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A Candid Conversation With Nebraska Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck, Part 1

David McGee

Tim Beck, Nebraska Offensive Coordinator.

He seems like an enigma to many Husker fans. Responses in news conferences are often terse, and he spends little time talking to the media outside of those news conferences. Coach Beck, like most of the Husker coaching staff keeps his business in-house and discusses with the public only what needs to be discussed. Even in this time of social media proliferation, he remains fairly private.

I managed to get Coach Beck to agree to an interview with me.  We have a bit of history as I coached his daughter in club volleyball and have spent time chatting with his wife at those tournaments.  In speaking with him before, during, and after our interview, I found him affable, outgoing, friendly, and often funny. He was more than willing to answer every question I asked and we shared many common ideas when it comes to the coaching and training of young athletes.

What follows is a transcript of our interview. He and I talked for forty-five minutes.I intentionally left in many of the vocalized pauses like, "You know", "Ya know", etc. I really wanted the readers of this piece to see how passionate Coach Beck is about not just the sport, but the kids who play it. I wanted all of you reading this to get a feel of what my conversation with Coach Beck was like.

[Jon J: I decided to break this interview into three parts as it is very long, it's June/July, and you're very bored. Thanks to Keith Mann at the University of Nebraska Athletic Department for granting Ty permission to conduct the interview. Part two is available here. And here's part three.  ]

CornNation (Ty): When you look at your playbook, and the plays that you have as an offensive coordinator, what do you consider your bread and butter type plays?

Tim Beck: Defenses have really changed over the years in college football, just like offenses. Offenses have become fast-paced or "gimmicky" in what they do.  What we call "reading", or we don't block somebody, but we basically react to what the defense does.

Because of that, teams have also become very gimmicky defensively.  So, we're more predicated out of a zone concept where you have area blocking as opposed to man blocking because the men move so much and change so much that there's probably not enough time in the day to go over every single scenario.

So it's kind of like a zone defense in basketball, no matter what offense they run you've got to cover it and then as the game goes on, we make adjustments and could go to some of our man schemes and things like that once we figure out, "What are they really trying to do to us?"

CN: During a game, is there somebody that, if they think you're running too many pass plays consecutively or something like that, is there somebody who steps in and says, "Hey, Coach, we need to stop doing that, or is that left up to you?"

TB: We chart a lot of passes by down and distance. The game offensively is dictated by the reaction of the defense, so you go in with a plan saying this is what we're gonna do.  We're a very unique offense because we run the quarterback as much as we do.  So say we're playing Wisconsin, and the game before us, Wisconsin played Michigan State. Well that's not a real good game to watch because Michigan State never runs their quarterback.  What they're doing to stop Michigan State, they're probably not gonna do the same thing to stop us. A lot of projection goes into, "Okay what could they do, what might they do?" We develop a plan based on that, and then we react off of that plan.

If we find something that's working, and that they're having trouble stopping us we might- I mean- there's been games, I remember Washington the year we beat ‘em, toward the end we got in a formation and we motioned into the boundary, they kept blitzing from the field. I kept running, I ran it thirteen times in a row. They weren't stopping the play so before they could call a timeout and make adjustments, you just keep doing it.

Now, it was their check to that formation, so when we lined up, they were gonna do this, we saw it so this is what we did.  We gained an extra hat, or extra player, over to the side we were gonna run the ball to and we just did. You'd like to be as balanced as you can, but certain situations in the game dictate how you end up calling it and what you end up doing.

CN: What percentage of plays are audibled to another play after the play is put in?

TB: Percentage wise? If we run 80 plays a game, maybe 10 to 12, so whatever that would be out of 80. Our quarterback has reign to be able to do those things. Some I call for at the line, some are automatic things like, "If they line up like this, I want you to do this" type deal.  It's part of the game plan.

CN: They're "built in" kind of audibles.

TB: Sometimes there are, sometimes there aren't. Again, different tempos we have sometimes - we do different things to see how people line up first and so on. And then there's built in audibles.  There's a lot that goes in to it.

CN: Would you say tight ends and fullbacks are becoming obsolete in college football?

TB: Absolutely.  The game's become more athletic.  It's almost basketball on grass.  I think when you- back in the day- if when you think of it, all the way around: concussions.  There are fewer practices. The NFL only has so many days in full pads. It's almost like, "No hitting with the head, no this, no that", no late hit, throw the guy out, protecting the players.

All these things that are developing, don't get me wrong, they're good things, but it shows the game is making a change to becoming less physical.  They're trying to get it to be less physical by the rules and the regulations, again, for safety because guys are bigger, stronger, faster.

So it's turned in to more basketball on grass, and as schematics, if you have four legitimate wide receivers lined up, you have to cover ‘em, so you wanna have no help?  Play what we call Cover Zero and there's nobody helping?

You have seven guys in the box and four guys covering four guys.  You have one guy helping?  You have six guys in the box and play man to man with one guy helping or if you have two guys helping you have five guys in the box.

That's it.  There's nothing else they can do.  So it actually cleans up the picture, and it cleans up what the defense, how they can line up, when that happens, so the more guys you have in there (in the box), the more they can put in there, and the more they can move those guys around.  The more you spread ‘em out, the more they have to spread out to cover them, and the less they can move those guys around and some of those guys can't cover that guy.  You know what I mean?  That's why they game is turning into that more.

CN: What happened to middle screens?  We don't see them as much as we used to.  Is that just another aspect of the game evolving?

TB: Yeah.  A little bit because I think what's happened is these defensive linemen- back in the day, it used to be "Go get the ball"  - that's what the philosophy was.  If you're a defensive player it was kind of a "Sic ‘em" mentality. If a guy blocks you, you get rid of him, and go get the ball.

Now people read linemen, so if a lineman steps like this, you're gonna go over here.  That's why some of this stuff where we're reading defensive linemen, we'll block a certain way because I know if he's reading the guard, and I pull the guard, he's gonna go like this, so I'm gonna pull the guard and I'm gonna go the other way.

That's the crazy offensive type things that are starting to develop over us like some stuff that we do.  We have plays that it's a pass and a run at the same time and we read the guy.  If the guy covers the pass, we hand the ball off and if he doesn't, if he's sitting in there playing the run, then we throw it.  So we have the best of both worlds and he's wrong no matter what he does.  Why?  Because they're reading us, so now we're, in turn, reading them, where in the past, the running back would say, "Oh, it looks like a run, and I'm gonna play the run".  It doesn't work like that any more.

Middle screens are hard because defensive linemen, when they're not blocked, freeze.  They don't rush any more.  If you watch any game where there's a screen, the guy's stopped.  They don't rush cause they're like, "Something's wrong.  I'm just not blocked."  So it's (the middle screen) tough to do.

They're more to the outside because the wide receiver can run a go route and the corner has to guard him cause it looks like pass so when you throw like a swing screen or something outside, to everybody else, it looks like pass.   Even if the linemen stop rushing, so you take your tackle and he releases for the outside screen, the defensive lineman stops.  He has to run all the way to the sideline.  Well, I'll do that.  The middle screens, he's standing there.  They're running right into him.  Make him run to where you're going.

CN: What's it like to call plays and design a game plan for a quarterback who is as polarizing as Taylor Martinez?  Especially when he's not 100% like against Minnesota last season.

TB: Well, to be honest, I know our fanbase won't -  I don't gameplan for them.  I gameplan for our team, and typically what I try to do is I try to find out first of all, what's he good at? I mean what is our guy good at because I want to give him a chance.  It's like a pitcher in baseball.  If he's a great fastball pitcher and you keep calling curveballs, and he's not comfortable with that, chances are he's not going to pitch very good.  You'd better give him things that he likes to do.  It's a pretty simple, cut and dry common sense philosophy.  This is what he's good at.  Here's what we're gonna go and try and do.

Now, with that in mind, boy if we can do this and this because, man, they don't cover the post or, man, they can't play the option, or whatever it is, we gotta try to get that in to the gameplan because they're home runs.  They're big time, they're big time plays that we can get if we can just execute them halfway decent, we got a chance, so those are the wrinkles.

You do what the quarterback can do. You put wrinkles in that say this is devised to stop this or if they blitz we're gonna do this, we gotta throw the post because they're not covering it.  You put those types of things in.

Obviously, when Taylor got hurt, it was hard.  It was tougher.  It was tougher for our whole team.  You have a guy that's started thirty-five straight games, his back-up is either a senior walk-on who really had no valuable playing experience, or a redshirt freshman who, his redshirt year, was hurt who had no valuable experience, so all the work and time in fall camp really went to Taylor.  When he went down, Tommy had to come in in the fourth game and play.  We changed a little bit in mentality offensively.

We gotta change what these guys do cause Taylor can do a lot more, he was more experienced.  We because a little bit different offensively with those guys because they weren't, experienced and it showed.  Tommy had thirteen picks.  That's inexperience.  So, game planning for him, it became hard. It became hard to know when he was playing, when he wasn't.  We weren't really sure all the time and really, it was the same with Sirles, and Qvale, and Pensick, and Spencer Long was out, and Mike Moudy was out, so you develop a gameplan and practice with guys that probably aren't even gonna play in the game.  The guys that are playing aren't practicing and, you've coached some before (this is a reference to my coaching experience, which includes high school, club, and college volleyball), that's usually bad medicine right there, ya know?

CN: It's bad news when that happens.

TB: Yeah, yeah, so like I said, that's why I was kinda proud and pleased with the way we ended the battle towards the end, and I thought the Iowa game, obviously, we weren't very good, and it was tough.  Tough, hard-fought game on the road at Penn State at night, all those guys injured turn around and play on a short week, coming back.  We just didn't recover well and they beat us up front pretty good and we couldn't run the ball and became one-dimensional.  Any team in the country that's one-dimensional will get beat.