Familiarity Breeds Respect
You won’t hear that word a whole lot this week — at least not publicly — as Nebraska prepares to face UCLA, the team that put up a whole lot of yards in a very close win over the Huskers last season.
At his regular Monday press conference, head coach Bo Pelini said last year’s loss wouldn’t change how he prepared for this year’s game and the players that followed at the podium did a good job of holding the company line.
“All the losses are kind of sticking points, especially when you want to win them all,” senior cornerback Ciante Evans said. “But we remember them and we remember this one as a team. Hopefully we come out with a sense of urgency this week to get a ‘W’ this Saturday.”
The Bruins, in just their second game under new head coach Jim Mora, Jr., put up 653 yards on the Huskers in last year’s 36-30 win at the Rose Bowl. This year’s defense, while considerably younger, should have a better idea of how UCLA likes to attack teams than it did last September.
“We have a lot more film on kind of what they do and our understanding of what they do,” Pelini said. “They’re a good football team. They’re sound in what they do.”
What the Bruins did last year was use motion out of the backfield, swing passes and short screens to get players in one-on-one battles in space. Pelini said that hasn’t changed in year two under Mora, but he’s hopeful Nebraska can do a better job tackling than it did in Pasadena.
“We had a lot of missed tackles in that football game,” he said. “I remember going back over that game, it was almost 300 yards of offense after first contact. We need to improve in that area. That’s kind of what their offense is built on – creating space and creating one-on-one opportunities for their guys. That’s their main philosophy.”
Wyoming ran its own version of UCLA’s quick-pass, spread attack two weeks ago and rolled up 602 total yards and 8.14 yards per play. A big reason why was the elusiveness of Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith. He threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns against he Huskers in large part because he was able to avoid sacks.
Bruins’ quarterback Brett Hundley is a better version of that. As a redshirt freshman making his second start last year, Hundley threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska. Evans called him one of the two best quarterbacks he’s faced in his four years at Nebraska, alongside Braxton Miller.
Like Miller, it’s Hundley’s ability to keep passing plays alive that will have the Huskers’ focus this week.
“We play those quarterbacks a lot and it starts in training camp with Taylor (Martinez). It puts more pressure on the secondary. We have to cover longer and that’s our job – to cover.
“Extended plays are going to happen Saturday. We have to get used to it and practice that throughout the week and be ready for vertical routes that come forward and hitches that turn into verticals,” Evans said.
In addition to familiarity, Nebraska’s defense will also have two things working for it this year that perhaps weren’t there last September — increased speed and depth. With a slew of young, not to mention athletic, players already getting a lot of reps in the Huskers first two games, Pelini said he won’t be afraid to use those young guys this week against a better opponent.
“This is the ideal situation,” Pelini said of his increased rotation in 2013. “We haven’t done that in the past. I wish we would’ve been a little deeper. Biggest mistake I made last year was redshirting some of these (current) redshirt freshmen. You look at that and say, ‘I screwed it up.’ I’m not scared to say it. When I look back, I wish I would’ve done it differently.”
A few other news and notes from Monday’s press conference:
–Pelini opened the press conference by extending condolences to the UCLA program as it deals with the death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale. Pasquale was killed over the weekend when he was hit by a car in his hometown of San Clemente, Calif.
–Nebraska will don its black alternate uniforms for this game. Traditionalists may grumble over the new look, but one things was clear Monday — it’s a hit with the players.
“I always wanted to wear the black,” senior defensive end Jason Ankrah said. “It would’ve been cool if it was all-black, but I’m just fine with the black jerseys and the white helmets. It looks neat. I’m excited to wear them this weekend.”
Even the native Nebraskans on the roster, the guys who grew up knowing nothing other than scarlet and cream, are on board.
“It’s about time,” senior center Cole Pensick said of the chance to wear black. “I grew up in Nebraska so you always have just the scarlet and cream, but it’s a change of pace. Ever since we got here we’ve always talked about having black jerseys so it’s fitting.”
–Pelini, not a man who probably spends too much time contemplating uniform design, did say that he’s been happy with how Nebraska and uniform provider Adidas have handled these one-off uniform changes.
“Adidas and our administration have done a good job working together. Let’s face it — Nebraska and the fans and this place – it’s still about tradition. That’ll never change here. They’ve done a good job of having something different without being outlandish,” Pelini said.
Running back Ameer Abdullah had an even more pragmatic take on the alternate jerseys.
“We could be in our underwear out there, I don’t care, as long as we win the game,” he said. “For recruiting it’s big. You see Oregon and a lot of those schools that wear a different uni every day. It must suck for those players breaking in a new helmet every week.”