A comeback two years in the making

When Nebraska got the ball back for the final time against Michigan State on Saturday, the Huskers had 80 yards to go and 80 seconds to do it. There was some symbolism in those numbers coach Bo Pelini said at Monday’s press conference.

“It was ironic when I looked up and there was 1:20 on the clock,” Pelini said. “The first couple times we do (the two-minute drill in practice) that’s about what we give them. Sometimes we give them one timeout, two timeouts, sometimes no timeouts. We’ve been in that situation and we’ve been able to execute.”

The seeds for Saturday’s comeback, and the rally against Northwestern two weeks earlier, were sown nearly two full years ago when Pelini promoted Tim Beck to offensive coordinator in February of 2011. Beck and Pelini, a pair of Youngstown natives, quickly came to an agreement on one key part of the offense going forward — pace was going to be part of it.

“What I thought was important to do was change tempos when we want to change tempos and not be locked in to doing anything one way all the time,” Pelini said of his input into Nebraska’s current offense. “I know how that affects you defensively and I thought that was important offensively.”

It took a year for the Huskers to get up to full speed, but in year two under Beck the results speak for themselves. Nebraska ranks first in the Big Ten in both rushing and total offense and second in scoring offense, despite ranking eighth in average time of possession. The Huskers are, literally, a “point a minute” squad, averaging 1.26 points per minute and 16.2 yards.

It’s been a key development as Nebraska has successfully rallied from double-digit deficits in the second half three times this season. It gave Pelini plenty of confidence when facing the 80 yards in 80 seconds situation on Saturday.

“When we were a slower paced offense and made a lot of audibles and was kind of using the kill game, we weren’t quite as prepared to handle situations like that because we weren’t used to going fast,” Pelini said. “Now, we’re up on the line a lot. Our signaling happens a lot easier. You’re able to get a lot more plays accomplished in a shorter amount of time without jumping through a lot of hoops.”

The Huskers have two improbable comebacks to show for the switch.

Some other notes from Monday’s press conference:

–Get ready, turnovers are going to be a hot topic again this week. Penn State (plus-nine) is tops in the Big Ten in turnover margin, Nebraska (minus-nine) is last. It’s a trend that’s been apparent for a while now, but Pelini gave perhaps his most in-depth answer on the subject on Monday.

“I think it’s the number one thing that equates to winning and losing,” Pelini said of turnover margin. “We’ve been able to overcome that a few times.

“We talk about it every week, turnover margin and penalties, winning those two areas, and getting your explosion on offense and limiting your explosion on defense. I’ve studied a lot of football and been around a lot of football for a lot of years and those are two things that highly equate to winning and losing. We’ve been fortunate to overcome that in the last couple of weeks but the percentages show you’re not going to be able to overcome that a lot.”

–Senior cornerback Antonio Bell is no longer on the team after what Pelini called a “violation of team rules.” Bell had a blow-up with Pelini, caught on television, on the sidelines during the Northwestern game following a penalty and did not dress for either the Michigan or Michigan State games.

–Tim Marlowe will get a day off from practice Monday after getting dinged up against Michigan State but Pelini expects him to be available on Saturday. Running back Rex Burkhead, who has sat out Nebraska’s last two games, remains day-to-day.

–Senior safety P.J. Smith took a massive hit from Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell late in Saturday’s game. The buzz among the players was that the play led to a lot of ribbing of Smith over the past two days.

“I made a joke in the locker room this morning that (P.J.’s) dad took his jersey off in the stands once he got run over like that,” senior linebacker Alonzo Whaley said. “He hasn’t heard the end of it. But, like I told him, it’s a part of the game. (Bell’s) a big physical back. It happens to the best of us.”

Smith’s response?

“I got him on the ground.”