LINCOLN — On Tim Beck’s final night as Nebraska’s offensive coordinator, his team racked up 94 plays, 525 yards and 42 points in a Holiday Bowl loss to USC.
He then took a plum job as co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State, which returned the bulk of its national title-winning offense, several first-round NFL draft picks and three quarterbacks — Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones — who could each start for most programs.
“It was an awesome feeling going into that room,” Beck said in an interview with The World-Herald this week. “You have J.T. and Braxton and Cardale, and you’re talking about Heisman Trophy-caliber guys. It was great, but it was difficult. It was a hard transition.”
Many months removed from last season — OSU finished 12-1 with a 17-14 last-second loss to Michigan State — Beck is excited and optimistic about his second season in coach Urban Meyer’s program.
“This is a hungry group,” Beck said. “It’s a talented group, and it’s a hungry group. I like the team.”
Beck described his first season, in which he faced scrutiny from fans, media and one of his players after that loss to the Spartans, as a “learning curve” and an “adjustment.” OSU’s offense had hummed so well in 2014 under the direction of Tom Herman, who became Houston’s coach, that Beck’s task wasn’t really to change anything. Rather, he was to keep the Buckeyes rolling, while also picking a starting quarterback from among three high-profile, well-liked options.
“It was a lot more fame for those guys in particular,” Beck said. “They were a bunch of Taylor Martinezes. Taylor could barely go to class.
“That’s how it was with all these guys. Every day, all the time. And they were all uniquely different personalities, too, so you couldn’t coach them the same way.”
Beck had pursued Barrett in high school to sign with Nebraska, and Barrett was the 2014 Big Ten player of the year, amassing 45 total touchdowns. But he broke an ankle just before that year’s Big Ten title game.
Jones delivered OSU the national title with wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. Miller sat out all of 2014 with a shoulder injury and chose to return to Ohio State instead of transferring.
Miller voluntarily moved to wideout, the position he’ll play in the NFL. That left Jones and Barrett, who “pressed” too much in fall camp, Beck said.
“I think he tried to play at the level he was playing at when he got injured, and he wasn’t ready for that, so he pressed even more,” Beck said. “He wasn’t playing like I thought he could play.”
Jones got the nod to start in the season opener at Virginia Tech. Barrett played a lot, too.
As Jones struggled in wins over Northern Illinois and Indiana — and Barrett busted off big runs in subsequent wins over Maryland and Penn State — Barrett won the starting job and played well against Rutgers. He was then suspended for a game after being arrested for operating a motor vehicle while impaired.
That all preceded the loss to Michigan State, in which Ohio State ran 45 plays for 132 yards. Twelve of those plays were carries by OSU All-America running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott had spent time in the hospital during the week with a staph infection. But after the game, he told reporters he deserved more carries.
“I can’t speak for the playcaller,” he said. “I don’t know what was going on.”
Beck said he didn’t do a good enough job.
“I didn’t call a good game,” he said. “We didn’t keep the ball long enough. We needed to be better. But Michigan State did a nice job. Give them credit. And the conditions weren’t great.
“We struggled throwing the ball. I felt like we had enough intangibles — playing at home, great defense, great kicking game — that the thinking was, ‘Don’t screw it up, don’t turn it over and we’ll find a way to win.’ And in the end, they found a way to win.”
The Buckeyes paired Beck and co-coordinator Ed Warinner in the press box for the final two games of the year — at Michigan and the Fiesta Bowl vs. Notre Dame. Beck said the system, with Barrett running the show, was much smoother.
One of the highlights of the year, Beck said, was learning from Meyer, who has won three national titles in the last decade at two schools.
“He’s really pushed me and developed me to be the best — to be innovative and find new ways and be creative,” Beck said. “When you coach for a long time, sometimes you get stale. Your ideas of coaching, your methods of recruiting. Because you’ve had success when you get the Jamal Turners, the Rex Burkheads and the Tommy Armstrongs. You say, ‘Well, I’m doing a good job recruiting.’ But are you?
“There’s other things you can learn. That’s what I’ve taken away from Coach Meyer. This has been awesome — learning how to handle staff and little details.”
Meyer has full command of OSU’s program, Beck said, and a supportive athletic director in Gene Smith.
“Everybody’s on the same page — and I’m talking about everybody,” Beck said. “The janitors all the way up. When you have all that in unison — all that in alignment — that’s part of the winning process. Coach Meyer can manage people. Motivates ’em. All people. Coaches, food service, travel people.”
Beck caught only “odds and ends” of Nebraska’s 2015 season. He recruited most of the Huskers’ offense and worked closely with Armstrong through several seasons.
“I could only imagine what they had to go through from my system to the new system,” Beck said. “It’s a big change, because they huddled. More verbalization from Tommy to teammates. Motions. Shifting. A lot more of that.”
Nebraska visits Ohio State on Nov. 5. Beck will be calling plays for the Buckeyes, but he’ll know just about every Husker, too.
“There’s certain guys on that team, guys like Tommy and Jordan Westerkamp, that I spent a lot of time with, and to see them will be good. But I’ve got a job to do, and I love these guys here, too. It’ll be quite a matchup. It’ll be a great atmosphere. Night games in Columbus are really something.”