Following Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, Bo Pelini said Nebraska needed to do some “soul searching.” On Monday, part of that process played out in front of the media during a 45-minute press conference where Pelini calmly and openly answered many of the questions swirling around Husker Nation at the moment.
Like, what’s the state of the program right now?
“The state of our program isn’t any different today than it was a week ago,” Pelini said. “Until we win them all, I’m not going to be satisfied. That’s what I’m looking to do and that’s what I’m working towards. That’s what the expectation is and that’s what the expectation should be.”
And did this team simply underestimate Minnesota?
“We talked all week about having a sense or urgency heading into that game,” Pelini said. “I thought, especially after the week they had before (beating Northwestern), that we’d be walking into a hornets’ nest walking into that game. I knew that and obviously I don’t think our guys shared that appreciation I had going into that game because we didn’t play like that. That was probably the most disappointing to me.”
And was he happy with an offensive game plan that saw the Huskers throw it as many times (30) as they ran it?
“When somebody loads the box the way they did, plays the way they do, you gotta be able to take advantage of it in the passing game. We had opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. We had some drops, a couple underthrown balls, some opportunities that could’ve been some big plays that we missed. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the plan,” Pelini said.
But the answer that’s likely to occupy a lot of Huskers fans’ minds over the next few days was Pelini’s response to a question about what differences he sees from the up-and-down Nebraska teams of recent years and the unquestionably successful teams — LSU, Oklahoma, the 49ers — he was a part of before taking the job in Lincoln.
“I think there’s more offense out there to deal with, the play that you’re playing against,” he said. “I’ve found it to be the case over the years (that guys) don’t have the – how do you put it? – natural football instincts, the football common sense, coming in that they used to maybe. Things that you would think are second nature aren’t necessarily second nature to them any more. Why that is, I’m not sure.”
Not coincidentally, Pelini also said that’s Nebraska’s biggest source of defensive struggles at the moment is exactly what those multiple offenses ask a defense to — adapt on the fly.
“When somebody gives us something a little bit different than what they’ve showed on film, our ability to understand what’s happening and take the adjustments and apply them, at times our guys struggle with that.
“I told our coaches, ‘you’ve gotta get to the point where your guys aren’t trying to memorize things, but (they) truly understand what the concepts are.’ So when something happens that’s a little bit different, they’re able to react the right way.
Nebraska will try to solve that problem with a shake-up at linebacker this week, the group that Pelini said is probably the biggest concern. It’s likely that redshirt freshman Michael Rose and true freshman Josh Banderas will see more time at middle linebacker this week, while David Santos — the MIKE for the past few games — could return to WILL linebacker, the position he played last year.
“Overall our communication, or ability to adjust during the game, that’s an important sport where we have to make sure we’re able to take all of the things that are happening around us, to communicate, to get everyone on the same page,” Pelini said. “Believe me, I’m not putting this on David Santos by any means. I maybe think that’s not his strength. From my standpoint, from our coaches’ standpoint, you don’t want to take a square peg and try to pound it into a round hole.”
Some other notes from Monday’s marathon:
–What’s wrong with Taylor Martinez? Pelini said he didn’t know exactly. He isn’t dealing with turf toe, and the second and third toe on his injured foot aren’t broken. They’re sprained. No word on the shoulder, which Martinez said he injured against Wyoming either, but we do know this: The senior quarterback suffered a hip pointer during the Minnesota game and sat out Sunday’s practice.
If the Huskers played today, Tommy Armstrong would start and Ron Kellogg III would fill in Pelini said. He added that he asked Martinez, both during the week and on the sidelines after suffering the hip pointer, if he was healthy enough to play. He told Martinez “it’s OK to say no,” but he got a yes.
“I don’t know how he’s feeling. If he looks me in the eye and says ‘yes, I’m ready to go,’ then at some point I felt like we had to give him the opportunity to get back out there and play,” Pelini said.
But he also said he might take more control over Martinez’s status this week.
“I’m not going to sit here and play this game all year long,” Pelini said. “Tommy was the starter (at practice) yesterday and that’s how it’s going to be until further notice.”
–Elsewhere on the injury front, wide receiver Jamal Turner is dealing with a lower calf injury and didn’t practice Sunday. Neither did tight end Jake Cotton (hamstring). Both are day-to-day.
–Tackle Jeremiah Sirles addressed the relatively recent and unsavory phenomenon of fans attacking players on social media sites after a loss.
“My Twitter mentions after the game were probably 99 percent positive,” he said. “And then you have those one or two people that sit at home in their basement on the couch and think that they’re the best football coach in America and they tweet you things (where) they have no idea what they’re talking about. You just gotta ignore those people.”
Pelini shared many of Sirles same sentiments, saying that “99 percent” of Husker fans are supportive.
–And, finally, read what you want into this quote from wide receiver in Quincy Enunwa on the Huskers’ drops on Saturday.
“We expect to catch every ball obviously. There are going to be tough catches that we should make but at the same time there’s going to be tough passes that the quarterback should make as well,” he said.
When asked if he felt Martinez was rusty coming off his injury, Enunwa declined to answer.