Bo Pelini needs to decide between two things: Does he want to run the offense that Tim Beck brings to the table, or does he want to run the offense that Taylor Martinez brings to the table?
Beck, a three-year running backs coach for Nebraska, was promoted to offensive coordinator this season after Shawn Watson was let go. His previous stint was at Kansas as the wide receiver coach and the passing game coordinator. So, he has an obvious affinity for passing the ball. Martinez has already passed for half of his total passing yards of last season and half the attempts. He seems to forget that he has a running back and a running quarterback half the time.
Martinez's true threat is on the ground. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it. He is a runner first, passer second. He is truly the best passing when he rolls out of the pocket on an option pass, drawing the defenders in, then hitting the open man. When he is forced to throw on first, second and third down in the pocket, he airs it out and hopes a receiver gets it. Defenders have to respect his ability to run. If its third-and-long, they are going to sit back have a linebacker spy him and wait for him to throw or try to make the first himself.
So, what does Pelini want? Does he want the passing game that his childhood friend brings, or does he want the run-first game that Martinez brings?
During the Wisconsin game, there were so many times were I questioned the playcalling. Why did Nebraska give up on its strength, Its bread and butter, the run game? Why was Rex Burkhead only used during the fourth quarter when the game was over? Why wasn't Martinez allowed to run the zone read?
Don't get me wrong, Nebraska has some young, talented receivers. They can burn the defense deep and have elusiveness and strength to get extra yards. Jamal Turner is a playmaker. He could be the best receiver since Nate Swift, or when Niles Paul was having a good day. Turner and Kenny Bell have both supplanted former starters Tim Marlowe and Brandon Kinnie on the depth chart. It does not really matter, though, if you can't get the ball to them.
Nebraska was able to utilize the short-passing game effectively, and that works with Martinez's throwing style. However, the Huskers cannot rely on Martinez to air it out downfield without a running back getting yards. That has only worked once (last year against Oklahoma State).
Burkhead might be one of the best running backs to come to Nebraska in recent history. He is beloved by the fans. When the players are announced, he gets the loudest ovation. Why? Because he is great at what he does. He plays with the same intensity throughout the entire game. He should be getting the ball way more often—he can kill teams on the ground, setting up the passing game, and needs to be used as such.
We Huskers fans definitely have a love/hate relationship with Martinez. One game we think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The next game we are wondering what in the world the coaches and him were thinking. He's a young kid,and most quarterbacks do go through the sophomore slump, but he is being misused by the coaches and forced to make plays. I am sure if he plays great against Ohio State, most will forget about the game against Wisconsin.
However, Pelini needs to make a choice. Does he want a run-first offense or does he want a pass-first offense?
He needs to choose, and this is a choice that will affect everything Nebraska does, from playcalling to recruiting.
Nebraska's future depends on his choice.