In the 30-13 Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina, Nebraska was up 13-9 and driving for another score when Ameer Abdullah fumbled at the Gamecocks 7. Martinez was intercepted at the South Carolina 26 on the next series, leading to the end-of-the-half desperation heave that gave the Gamecocks the lead.
Tight end Kyler Reed said he doesn’t mind entering this season as an underdog.
“We know to get to the top we have to take care of ourselves,” he said. “Less turnovers, less penalties. We had a lot of those last year, and those really killed us in our big games. We have to take care of ourselves. If we do that, we believe we have a chance to be at the top.”
Beck’s priority on offense is to be more balanced. The Huskers ran two-thirds of the time last season, and their passing game ranked 104th.
Martinez, who has run for more than 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns the past two years, worked in the offseason to correct a throwing motion that often has him chucking the ball off his back foot. A 57 percent career passer, he said his goal is 70 percent _ a mark achieved in 2011 by only eight quarterbacks who had a minimum of 15 attempts a game.
He will largely target Bell, the second freshman to lead the Huskers in receiving. He had 26 of his 32 catches, 331 of his 461 receiving yards and two of his three touchdowns in the last eight games. And when Martinez hands off, most carries will be by Burkhead, the most productive Nebraska running back since 1997. He scored 17 touchdowns, and his 104.4 yards per game ranked third in the Big Ten.
The offensive line lost three starters and sustained a blow the first week of practice when projected No. 1 left tackle Tyler Moore quit for what Pelini said were personal reasons.
The defense, seventh in the Big Ten and 37th nationally, endured a run of injuries on the line and struggled at times against the run.
Tight end Ben Cotton said last season’s disappointments have given him and his teammates new resolve.
“The transformation that we’ve had as a team these last seven months _ the amount that we’ve grown, not only football-wise, but getting these guys together for a greater purpose _ there’s no individual minds thinking about themselves,” Cotton said. “We’re focused on one thing, and that’s getting that ring.”
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