November 12, 2009

Thursday notebook: Pelini still mum on QB situation

For the third straight week, Nebraska's quarterback situation is as murky as ever heading into Saturday's crucial Big 12 North showdown with Kansas.

On Monday, head coach Bo Pelini said he would decide whether junior Zac Lee or freshman Cody Green would get the start based on who had the better week of practice.

On Thursday, Pelini once again would not name who the starter would be, but said the coaching staff has "a pretty good handle" on who would start on Saturday. However, Pelini said there would be a good chance that both Lee and Green could see the field against the Jayhawks.

"I think they both had a good week," Pelini said. "I like the plan. I think they understand the plan. I have confidence in both guys.

"No, I won't name a guy. I think we have a pretty good handle on who the starter's going to be, but we'll see how it plays out. We'll look at the film tonight, but I think there's a good chance you'll see both guys. We have confidence in both guys. I like the competition."

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson also has a fairly big say in who will get the starting nod, and he said the position would continue to be a week-by-week decision until either Lee or Green stepped up and solidified themselves as the clear starter.

"Whenever we have somebody that steps up and does that, we will," Watson said of naming a full-time starter. "When we've made changes, we've stuck with those changes and let the guys work his way through it. It's something we need to get solidified, no doubt. We've got two young players who are going through a lot of growing pains.

"We just have to keep coaching them. That's my job. They'll get there. They're good players, both of them. They're good people. They work hard, so we'll get them there."

As they've both said the past couple weeks, neither Pelini nor Watson is opposed to using both quarterbacks in a game depending on the situation and how the opposing defense is playing.

While Watson said he would obviously prefer to have one guy emerge as the No. 1, he was willing to work with both Lee and Green if it proved to be the best combination to help the offense succeed.

"Basically the way I feel about it is if we could play to their strengths, we could do something like that," Watson said. "I think a football team needs a quarterback, and that's usually one guy in terms of leadership. Where we're at right now, we're developing two young players, and we can play to their strengths until somebody emerges. A scenario like that is a possibility."

- Robin Washut

Thursday's practice takes
Reesing questions Blackshirts: Kansas senior quarterback Todd Reesing had some interesting comments earlier this week about Nebraska's defense. When talking about the praise the Huskers' defense has received this season, Reesing said the Blackshirts had yet to face a quarterback with any real experience in Big 12 Conference play. Compared to Reesing, none of NU's opposing quarterbacks come close as far as career starts. However, none of them come close in career interceptions, either.
Turnovers aplenty: One of the biggest reasons for Kansas's four game losing streak has been a rash of turnovers on offense. During their recent skid, the Jayhawks have committed 12 turnovers, including five interceptions and five fumbles that have resulted in a combined 49 points for opposing teams. On the other end, Nebraska's defense has been taking the ball away like crazy the past couple weeks. The Huskers have seven total interceptions in their past two victories, including a season-high five picks last week against Oklahoma.
Injury update: Senior center Jacob Hickman, who missed the first two days of practice this week with a severely bruised side and a dinged up ankle, was back at practice and is expected to start as usual on Saturday. Senior safety Larry Asante was thought to have suffered a concussion last week, but head coach Bo Pelini said that wasn't the case and he would be fine to start against Kansas.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two-hour full-padded practice inside the Hawks indoor facility and on the grass fields North of Memorial Stadium on Thursday. The Huskers will conduct a short walk-thru practice on Friday before heading down to Lawrence, Kan., getting ready for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. kickoff.

Helu will be counted on again

One of the biggest reasons Nebraska's offense had any type of success last week against Oklahoma was because of the play of junior running back Roy Helu.

Though he was unable to get into the end zone, Helu racked up 138 yards on 20 carries and accounted for 77 percent of the Huskers' total offense in the game.

This week against Kansas, Helu will be counted on once again to put up some big numbers. Looking at his recent history against the Jayhawks, that shouldn't be to much of a stretch.

In a 45-35 win over KU last season, Helu rushed 15 times for 115 and two touchdowns while also hauling in a game-high eight receptions for 61 yards. Obviously the Huskers will be looking for a repeat performance from their star running back this time around.

"He's always important," Watson said. "When Roy goes, it gives us more go. It's big for us. Really big for us. He was a real warrior last week. I thought he played an exceptional game. He knew the challenge. We prepared for it all week, how we would have to win that football game, and he assumed that responsibility and did a great job of executing during that game. I'm sure he was sore on Sunday."

Huskers staying focused on goals

With three games remaining on Nebraska's regular season schedule, the goal of a Big 12 North division title are definitely within sight for the Huskers.

However, Pelini said his team is making sure to stay focused on the task at hand and not look ahead to what could be accomplished at the end of the year. Even in the wake of NU's 10-3 upset win over Oklahoma, Pelini said the Huskers are only focusing on the next challenge in front of them.

Up first, getting a win against Kansas.

"What happened last week against Oklahoma, we put that behind us right away," Pelini said. "It's about executing against a good Kansas team. We know we're going to get their best shot. We know they're going to be ready to play. They've got their backs against the wall, and they're looking at it like they've got a three game season. We know the challenge we have sitting in front of us, and our guys will be ready to go."

In fact, Pelini said he and his staff are making sure none of the players look too far down the road at a potential Big 12 Championship game berth.

"That takes care of itself," Pelini said. "All we're talking about is Kansas. If you earn it, it'll be there at the end. You can sit there and get so focused on what the goal is at the end and you lose sight of the process, and that's what you've got to preach forever. If we stay focused on the process, it's going to get us there."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***As has been the case with several other opposing quarterbacks Nebraska has faced this season, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said keeping Kansas's Todd Reesing in the pocket would be crucial to slowing down the Jayhawks. Pelini said after watching film, he noticed that Reesing was far more effective rolling out than he was sitting back in the pocket.

"You have to keep the quarterback in the pocket," Carl Pelini said. "They do a really nice job with him just scrambling and buying time for his receivers. They do a great job in their scramble drills with their receivers getting open or going deep when he's buying himself time. And you have to deal with the designed quarterback run. They are a real versatile offense."

***Bo Pelini said wide receivers Curenski Gilleylen and Menelik Holt, who had been demoted to the scout team the past two weeks, have been able to work their way back into the regular receiver rotation since returning to the offense earlier this week.

"They're in there some," he said. "They practiced well this week. I feel good about them."

***One of the players who really stood out to Bo Pelini during last week's win was redshirt freshman safety P.J. Smith, who saw extensive playing time when senior Larry Asante left the game with a head injury.

"I thought he played well," Bo Pelini said. "I thought P.J. did some good things. He went in there in the heat of the game when we couldn't afford a mistake, and I thought he played well. He did some good things. He made the calls. I've said this forever, the future's bright with P.J. I think he's going to be an exceptional football player. We have a tremendous amount of confidence."

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