>> Video Below: Bo Pelini, Taylor Martinez and others after the Penn State game
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LINCOLN — Moments after Nebraska took another step toward Pasadena, Tom Osborne stepped into the Husker locker room.
Osborne stays out of the way on game days, watching from a suite. But afterward, he heads downstairs and greets players and coaches. Saturday he shook offensive line coach John Garrison's hand. Then he asked a question.
“How many pitches you think we ran?” Osborne said. “Twenty-five?”
No way, Garrison thought. Then he started thinking about it. Yes, 25 was about right.
Nebraska edged Penn State, coming back from 14 down at halftime. It was the latest in a season of improbable rallies. Osborne didn't win many games like this. He didn't have to. His teams just beat the tar out of opponents, week after week after week.
But study this 32-23 knee-knocker and you'll see a common thread.
You can talk about character. You can talk about resilience. Nebraska's intangibles are indeed better than they've been in years. But there's something more that pushes the Huskers over the edge — a critical factor in all these heroic comebacks.
“We wear people down,” Ron Brown says. “They get tired. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
The Huskers battered the Nittany Lions for 267 rushing yards. A week earlier, they hammered Michigan State for 313.
In a league known for November slobber-knockers, Nebraska's offense hasn't just matched the Big Ten standard of physicality. The Huskers have raised it, leaving proud defenses beaten, bruised and gassed in the fourth quarter.
Their ability to wear teams down resembles Osborne's 1994 national champions. That team also liked the toss play.
“Way back in the day,” Brown says, Osborne called it “41 Pitch.” Every grandma inside Memorial Stadium knew the play — “41 Pitch! They're running 41 Pitch again,” Brown says, in his best old woman voice.
It's a simple toss to the I-back, who follows a fullback and a pulling lineman or two toward the sideline, waiting for a crease. Executed properly, it looks like the Union army at Gettysburg, charging down Little Round Top swinging their bayonets.
There's something wonderfully old-school about executing the same play over and over and over. It worked Saturday because of two factors: tempo and speed. Those are the keys to Nebraska's rushing attack — and its ability to rally.
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Quick tempo is a pillar of Tim Beck's offense. Snapping the ball with 20 seconds left on the play clock not only lengthens the game — giving NU more time to rally — it takes a toll on defensive linemen and linebackers. Especially when they're forced to chase the pitch play sideline to sideline.
Up-tempo offenses occasionally start slowly, Beck says.
“Sometimes the games are close at halftime. Second half? They're not as close. Our guys are conditioned to run play after play after play. We get so many plays in practice it's unbelievable.”
But tempo goes only so fast — and so far. What makes Nebraska's running game click is team speed.
Look at Michigan State last week, Brown says. The Spartans put both safeties in the box. Their defensive ends lined up wide and tried to force the toss play inside, where they had safeties and linebackers waiting.
Ameer Abdullah didn't let them. He ran outside the defensive end anyway.
“That shouldn't happen,” Brown said. “That's speed.”
And the quicker the tempo — the more pitch plays Nebraska calls — the slower those defensive linemen respond. A 3-yard gain in the first half becomes an 8-yarder after halftime. Put it all together and a 14-point halftime deficit doesn't feel so daunting. Neither does a 10-2 season.
By the way, the Huskers don't call that toss play “41 Pitch” anymore.
They call it “94.” How's that for old-school coincidence?
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>> Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the Penn State game:
>> NU's Taylor Martinez after the Penn State game:
>> NU's Brett Maher after the Penn State game:
>> Rich Kaipust's postgame analysis: