January 5, 2012

Offense hoping to build on learning experience

While the ending of the 2011 season was certainly one to forget for Nebraska's offense, the Huskers are confident the future will hold much better things to come.

With eight of its 11 offensive starters from Monday's Capital One Bowl returning for the second year under offensive coordinator Tim Beck, experience and familiarity will finally be on Nebraska's side next season.

As hard as the 30-13 loss to South Carolina was to swallow, the Huskers couldn't help but be excited for their offensive potential in 2012.

"Next year, if we don't play for the national championship, I'll probably be pretty disappointed," said sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez, who will enter next season with already two seasons of starting experience under his belt.

Martinez was just one of 13 freshmen and sophomores to either start or see solid playing time on the Huskers' offense this season, including four starters on the bowl game roster.

Though all of that youth and inexperience definitely came with plenty of learning curve bumps over the course of the year, the underclassmen who were able to get a jump start on their collegiate careers say the experience was invaluable.

"I'm very confident in the unit we've got coming back next year,'" redshirt freshman wide receiver Kenny Bell said. "We return a lot of guys, and it's going to be a solid year next year. We're definitely looking to win the Big Ten next year. It's going to be a long road for us; we know that. With the schedule we have, we play some great teams, but there's no reason in my mind why we shouldn't be able to get it done."

Part of the reason so many young players were able to see the field this season was due to the fact that every player came into the year essentially on the same level in learning Beck's offense.

While the veteran players had to adjust from the old offensive scheme, NU's true and redshirt freshmen started the season with a clean slate.

"Not really being a part of the system last year (as a member of the scout team), it's easier to learn a new system because either way the system would've been new for the new guys," Bell said.

Not only did Nebraska's young offensive players get a chance to learn how to play the collegiate level, they were almost entirely responsible for driving the Huskers' offense this season.

Obviously junior running back Rex Burkhead - who will also be back in 2012 - was the heart and soul of NU's offensive attack, but sophomores and true and redshirt freshmen accounted for more than 90 percent of the Huskers' total yardage.

Next season, Nebraska will return its top-seven leading rushers, eight of its top-nine leading receivers and all five quarterbacks on its roster. On the offensive line, the Huskers will feature a player with starting experience at every position but center, with the one glaring hole to fill coming in replacing senior Mike Caputo.

This past year required a lot of adjusting and adapting for both Nebraska's players and coaches, as along with several additions and changes to the coaching staff before the season, the Huskers also went through the rare challenge of playing an entire schedule of unfamiliar opponents as first-year members of the Big Ten Conference.

Now with a full season for things to settle in and a foundation laid down to build upon, Nebraska's offense is hoping to only continue to grow next season and for years to come.

"A lot of new's," Beck said when asked to sum up this season for his offense. "Everyone knows the new conference, our new staff working together in a new system, a lot of young players we played on offense. It was a great learning experience for them. We have a lot to build on. I think we had five seniors in our two-deep. Out of our 22, we've got 17 of those guys coming back. That's a great building block."

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