LINCOLN — Whether Nebraska wins or loses, Saturday's Big Ten championship will gnaw at NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck on Sunday. A conference title would weigh easier on his mind, of course. But Beck, tough on himself, replays games with a critical eye.
Until then, Beck tries to clear his mind before the biggest game he's coordinated. He prepares for a Wisconsin defense that he calls sound and relatively mistake-free. He readies his All-Big Ten quarterback Taylor Martinez to grasp the “why” of the game plan and not just the mechanics of it.
He steels for those three hours in a Lucas Oil Stadium coaches booth that turn into a pressure cooker. Where, in stark contrast to coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis on the sideline, Beck can't rage and scream and hug and jump three feet off the ground. Where he has to swallow the emotion of the night.
“Certainly you get fiery up there, and you get upset when things don't go well, but you just gotta move on,” Beck said Monday in one of his longest interviews of the year. “It eats at me, it'll bother me after the fact, but while it's going on, man, we got a game to play, I got the next call to make, the next series of downs. You can't let it consume you.”
offensive line coach Barney Cotton, who sits in the booth with Beck, describes the atmosphere as “very calm, very businesslike.”
“We talk between series,” Cotton said. “We talk during series. It's a very smooth procedure.”
Beck — whose offense is 26th nationally in total offense and 29th in scoring — strives to set aside the pressure of the moment. He hasn't talked much about pressure all year and won't now, even if, as backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III pretends to interview him, Beck jokes, “See, we're loose! No pressure!”
He's had enough on his plate, helping NU engineer second-half comebacks without its most dependable and perhaps best skill player, running back Rex Burkhead.
The 10-2 Huskers have instead relied on Martinez — an All-Big Ten selection Monday by league's coaches — who spent the offseason working on his mechanics with a personal quarterbacks coach and this preseason learning to master Beck's no-huddle, check-heavy offense. He responded with 2,483 passing yards, 833 rushing yards, 29 touchdowns and five second-half comebacks.
Asked if Martinez's improved play and leadership is an extension of Beck's personality — or perhaps that of Pelini — the coordinator said it's neither.
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“I don't know who he is,” Beck said. “He's his own guy, I guess. He really is. He's his own guy. I respect that. And that's probably why we have a good relationship: I don't try to make him be something he's not.”
Beck has also grown to understand that when Martinez operates well outside the plan, it's not because he's “stubborn, arrogant or insubordinate.” It's not that he's aiming to make plays in defiance of his coordinator.
“He just kind of does them instinctively more than anything else,” Beck said. “That's where I kind of pull my hair out. He'll be like, 'Well, I thought about doing this. I saw that guy and I thought I could get around him, so I just pulled the ball.' Yeah, well, that's not what I told you to do. You're supposed to do this.
“But it's never like 'Oh, I'll show coach.' That's not that kind of kid. He just wants to win. He's competitive. Sometimes he thinks he sees things and wants to take the game over.”
Then again, so does Burkhead at times. Beck pointed to the second half of the Iowa game as an example. Burkhead hadn't played in a month. He wanted the ball. All of his Nebraska teammates knew he wanted the ball.
“So we gave him the ball,” Beck said. Fans could see it as selfish, Beck figured, but it was the plan that gave NU the best chance to win. On a frigid, windy afternoon, the Husker wide receivers set their egos aside to block and grind out a win, Beck said, instead of complaining about their lack of touches.
“Whatever it took to win the game, that's what they wanted to do,” Beck said. “That's a sign of maturity. Of a team growing up.”
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