October 29, 2009

Thursday notebook: Huskers keeping perspective

In the wake of two straight tough home losses, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said the goals and expectations for his team have only slightly changed.

Even though many fans and media were quick to throw in the towel following last week's gut wrenching, turnover-filled loss to Iowa State, Pelini said he and his players have maintained level heads the past week of practice.

"I'm no different than I was two weeks ago," Pelini said on Thursday. "It's about getting this football team ready to play and getting better. I don't ride the roller coaster that other people do.

"I have a pretty good feel about where this football team is and where it needs to be. I just focus on getting this football team where it needs to be."

As for his players, Pelini said the Huskers have been able to keep their heads up and stay focused on the task at hand. However, he didn't try to lessen the importance of getting a win on the road this week.

At 1-2 in Big 12 Conference play, Nebraska is currently in a three-way tie for third place in the North Division standings.

With the way the season has gone thus far, though, no team appears safe from the unexpected upset. That means as long as the Huskers can get back in the winning track, there's no reason they can't get back atop of the division and play for a Big 12 championship.

"We need to win. Period," Pelini said. "Our team psyche is fine. Obviously they're hurt. These guys take it hard. They want to win football games. That's part of the deal, but you have to earn it on Saturday. That's our job in front of us on Saturday. We need to play our best football, we need to get after this team and go get a win. Then we'll worry about the next one.

"The psyche and all those things - bottom line is you got to find your focus and take that field with the right attitude and be ready to get after it and play our type of football."

Thursday's practice takes
Who's No. 2 behind Helu? Despite freshman Dontrayevous Robinson's nice debut in place of junior Roy Helu last week, head coach Bo Pelini said he once again expected Nebraska's No. 2 running back spot to be handled by committee on Saturday. Along with Robinson, Pelini Austin Jones and Lester Ward could also be in the mix. "You're going to see a rotation, but Tray had a good week of practice," Pelini said. "I thought AJ had a good week of practice, and Lester did some good things. We have a lot of options there."
Questionable strategy: One thing Pelini said has been the toughest aspect to prepare for in Baylor's offense was the way the Bears wait until late on the play clock to sub in players for different offensive packages. By waiting as long as they do, defenses have to scramble to get the right personnel on the field to prevent any mismatches. Pelini said sometimes officiating crews handle the strategy differently than others, making offenses sub faster to give the defense a chance to respond in time. "To be honest with you, that's hard to simulate in practice," Pelini said. "That's something we know and we're prepared for, but it's something that you talk about and get ready for, but until you actually see it live, it's difficult."
Injury update: Senior wide receiver Chris Brooks (back) will not travel with the team this weekend to Baylor, as he's missed or been limited in the past 10 practices. Pelini also said Helu has felt better than he has the past two weeks after injuring both of his shoulders, and he wore a regular practice jersey instead of a green no-contact jersey. Sophomore cornerback Alfonzo Dennard practiced and wore a green jersey as well.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team held a two-hour full-padded practice inside the Hawks indoor facility on Thursday. The Huskers will conduct a short walk-thru practice on Friday before flying down to Waco, Texas for Saturday's 11:30 a.m. kickoff.

No QB announcement yet

Just like last week, Pelini said it would be a game-time decision as to who would be Nebraska's starting quarterback on Saturday.

For the second week in a row, it has been an open competition for the job between junior Zac Lee and freshman Cody Green. Though Lee has struggled the past three games, the coaches have been unwilling to say Green has claimed the spot, or even if they planned on giving him a few series to show what he could do.

When asked whether Lee would be the starter on Saturday, Pelini was again as vague as possible in his answer.

"We'll find out about that on Saturday, won't we?" Pelini said. "I don't announce that. We've got to evaluate the tape and make sure. We'll see how it goes."

Bears make stopping run top priority

Even though Baylor actually hasn't been able to stop anyone from running the football this season, that doesn't mean it isn't trying everything in its power to do it.

Through seven games, Baylor ranks 100th nationally and dead last in the Big 12 in rushing defense, allowing an average of nearly 185 yards per game. Still, Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the Bears revolve their defense around stopping the run.

"They really play a scheme of defense that's a little unordinary in that they have a lot of people devoted to the run game," Watson said. "You have to really pound your runs out. A passing game is something that's obviously a weakness of that (defense), and you've got to execute the running game."

Watson said one of his good friends coached with Baylor defensive coordinator Brian Norwood when Norwood was an assistant at Penn State. As a result, Watson said he was very familiar with Norwood's intentions of making offenses become one-dimensional.

Asked if the Bears like to load up the box with eight or even nine players, Watson's response said it all.

"Oh my God. All the time," Watson said. "That's with intention. They've done a nice job. I think their scheme is really nice. Scheme-wise, they do some good stuff. They give some things up, but you've got to be willing to take those things. It's one of those deals."

Bears' Taylor will be huge test for NU line

At 6 feet, 4 inches and 355 pounds, Baylor junior defensive tackle Phil Taylor is a very large man. Not only that, he's also a pretty good football player.

Needless to say, Taylor will present a challenge for Nebraska's offensive line that it has never seen before.

"Off the top of my head, I don't know if we have," offensive line coach Barney Cotton said of whether NU's line has faced a player a large as Taylor. "Generally when you play four-man defensive lines, the two inside guys are going to be large guys . Some teams have bigger guys than others, but you're always going to go up against big guys inside."

A transfer from Penn State, Taylor sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules and now has two years of eligibility with Baylor. Taylor has played well in his first season with the Bears, but he hasn't quite lived up to the high expectations that had him as a first-team all-conference selection and the Big 12 Conference Preseason Newcomer of the Year.

Part of his slow start is due to him being dinged up the past two weeks with turf toe. Still, he's expected to play against the Huskers on Saturday, and even though he presents a completely unique challenge, the offensive line isn't planning on doing anything special to account for him.

"We've got to block him just like anybody else," Cotton said. "He's a large human being, but he's going to be picked up in any blocking scheme we have."

Caputo continues to impress

After getting the most significant playing time of his young Nebraska career, sophomore center Mike Caputo further established himself as a more-than-capable backup to senior Jacob Hickman.

Though he didn't start the game, Caputo played nearly the entire game when Hickman went out with an injury. Obviously the outcome wasn't what he had hoped for, but the Huskers' offensive line did manage to move the ball effectively - before turning it over, of course.

Cotton said he was pleased with Caputo's performance, but it was by no means a surprise.

"That's the way he practices and that's the way he played in the earlier games and that's the way he played last year," Cotton said. "He has high expectations for himself, and we have for him. We don't expect any drop off when he goes in."

Hickman has practiced the entire week and is expected to start once again when the Huskers travel to Baylor on Saturday. However, Caputo might have earned himself a few more reps with his performance last week.

"We just kind of see how things go. Caputo's a guy we consider kind of a sixth starter, but that's just kind of feel, game-by-game thing. We generally don't enter the game with a set rotation."

Quick hits

***With senior wide receiver Chris Brooks not expected to travel with the team to Baylor, Pelini said the team would add another receiver to its travel roster in place of Brooks. However, he did not say who the replacement would be.

***Speaking of injuries, junior running back Roy Helu has apparently felt better this week than he has the past two weeks after suffering from two separate shoulder injuries.

"He's better than he's been in a few weeks," Pelini said of Helu. "Yeah, he's ready to go."

***Pelini actually expressed some emotion on Thursday, though it had nothing to do with football. After watching former Cleveland Indians pitcher Cliff Lee throw a complete-game gem for the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series, Pelini said it was a tough pill to swallow knowing Lee had been the Indians' ace only a couple months ago.

"It hurt me, bad," Pelini said. "I texted somebody with the Indians last night and I said, 'Yeah, nice trade.' But that's for another day. It hurt me though. Still hurts me."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!