November 26, 2008

Wednesday notebook: Pelini happy with practices

As the trend has gone this season, how Nebraska practices the week before a game is generally a pretty good indicator of how it will perform come game day.

Based on the beginning of Wednesday's practice, Husker fans might have had reason to be worried, according to head coach Bo Pelini. However, all was well by the time the final whistle blew Wednesday evening at Memorial Stadium.

"We started out slow today, then we picked it up," Pelini said. "I think our kids are ready to play. The thing you worry about the most is with Thanksgiving and it being a home game, family coming in, you worry about distractions and things like that. But I think we addressed that, and I think our kids are excited to play this football game."

Pelini said it wasn't necessarily a matter of any lack of effort or poor performance, but more so of getting his players' full attention with all the distractions of the Thanksgiving holiday and having family come into town.

"When we started practice today, we were a little bit looser than I would have liked to have been," he said. "That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes as a coach it freaks you out a little bit. But I felt that as the practice went on, we got focused and locked in, and I felt good about what I saw the last three quarters of practice."

Pelini was asked if he said anything to the team to get them to refocus and get the intensity level back up to par.

"I've been known to do that every now and again," he said. "In my own little way."

In all seriousness, though, Pelini said he has been more than pleased with the Huskers' performance in practice since the start of preparation for Friday's game against Colorado, which kicked off with meetings on Sunday.

Pelini said the players came in ready to play, and he could tell they were eager to get back onto the field and finish off their regular season the right way.

"I think the kids are anxious to play now," Pelini said. "I think when they came back, actually on Sunday even, we started practicing for this game, and the tempo and the energy was tremendous. I thought that after a couple days off, they came back ready to go. They didn't miss a beat."

Pelini said the biggest motivational challenge he's given his team to play four full quarters of good football, which he said he has yet to see from the Huskers this season.

"I told them, that's what's out ahead of us: We haven't put four quarters together yet up to our potential, and that's what's out there sitting out there for us to go do," he said. "I want to see four together. I don't want to see any lapses. I want to see our best football. I want to play to a higher standard that we haven't been to yet."

Pelini was then asked if Nebraska's play in its win over Kansas State was the closest the team has come to playing its best football, and while he said the Huskers were close, it wasn't quite there yet.

"We played pretty well, but I don't think we've played our best," Pelini said. "There's always that level you haven't been to, no matter what. We've just got to keep going, keep working at it."

-Robin Washut

Defensive line quiets the critics

At the start of the 2008 season, one of the biggest questions about the Nebraska football team was at defensive line.

In 2007, the Huskers were last in the Big 12 in sacks with just 13 and they were a non-factor for most of the season. NU returned every starter from their 2007 defensive line this season, so the theory by most pundits was the same players will probably produce similar results-boy where they wrong.

"All the people that said that owe these guys an apology," Defensive ends coach John Papuchis said at Friday morning's Big Red Breakfast in Omaha.

Heading into Friday's Colorado game the Huskers have nearly doubled their 2007 sack output with 25 in 11 games and there's a chance they could have another big day against the Buffaloes.

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said the improved play of the defensive line should be credited to a change in technique and better usage of their hands.

"Their effort has always been great," Carl Pelini said. "They are really playing well with their hands. They are defeating the guys that are on them, and that to me is huge. Not trying to avoid blockers and go make plays, but to defeat the blocker, which leads to more plays. Once I think they got that mentality, I think everything from pass defense to run defense really took off."

Carl Pelini added just like anything, it takes time to learn how to do things the right way and he feels like his group is finally getting to where they need to be.

"The first thing as a young defensive linemen is you want to avoid offensive linemen and shoot gaps and those things, and they think that leads to plays," he said. "But in the end, it just creates seams in your defense. They just had to buy in and get comfortable with their techniques, and once that happened it's just a process like everything else. It took some time."

-Sean Callahan

Swift gives Gilmore head coach approval

Nebraska wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore probably doesn't need any more references on his resume should he eventually apply for a job as a head coach, but if he does, his star pupil is more than willing to help out.

Senior wideout Nate Swift has spent essentially his entire collegiate career under Gilmore's tutelage, and said that should a head-coaching position open up for Gilmore - say maybe Wyoming - that he should jump all over it.

"I think he definitely has it in him," Swift said. "He's definitely had his chance to leave here, and he's stuck around and really liked it here. He played there (Wyoming) obviously, and I think it would be a great fit for him. I definitely think he's ready to go take over the reigns somewhere."

Swift said he's been well aware of the rumors circulating about Gilmore's possible departure to take over at his alma mater Wyoming, but said that despite it all, Gilmore has maintain his focus on preparing his players just like always.

"He just pretty much told us what was happening and that obviously it wasn't going to affect anything we're doing the rest of the season," Swift said. "After he told us, that was pretty much it. I definitely think he's still fully focused on Colorado."

Quick hits

***Pelini said the Huskers were about as good as they possibly could be on the injury front for this point in the season. He noted that junior MIKE linebacker Phillip Dillard practiced again on Wednesday, but he still wasn't 100 percent just yet.

"I think he's about 85 percent," Pelini said. "He's not 100 percent, but he practiced, and we'll see how he looks over the next day or so."

***Despite the holiday on Thursday, Pelini said the team has no plans to do anything differently as far as their game day preparation is concerned. The Huskers will go through a normal walk-through practice just like they would do on a normal Friday before a game.

***While many of his teammates have expressed their thoughts on the Nebraska-Colorado rivalry this week, Swift said his opinions on the Buffaloes have largely been shaped by his coaches, Gilmore and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

Both coaches spent time at CU before coming to Nebraska, and Swift said they both stress the importance of beating their former team every year around this time.

"For me, it's more that our coaches, a lot of them are from Colorado or have coached at Colorado before, and they obviously want to beat the school they were at previously," said Swift, a native of Hutchinson, Minn. "Obviously my coaches have been some of the bigger coaches at Colorado, so they've kind of instilled that in us that they want to beat them every year, and they tells us what they say over there about us. Some of it obviously I'm not going to repeat."

***At the end of his interview session on Wednesday, Pelini was asked what his favorite Thanksgiving Day food dish was.

"Spaghetti," he joked, pausing a few seconds before laughing. "Nah, my wife and I, we do the turkey thing and all that. With sauce."

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