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Husker Fast

How fast can the Nebraska offense go?

“Oregon fast,” was the answer Taylor Martinez gave last year, which drew some laughs. Nobody goes Oregon fast.

In 2011 the Ducks averaged 522.8 yards per game, fourth nationally, and needed less time to do it than anyone else. Oregon was dead last in time of possession, averaging just less than 25 minutes of possession per game. Add those two things up and you can get a measure, an admittedly basic one, of speed in the modern age of college football.

Oregon averaged 20.9 yards per minute last season (total yards divided by total time of possession). Oklahoma State and Houston both topped 20 yards per minute last season and the Cougars were “faster,” but that hasn’t slowed the perception of Oregon as king of the speed freaks.

And here’s why that’s important to Nebraska fans: The Ducks did it while running the ball 62 percent of the time. In 2010, Oregon was at 19 yards per minute with the same 62-38 run-pass split. Sound familiar? The last part should. Nebraska’s stated goal might be a perfectly balanced, 50-50 run-pass offense, but the Huskers are likely a few years away from that. For now, there is perhaps no better analog for what the Nebraska offense should look like under Tim Beck than Oregon – a run-first spread team who likes to pick up the pace.

Nebraska actually was “Oregon fast” last Saturday. The Huskers averaged 19.7 yards per minute against Southern Mississippi and ran the ball 57 percent of the time. It was the best yards per minute average in a single game since Beck took over as offensive coordinator last year. For the 2011 season, Nebraska averaged 13.3 yards per minute. Last Saturday was considerably faster.

Start with the drive that led to Kenny Bell’s 26-yard touchdown reception with 7:07 left in the first quarter. Over the next three drives (30 plays), Nebraska went 179 yards in under 11 minutes, scored two touchdowns and missed a field goal. The longest play during that stretch was a 27-yard pass to Quincy Enunwa. That was Nebraska at its fastest.

But to get a real sense of what it means you have to consider what it looks like for a defense. Taking out penalties or reviews on those three drives, Nebraska took an average of 22.79 seconds, real time, between plays. (The average possession in an NBA game is around 18 seconds to give you a visual.) In those 22 seconds the defense has to a) substitute if it can, b) get the defensive call from the sideline, c) adjust to the Huskers’ new personnel which, at the skill positions, was subbed in and out on almost every play, and d) possibly check to a different coverage based on Nebraska’s formation.

Now consider that it was 90-plus degrees at kickoff and at least 10 degrees hotter on the turf. The effects of a blistering offense are magnified on a blistering day, which, even with a slightly cooler forecast, could come into play at UCLA.

“You saw it a little bit in their linebackers,” running back Braylon Heard said of Nebraska’s fastest stretch. “They started to get a little bit tired.”

On tape it’s even more noticeable. Hands on knees, heads down. As nice as Tracey Lampley’s 100-yard kickoff return was, it put the Eagles defense right back on the field and they were drained.

That’s why tempo was the buzzword last fall as Nebraska fans waited for Beck to unveil his new offense. The Huskers went fast at times last year but Saturday represented a new gear.

Can they keep it up? That’s the question. In non-conference games last year Nebraska averaged 15.96 yards per minute. In Big Ten play that number dropped to 12.24 yards per minute. But everyone, from staff to players, is more comfortable in year two of this offense.

The pieces seem to be in place for Nebraska to make pace a real part of their offense. Judging from Saturday – even with the knowledge that it’s “only one game” – it would be foolish not to.