September 21, 2010

Tuesday notebook: O-line relishing win

In retrospect, Saturday's win over Washington was pretty much an offensive lineman's dream.

Highlighted by an eight-play scoring drive in the second quarter that consisted entirely of runs, Nebraska bullied its way up and down the field seemingly all day against the Huskies' defense.

The way that the Huskers' offensive line was able to basically dominate the line of scrimmage was about as close to perfect as the unit has played in years. That fact certainly hasn't been lost on NU's linemen, either.

"We didn't take our foot off the gas pedal for a second," redshirt freshman Jeremiah Sirles said. "We ran just up the middle, up the middle, and that's so much fun for an offensive line to know you are imposing your will on another person. You are imposing your will as a unit on another person's unit to the point where they can't stop it. That's just so gratifying as a line.

"The running backs were running hard and we were blocking hard, and I think it was just a full team effort to know that we just came out there and just physically dominated that team."

Sirles said the o-line still needed to correct some of the mental mistakes it made before it can declare any sort of a perfect performance, holding himself as guilty as anyone. The offense was called for three penalties during the win, and two of which were false starts by Sirles.

He credited the crowd noise of Husky Stadium as a contributing factor for NU's mistakes early on, but once Nebraska started pounding the football right at Washington's defense, the crowd quieted down and the offense started hitting on all cylinders.

"I think all of us kind of settled in," Sirles said. "It helped that we all played our butts off and took the crowd out of it. I mean, coming into the fourth quarter, we were going on talking snap counts. We were no longer going on silent snap counts."

Going back to that key second quarter drive, junior center Mike Caputo said he could sense Washington's defense was feeling a little overmatched physically by the time the Huskers barreled their way into the end zone.

Knowing that they had pushed the Huskies 48 yards over the course of 3:38 and there was really nothing UW could do about it was a feeling Caputo, Sirles and the rest of Nebraska's o-line will never forget.

"That was tiring, but it was fun," Caputo said. "It was really cool to pretty much tell the defense what we were doing. I think after the third play they knew we were just going to run it right up the middle, and we just kept running it… At the end of that drive I kind of felt them tiring out. I was tired too, but I could tell they were kind of done."

- Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
Six for a 100: Through just three games, Nebraska already has had a player rush for 100 yards or more six times this season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez has led the way, breaking the 100-yard mark in all three games, while running backs Roy Helu (2) and Rex Burkhead (1) added the other three. What makes the stat even more impressive is the fact that the Huskers only had a player run for more than 100 yards five times all of last season and the year before in 2008, and had six in 2007.

Sirles the thespian? You wouldn't guess it by looking at him, but it turns out Nebraska's 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles has quite the passion for the theatrical stage. After tearing his ACL as a junior in high school, Sirles was convinced to give theatre a shot to keep him occupied while he couldn't play sports. It turned out he immediately took to acting, and he was a cast member in his high school's productions of "Guys and Dolls" and "Westside Story". He was a chorus member in Guys and Dolls and played the part of "Diesel" in Westside story. "I was kind of just going crazy sitting at home not doing anything, because I couldn't play sport and that was my life," Sirles said. "That was huge for me. It got me into something and kind of got me focused, because it was really disheartening for me when I tore my ACL. That kind of got me back into doing something, and it was a lot of fun."

Injury report: Junior offensive tackle Marcel Jones (back) sat out of practice again on Tuesday, but senior offensive guard Keith Williams returned to action after sitting out Monday with an undisclosed injury. Redshirt freshman cornerback Andrew Green (knee) also missed Tuesday's session.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced in full pads inside the Hawks Championship Center and on the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. The Huskers will return to action on Wednesday as they continue to prepare for Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff against South Dakota State.

NU not overlooking Jackrabbits

Coming off one of the biggest non-conference road wins in recent memory, it would be somewhat understandable if Nebraska had a tough time getting motivated this week to take on FCS South Dakota State.

That's why head coach Bo Pelini is determined to make sure his team doesn't slip up and suffer the same embarrassment Kansas and Virginia Tech have endured and lose to an FCS team at home.

"There's no doubt, I-AA football is pretty good," Pelini said. "They come and play a I-A opponent, those kids are out to prove that they belong in a I-A program. You have to have respect for the game. I watch it every day at practice. You see guys that aren't on the first and second team that are running scout team that make plays day after day against your starters. They challenge them every single day. You have to be ready to play.

"You have to have respect for the game of football to be at your best every single time you walk out there, or it will creep up and bite you. We've all seen it. There's only one way you have to approach it. No matter who you are playing, each and every week you have to go out there and play your best. That's the challenge that's ahead of us."

Pelini said one of the reasons he's confident his team will be ready to play this weekend is the fact that the Huskers never get too caught up in who they're playing each week. By doing so, he said, it's easier to keep the focus on improving as a team rather than gearing towards a particular opponent.

"We really don't talk much about who we're playing," Pelini said. "We take the philosophy that we have to get ourselves better as a football team every day. You have to challenge them in practice. You have to challenge them with game plans, with really execution and getting better every day. I've always felt that we've had some pretty good success in helping our football team along in dealing with situations like that. Like I said, we talk every day about getting better and earning it, and I think our guys understand that. I saw it in practice yesterday. We had great tempo yesterday."

Considering the momentum Nebraska has already built up the past three weeks, it would be hard to imagine the Huskers stumbling on Saturday and losing their chance to enter their final Big 12 Conference schedule undefeated.

"(Being undefeated) means that we're on track, but we talk about taking each week individually and this is the next one," Pelini said. "If we take care of business then we will be undefeated going into the next step, if we do what we're setting out to do."

- Robin Washut

Sirles looking to make Buffs pay for passing him up

Nebraska's final post-Thanksgiving showdown with Colorado is still more than two months away, but at least one Husker is already counting the days until the Buffaloes come to town.

Sirles, a native of Lakewood, Colo., grew in a family of CU fans and watched the Buffs play every Saturday while he groomed himself into a three-star offensive tackle coming out of high school.

All things considered, Sirles probably should be suiting up in black and gold this season. The problem was, however, Colorado never offered him a scholarship.

As a result, Sirles ended up choosing Nebraska over the likes of Oregon and Arizona State, and he's now NU's starting left tackle as redshirt freshman.

"Definitely going back home, people were like, 'whoa, traitor,'" Sirles said. "I never got an offer from CU. I would've looked at them, but I'm very happy with where I'm at now. It's all about Nebraska now. It's all about bringing us back to the top where we belong."

Sirles said many of his family and friends are already planning a trip for when Colorado comes to Lincoln on Nov. 26, and Sirles is going to do his best to get as many of them tickets as he can. Well, as long as they abide by his rules, that is.

"Ten of my 15 cousins have all graduated from CU, so I come from a heavy family of CU grads," Sirles said. "They're all very, very supportive, but they're all going to come out to the game this year and I told them they're not allowed to sit in the stands unless they wear red. So we'll see how that goes."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***While Niles Paul was supposed to be Nebraska's big threat in the kickoff return game on Saturday, Brandon Kinnie ended up stealing the show with two returns for an average of 37.5 yards, including a 39-yard return that set up NU's crucial second quarter touchdown.

Before Saturday, Kinnie had returned just one kick in his entire career at Nebraska. However, he said it was his experience as a kick returner at Fort Scott (Kan.) that made the Husker coaches decided to approach him at the end of fall camp about returning some kicks this season.

***Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said he's been pleased with the progress of his linebackers over the course of the past three weeks, saying the unit has improved every single day since the start of fall camp.

"I'm not satisfied by any means, they're still making a lot of mistakes, but those mistakes are lessening as they go," Pelini said. "I'd like to see them make a huge jump this week, and obviously with some extra time with the bye week prior to Kansas State, lock it in completely. We're pressuring those guys every day, giving them real difficult situations and making them make good adjustments. They're getting better, I'm just never going to be satisfied until they're perfect."

***Carl Pelini was asked about the physical tools junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard possesses, and he compared Dennard as a younger version of fellow corner Prince Amukamara.

"He's a special guy, he really is," Pelini said. "What I like about him is he's an intense son of gun. He's very physical, uses his body well, but he's got tremendous athleticism too. He can jump out of the gym. He's just so fast out of his breaks, he really shocks quarterbacks with the way he drives on the football, and he'll get inside on a route when the quarterback thinks there's no way he's going to get inside on it. He works on it every day. He's a special kid. He's got a work ethic that's out of this world."

***Though it may not show much on the scoreboard, Carl Pelini said Washington was very well prepared for Nebraska's defense coming into the game, and that the Huskers had to make several in-game adjustments to counter the Huskies' strategy.

"I thought Washington had a good game plan for us, I really did," Pelini said. "I think (Steve Sarkisian) is a really good coach. He created some really difficult situations for us, and we were forced to adjust to them on the fly."

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