September 7, 2009

Starting DBs hold their own in season opener

Though Nebraska's defensive backs may have been the most highly contested and competitive positions this offseason, head coach Bo Pelini seemed pretty comfortable with his starting secondary on Saturday.

Despite jumping out to a big early lead over Florida Atlantic, Pelini opted not to sub his defensive backs as much as many expected him to heading into the game. In fact, it wasn't until some time in the third quarter that the Huskers actually started rotating their DBs in frequently.

During the Big 12 coaches' teleconference on Monday, Pelini said he didn't sub much early because he felt good about how his starting secondary - cornerbacks Anthony West and Prince Amukamara and safeties Matt O'Hanlon and Larry Asante - was playing against the Owls' passing game.

"It's just a feel thing," Pelini said. "It's how we sub. We got a number of guys in there as the game went on. We're not going to sub (just) to sub. When things are going good, you feel guys are in a rhythm; you don't want to change it up too much. Especially in the back end."

While he was comfortable with his starters for the majority of the first half, Pelini said that doesn't mean that's how he plans to rotate his secondary the rest of the season.

"It's a feel thing," he said. "It's going to be a game to game thing, depending on what we've got going."

In evaluating the overall play of his defensive backs, Pelini touched on the play of O'Hanlon, who won a close battle with senior Rickey Thenarse for the starting job at free safety.

The senior from Bellevue, Neb., ended the night with five tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. He even had another interception in first half that was negated on a roughing the passer penalty.

While Pelini said he thought O'Hanlon played well, he said there was still plenty he needed to work on before he locks up the starting spot for the rest of the season.

"I thought Matt played well at times," Pelini said. "I think he made some mistakes and did some things that I hadn't seen during camp. There are just a couple things that he needs to make sure that he cleans up, but I thought overall he played good. He played hard. I thought he made some plays, and that was good to see."

Quick hits

***Pelini said junior left guard Keith Williams, who sat out on Saturday after missing nearly the entire past week of practice, would likely return to practice this week, though it might not be until Tuesday or later.

"Depends on how he feels," Pelini said. "He's pretty close. We might hold him today and put him out there tomorrow, we're not sure yet. It kind of depends on how he feels. He's doing a lot better. That remains to be seen."

***Pelini he was happy with the effort his young linebackers showed in their first games as Huskers. Though it wasn't perfect, he said it was an overall solid performance for their first action.

"I didn't get exactly what I want out of the position, but I thought they did a lot of good things," Pelini said. "I mean, they weren't perfect, but I saw some things that I liked, and I saw some things, once again, that we need to get fixed."

In particular, Pelini said he was pleased with the play of redshirt freshman Will Compton, who started his first ever game at MIKE linebacker.

"I thought he did some good things, and I think he has some things that need to get fixed," he said. "But I thought overall for his first start he handled himself very well."

***Pelini gave a positive overall evaluation of his offense, particularly junior quarterback Zac Lee, who also made his first start as a Husker.

"I thought they played well, pretty efficient," Pelini said. "I thought Zac Lee played really well. I thought we started slow. I think we need to increase our tempo early on in the game. That was a bit of an issue for us, but I thought as the game went on we got into a good rhythm. For a first time out, it wasn't bad."

***Pelini said he's already watched some film of Nebraska's upcoming opponent, Arkansas State. The Red Wolves cruised in their season opener, winning 61-0 over Mississippi Valley State.

"They're a good football team," Pelini said. "They're well coached. They do a lot of good things on both sides of the football. I think they're real sound, and they're very athletic. They're a good team.

"They played well. They did a lot of good things. It shows that we're going to have our hands full on Saturday."

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