November 6, 2008

Thursday notebook: Helu earns more praise

While there wasn't a whole lot for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to take away from last week's loss to Oklahoma as positives, sophomore running back Roy Helu was definitely one of them.

With a career-high 157 yards and a touchdown, Helu was able to give Nebraska a spark in an otherwise forgettable offensive performance. Along with his final numbers, the fact that Helu gained the bulk of his yards in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand had Watson especially pleased.

"Roy just did a great job," Watson said. "Roy played real fast and confident, and he got into a nice rhythm. That's what happens to a player when they get into a rhythm and are playing confident like that, he had a big game. He had breakout runs all over the place. I was really proud with what he did, because the other two guys have had rhythms and had their own little spots in the three games prior to that, so it was nice to see Roy get in that rhythm."

With senior Marlon Lucky and sophomore Quentin Castille unable to get much of anything going on the ground, Helu emerged as the hot back last week. Though he could have easily lessened his effort in a lopsided game, Watson said Helu never let up until the final second ticked off the clock.

"That's Roy's character," he said. "That doesn't surprise me about him to be honest with you, because that's who he is. When you know the players the way we do, that doesn't surprise me. That becomes more of what's expected. He answered the call."

In fact, Watson said he was pleased with the entire offense's determination to keep playing even after the Sooners' ridiculous start to the first quarter.

"That's who they are," he said. "That surprised me not. We just simply had to settle ourselves down from a bad start, which we inflicted those wounds on our self, and we just had to settle ourselves down and get our demeanor right and go back to work. That has to be the approach there, and the kids did a nice job of coming back and did some really nice things in that game."

On Thursday, head coach Bo Pelini was asked if Helu's performance was good enough to earn him a bigger share of the carries or even a move up the depth chart seeing how Lucky has been nursing a sore ankle.

Like always, Pelini said it would depend on how the game unfolds, though he did say that Lucky's ankle was essentially back to 100 percent, and that he was still the team's No. 1 running back.

"We'll see how it goes," Pelini said. "Marlon feels better now than he has in the last month. He feels good."

-Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
Taking notice: Kansas head coach Mark Mangino has definitely taken notice of the effort level Nebraska's defense is playing with this season compared to 2007. Mangino said even though NU has suffered a few lopsided defeats, it's clear Nebraska's players on defense are playing hard for first-year head coach Bo Pelini.
Young DB's: The last few weeks Mangino has opted to bench some veteran defensive backs in favor of playing a few freshmen to get them ready for the future. One of those players is Daymond Patterson, who used to be a wide receiver before moving to corner. It's clear Mangino is trying to get his young defensive backs ready for what they are going to see against Texas and Missouri the final two weeks of the season.
Injury update: Linebacker Phillip Dillard (ankle) has been ruled out for this week's KU game. Offensive lineman Lydon Murtha (foot sprain) is listed as doubtful, but wide receiver Menelik Holt is expected to play. Redshirt freshman defensive end William Yancy suffered an injury on Thursday, though head coach Bo Pelini said he was unsure of what the injury was.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a 90 minute helmets only practice on Thursday inside the Hawks Championship Center. Thursday's practice was the Huskers final workout of the week.

Coaches helping with Castille's fumbleitis

When Castille lost his fourth fumble of the season in the first quarter last weekend at Nebraska's own 20-yard line, it became pretty clear that the sophomore running back is currently dealing with a bad case of fumbleitis.

Castille has now lost four fumbles in 65 attempts this season, including one in each of his past two games. While Nebraska's coaching staff has been trying hard to develop him into more than just a short-yardage back, Castille's ball security issues have made it difficult for them to keep him in the game.

While they've been working with him on holding onto the football all season, Watson said the coaches have made it an even bigger point this past week in practice.

"Tim Beck works on it everyday," Watson said. "Every day it's a fundamental part of practice. He carries the football with him 24/7 right now. We're doing everything we can do to help him. A lot of it is he's got to have confidence in himself. That's the key. Then he'll find himself. He's just doing fundamental things wrong at times, and he's learned from his mistakes.

"It's like dropping passes, it's not like hitting a baseball, it's like not driving the ball off the tee. It's something you've just got to fix mentally, because if you keep thinking about it you're going to have the same results."

Watson said the coaching staff has been careful to not be too hard on Castille, as they know the majority of his problem is more mental than physical. In fact, he said the staff has challenged itself to help Castille get through his fumbling slump.

"Number one, you hold him accountable, and then you correct the mistakes," Watson said. "That's our job as coaches. The support is really, really important as a coach. You don't put a kid behind the eight ball, you don't throw him out because he's having a problem. You fix the problem and you help him battle through the problem.

"That's coaching. We've kept our demeanor the same. We believe in him. We know what he's capable of. We've got to get him up to speed and correct his ball-handling issues."

-Robin Washut

Scout team players impressing in practice

Watson was asked earlier in the week about whether there have been any scout team players that have caught his attention this season in practice. As it turns out, there have actually been quite a few.

Watson pointed mainly to defensive players, mostly because those are the ones he notices the most when they disrupt his first-team offense. He named players like defensive backs Courtney Osborne, P.J. Smith and Anthony Blue, as well as linebacker Alonzo Whaley as some of the players that have played the best against NU's starters.

He also mentioned offensive linemen Baker Steinkuhler and Brandon Thompson as notable performers, especially Thompson. Thompson was actually the first player Watson mentioned in his answer, describing him as a "brawler" and a "fighter" in the trenches.

-Robin Washut

Another week, another spread

Seeing a spread offense has pretty much become the norm for Nebraska's defense each week in the Big 12 Conference.

It almost seems like every opponent the Huskers have seen this year run some sort of variation of the spread, and Kansas will be no different this week.

Senior linebacker Cody Glenn gave his early breakdown of what he expects to see from KU's no huddle spread offense on Saturday.

"All the spread offenses that we've faced are different in their own sense, but they all are the same, also," Glenn said. "They all have four or five wide receivers. They run all the same routes, but maybe out of different formations. It's pretty much the same, just a bunch of receivers running around. We have a good game plan for it and we feel comfortable about stopping them."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***With the temperatures finally beginning to feel like November, Pelini was asked if the colder temperatures would affect the Huskers in anyway considering Saturday will likely be the coldest game they've played in this season.

Pelini said the weather would not be an issue, and said Kansas would deal with the same problems NU would.

"That's just part of the deal in November here," Pelini said. "You're going to have to deal with this. I don't know what the forecast is calling for, but it doesn't matter to us. Whatever happens, happens. It's the same for both teams."

***Pelini said senior right tackle Lydon Murtha would likely be doubtful for Saturday's game against the Jayhawks, but didn't rule him out completely.

"I don't know the report on him today yet," he said. "It's day-to-day. He's probably doubtful, but it's kind of a day-to-day thing. He can go out there without a lot of preparation or practice time. If he responds and he feels like he's ready to go, he'll go."

The good news for the Huskers on the injury front was that junior receiver Menelik Holt would likely be available for Saturday's game after missing much of the past two weeks of practice while recovering from a knee injury he suffered in the win over Baylor.

"He practiced yesterday and did pretty well," Pelini said. "I'll have to hear from the trainer how he responded today, but I think he's going to be available."

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