Huskers take aim at turnover problem

LINCOLN, Neb. -- There was really only one surefire way to stop the Nebraska offense last year: wait for the Huskers to stop themselves.

You usually didn't have to wait too long. Only one team in the FBS, Idaho, turned the ball over more than Nebraska, which gave it away 35 times in 2012. The Huskers' 22 lost fumbles were the most in the country.

You couldn't quite call them unforced errors -- there was a defense out there making plays, after all -- but the team's coaches and players believe a lack of focus played a key role in poor ball security. They're trying to change that this spring.

"It's being stressed all the time," head coach Bo Pelini said. "Guys are fully aware of it."

To reinforce the importance, coaches demand that the entire offensive unit perform a series of up-downs every time the ball hits the turf. If the first-stringers commit a turnover, for example, even the players who are not on the field as part of the current package have to do the punishment. The hope is that the process builds accountability from everyone.

"The coaches yell at us, and the other players and the senior leaders don't like it, either," running back Imani Cross said. "We know that we were putting ourselves in bad situations with those turnovers."

Another difference this spring is that each mistake is gone over on the field after it happens, rather than waiting for film sessions and meetings the next day.

"If we have a turnover or a penalty, we immediately say, 'Hey, why did this happen?' and we try to correct it right there," receiver Jamal Turner said.

Who knows if the approach will lead to fewer turnovers? But if it does, the offensive possibilities are seemingly limitless.

Despite all the miscues in 2012, Nebraska still averaged nearly 35 points and more than 460 yards per game. And the Huskers bring just about everybody back from that side of the ball, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, 1,000-yard back Ameer Abdullah and their three top receivers. Even with Rex Burkhead gone, the offense returns 74 percent of its rushing production a year ago, and Cross is expected to play a much larger role.

Remember, this is a team that put up 31 points and 443 yards against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl while turning it over three times. Alabama scored 32 points against that same Bulldogs team.

"That just shows that our offense can play with anybody in the country," Martinez said.

Especially if it can quit hurting itself. Turnovers can sometimes be fluky, and there's no real way of predicting them before a season. But Nebraska hopes that better decision-making from Martinez and greater concentration on ball security can solve the problem.

"At the end of day, one's too many," Pelini said. "You never know when one can creep up and beat you."