Let’s assume Ameer Abdullah will break Mike Rozier’s all-time Nebraska rushing record. Moderately safe assumption.
If Abdullah does it, he’ll be on par with Kenny Bell, who just set the school record for career receptions and is six yards from Johnny Rodgers’ record for receiving yards in a career.
So that’s potentially the all-time rusher and receiver on the same offense. What if I told you one man designed the offense and called the plays for those two record holders?
You’d probably say, “Did Tom Osborne come back to coaching?”
Earlier this week, I told Tim Beck that that someone was him. He was taken aback.
“Wow,” Beck said. “When you’re a kid and you’re playing football and you think about a storied program like Nebraska, you never in your wildest dreams think you’d be part of setting records like that.
“That’s ... pretty cool. But you don’t have time to think about it in the middle of the season.”
No, you don’t. Because ultimately, for an offensive coordinator, individual records don’t matter.
It’s all about the one his team posts at the end of the season.
It’s not about the plays or the defenses called. Some will work, a lot of them won’t. But nobody’s going to remember a game plan. Nobody’s going to tell the story about how you ran the ball 15 straight times.
Unless it was to win a national championship.
It’s not about the critics, the media, the offensive coordinators in every corner of Memorial Stadium and the state. They may grade you, but that’s not the grade that counts.
And it’s certainly not about the money you make. Who cares? If the team wins, the coordinator will get to keep making the big money. If they don’t, he won’t.
Then they’ll bring someone else in and strap him under the microscope.
Beck and NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis have the gigs they wanted, but be careful what you wish for. These are thankless jobs. If the team wins a championship, the head coach gets the credit; the coordinators get a handshake and another paycheck.
Lose enough games, and it’s not the offensive line coach or secondary coach who get jettisoned. The scapegoats are always the coordinators, unless the head coach is loyal, but most head coaches discover that too much loyalty is bad for their job security.
Beck should know that Osborne’s offensive coordinator was heavily criticized, too, but Osborne would never fire himself. Still, Osborne’s play-calling was widely criticized around here, including by this writer. When NU was getting run out of bowl games by Florida State and Miami, Osborne’s penchant to run and run some more was not exactly hailed as cutting edge.
But when the plan worked to the tune of two Cory Schlesinger fourth-quarter touchdowns for a national championship, Osborne’s legacy as genius was secured.
Same thing for an old bear named Charlie McBride, a longtime fan whipping boy until Grant Wistrom, Jason Peter and Mike Minter helped him collect rings. Uncle Charlie went out on top, after the 2000 Fiesta Bowl mugging of Tennessee, and he left as survivor and legend.
Beck and Papuchis aren’t retiring anytime soon. But they may have discovered the secret to longevity.
A little thing called talent.
Beck has never had more of it, with Abdullah, Bell, quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp and freshman De’Mornay Pierson-El as a wild card. The Huskers rank seventh nationally in rushing (293.4) and 14th in total offense (514.8).
It’s developed into a big-play offense, a thing that can score from any spot on the field. The issue at times can be sustaining long drives, because of execution breakdowns. Beck gets criticized for some of that, breaking up momentum in the run game by dialing up an erratic intermediate passing game.
Offensive coordinators are always trying to be smart. Planning ahead. Sometimes they can be too smart. But if NU wins bigger games down the road because Armstrong is working out passing kinks now, we’ll remember Beck was the genius behind it. Or not.
“It’s a chess match,” Beck said. “And sometimes you don’t win on the first move. Sometimes you throw bait out there, see if they bite on it, what’s going to happen. I might be setting up something for three games from now. People don’t know.”
Papuchis, in this third year as defensive coordinator, has never had it so good, either. He’s got rock stars, too. Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen are becoming a force of nature as a defensive line. There are future NFL players here. They’re coming. Fast.
Players like these make a coordinator look good — just ask Uncle Charlie — but Papuchis needs them to keep coming. What’s behind the front line hasn’t been nearly as good or consistent. The rock stars can help their back seven by stopping the run and harassing quarterbacks before they can poke holes with short passes.
Purdue, which scored 31 on Michigan State and 38 on Minnesota, will provide a test today. Then come Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
“They’re getting confident,” Papuchis said of his front four. “I’ve felt as good as I’ve felt in a long time about stopping a two-back running game with the defensive front that we have. It’s a stout group. But we’re going to be tested in the next month.”
Nebraska, 7-1 and 3-1, is ready to make a charge at the Big Ten title, 11 or 12 wins and a big bowl. The coordinators will have a huge say in that. Their job is to put their players in the best position and stay out of the way of victory. In the end, they’ll get one of two grades.
W. Or L.
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