November 9, 2011

Wednesday notebook: NU revs up intensity

After a disappointing performance last week against Northwestern, the Nebraska football team has taken things personal this week with their preparations for Penn State.

From the minute the Huskers took the field on Monday the tone was set that NU let a major opportunity slip through their hands and the only thing they can do now is win out.

Senior offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick said there were probably at least "10 practice fights" on Monday between Nebraska's starting units and the scout teams because the intensity level was so high.

"I think the first play a scout team guy punched one of us and from then on the rest of the practice it was on," Hardrick said. "We have to play with that tenacity. We can't be nice out there."

Hardrick said plain and simple the Huskers looked past Northwestern last week and expected to just go through the motions and beat them.

Even though Hardrick was limited himself with injury, he admits not taking the Wildcats serious and it's a huge regret he and several other players have right now.

"We just have to put the time in,"Hardrick said. "I don't think we put the time in with Northwestern. I know I didn't watch film on Northwestern at all. I was just like 'we are playing Northwestern and let's just go through the motions and get out of here with a win.'

"I still feel guilty now. I couldn't sleep after that game. Everybody took their part in the game and it hit me hard. I wasn't healthy in the game and I really couldn't help the team. It hit me hard."

Senior linebacker Lavonte David agreed with Hardrick and said NU has been hungry all week in practice and they've had three solid days of work.

"Guys were just ready to get back at it," David said. "We had a tough loss last week, but we have to get over that now and move on to Penn State. Guys are just ready to get back at it after that tough loss last week and I think guys are just ready to go."

As for what to expect on Saturday, PSU may have their own emotions and things they are worrying about, but Hardrick said they better be ready for a fired up group of Huskers to take the field at Beaver Stadium.

"I expect they'll get 70 of Nebraska's hungriest players," Hardrick said. "We haven't had fights at practice since the start of the season and we probably had 10 on Monday. We are just hungry and have passion and we are ready to play with intensity."

- Sean Callahan

Hardrick battling back

After being limited most of last week with an ankle injury he suffered in the Michigan State game, Hardrick said he's getting closer to 100 percent this week.

"The ankle sprain was so bad it swelled my whole foot up," Hardrick said. "All of my toes were big, just everything was big.

"(Tuesday) was my first day taking all of the reps since probably the Michigan State week and I felt great. It's not 100 percent, but it feels better and I can finally put pressure on it."

Co-offensive line John Garrison said following Wednesday's practice he expects to have Hardrick ready to go for Saturday.

"He has done a nice job (getting back)," Garrison said. "Yoshi is going to play and he's excited to get back out there. He's taken every snap we expected him to take this week."

- Sean Callahan

Brown stressing NU ignores outside distractions

With all that's gone on at Penn State the past week and all the drama that's surrounding Saturday's game in State College, Nebraska's coaching staff has stressed more than ever the importance on the team focusing only on itself and the things it can control as it gets ready for the Nittany Lions.

Running backs coach Ron Brown has made it a point to keep his players on task this week. Earlier this week before the running backs watched game film on PSU, Brown showed a random clip from the snowy Penn State-Illinois game from a couple weeks ago, but the clip had nothing to do with the players on the field.

"There's always something going on in life," Brown said. "I gave my guys an example today of a snowflake. You can look at a snowstorm and just see the snow coming down and see it all. That's not much focus. Try to follow a flake all the way to the ground. That's focus. If your scope is small enough, that's focus.

"This game, what we're going to do in the three hours of this football game, is our focus right now. That should be an easy assignment. It's a matter of what becomes most important to them, and what's most important to our football players right now is not what's going on at Penn State outside of that football field and that football field on Saturday."

Brown wouldn't comment on the Penn State situation, saying he hears the same things everyone else hears regarding the allegations of sexual abuse of children with the Nittany Lion program.

There has been some talk that Saturday's game should be cancelled due to the circumstances surrounding the situation. Brown said he didn't think the game should be cancelled, saying as far as he and the rest of Nebraska's players and coaches were concerned, their No. 1 priority was to get ready to go out and get a much needed win.

"Focus on what we're going there for," Brown said. "We're not canceling the game. If we want to focus on all the other stuff, let's cancel the game and let's all be politicians and examine what took place Penn State. We're football coaches and football players. God has to handle the rest of that stuff, and the Penn State adminstrations and everything else, and we've got to go handle the football game. We're playing against a team that's undefeated in the Big Ten. Are we kidding ourselves? We better be zeroed in on what happens in that game."

- Robin Washut

Jackson back home at defensive tackle

Junior walk-on Justin Jackson moved across the lie of scrimmage from defensive tackle to the offensive line this fall looking for a chance to have a better chance to compete for playing time.

Little did he know then that his best chance to see the field would end up back on the defensive side of the ball.

After one of Nebraska's deepest positions was struck with injuries over the past few weeks, Jackson was moved back to defensive tackle two weeks ago in order to help provide a little more depth on the interior defensive line.

When redshirt freshman Chase Rome was ruled out of last week's game against Northwestern due to a muscle injury, Jackson was thrust into the rotation after only being back at defensive tackle since senior Jared Crick was lost for the season following the Ohio State game.

Carl Pelini said the time on offense actually didn't set Jackson that far back when he returned to defense two weeks ago. Pelini said unlike other positions, the biggest key to playing defensive tackle was mostly reaction based once you get the technique down. Since Jackson spent the past three years learning the position, it was just a matter of settling back into the position for him.

"His catching up isn't assignment driven, it's getting so many reps that his reaction is quickened again to where they were before we moved him," Pelini said. "Again, we made the move (to offensive line) not because he wasn't a solid d-tackle for us, but because we were so deep at that position that we never thought we'd be in this condition at defensive tackle."

Rome returned to practice this week and expects to be back in the lineup this weekend against Penn State, but with the Huskers' still needing as many healthy bodies as they can get at the position, Jackson figures to continue to play a role in the defensive tackle rotation moving forward.

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Garrison said that Penn State is arguably the best defense Nebraska has seen this season.

"It seems like we are facing the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten every week after Michigan State and Ohio State," Garrison said. "(Penn State) is as good as we've seen, and defensive line wise these guys are all-around the best. In the run game they are very physical with their hands and in the pass rush they are probably the best we've seen."

***Carl Pelini talked about how Andrew Green had essentially won the competition for the starting cornerback spot over the past couple weeks. He added that Stanley Jean-Baptiste would still be very much in the rotation, though.

"I think Andrew's playing very well," Pelini said. "He's got to keep coming, but I think he's playing very well. I think Stanley's going to be a really good corner for us, but you know, just having moved there midseason, he's still got some learning to do. I would have no hesitation putting Stanley in in a pinch, but I think Andrew's really stepped up over the last couple weeks and played really well. He's practicing well. He's doing a good job for us."

***Senior defensive back Lance Thorell caught some heat for his performance in the loss to Northwestern, but Carl Pelini said it wasn't all his fault, especially considering Thorell played through an injury for much of the game.

"I'll tell ya, Lance is a tough kid," Pelini said. "He struggled a little bit in that game and they had some match-ups, but don't be too hard on Lance. He was playing with an injury. There's something about being tough and there's something about being too tough and not communicating with your coaches things that are going on with you during a game. You love his toughness, but maybe he was a little bit handicapped at certain points in that game."

***While the team didn't officially start watching film on Penn State until Monday, redshirt freshman receiver Kenny Bell said he got a jump start on reviewing the Nittany Lions on his own on Sunday, which he does for every upcoming opponent. He said he was very impressed with PSU's tackling and how fundamentally sound its defense has been this season.

"(They're) guys that know who to tackle and know how to play the game," Bell said. "It's going to be interesting. You get (defensive) statistics like that, numbers they produce just by accident. They're a good team, a solid defense."

***Senior receiver Brandon Kinnie said the key for Nebraska getting through the grind of the last part of the season was to stay just as mentally strong as physically. He said he's been telling his younger teammates of how Nebraska bounced back from frustrating losses the past two seasons to make the conference championship game as motivation this week.

"It's just trying to keep your mind strong, because it can get kind of worn down," Kinnie said. "Just knowing that your goal is still out there to go get, you know, you control your own destiny. A couple years ago when we had lost a couple games, we still got to the Big 12 Championship. Knowing that's still out there, we're just going to keep working toward that."

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