:
402-649-1461, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/dirkchatelain
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