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October 27, 2009Two weeks ago Nebraska was ranked in the top 15 and people had some pretty big expectations as to how far this team could go.
Now the Huskers can't buy a word of positive press, as the offense's struggles against Texas Tech and Iowa State the last two weeks continue to raise questions about the ultimate direction of this season.
Head coach Bo Pelini and his coaching staff continue to search for answers, but it's apparent that it's going to take more than just one or two things to be that spark.
"You need a spark, you need to find some things," Pelini said. "You can sit there and continue to pound a square peg into a round hole, but at times you have to think outside of the box and you have to look at what your personnel is and what they've been able to execute and continue to look for the best ways to continue to utilize their talents as you move forward. That always has to be the case.
"Even when you are hitting on all cylinders, you still have to continue to look for ways to improve. Now it just becomes so much more a bigger challenge to get that done."
One area this offense has been criticized by people is what appears to be their lack of vocal leadership. Quarterback Zac Lee is in his first year as a starter, running back Roy Helu has been banged up and wide receivers Menelik Holt and Curenski Gilleylen were demoted to the scout team on Monday.
The bottom line is there are not a lot of established leaders on this offense and that's not a skill that develops over night.
A perfect example of a guy trying to be a vocal leader this past Saturday against Iowa State happened when junior offensive lineman Keith Williams got in the face of freshman running back Dontrayevous Robinson after he fumbled the ball inside the 5-yard line.
The whole thing did not look good, as all of the TV cameras picked up on the event and focused on Williams yelling in Robinson's face.
"It's a guy trying to be a leader, but you have to do things in the right way and at the right time," Pelini said of Williams' actions. "You don't point the finger, you point the thumb. It's been addressed. If you do something like that you have to do it in the right way. No one felt worse about that fumble than Dontrayevous (Robinson), who's playing hard. He didn't want to fumble.
"You have to look in the mirror. Anybody who does that you have to make sure you look in the mirror and make sure you are playing perfect if you are going to do that. I'm not saying you can say it's ok. There's a time and a place for those types of things. That wasn't the time or the place for that."
There's even been some speculation that the offense's struggles over the last two weeks could lead to some locker room divide because of the fact NU's defense has played at such a high level in 2009.
Junior tight end Mike McNeill shot down that notion though on Tuesday.
"They don't say anything to us, they have our back," McNeill said. "As an offensive player, I feel bad for them playing so well and us not holding up our end. At the same time, it's not going to divide us or they're not going to be in our ear and say you guys need to play better. Obviously it will just encourage us or help us. It hasn't been a problem."
McNeill feels it will just take one or two things to happen for the offense this week to get things turned around.
"I think overall one play can spark the offense, which can be done by anyone," McNeill said. "Obviously we have to execute the offense better. The turnovers are killing us. I think a big play here or there can spark the offense at anytime, kind of like at Missouri when Niles (Paul) had that touchdown catch. That kind of got the offense rolling. I think one player can do it."
Pelini said in order for that to happen, it's going to have to start on the practice field. The day to day execution in practice will lead to success in the games.
"My vision that I have for this football team, that process is well under way," Pelini said. "I cannot proclaim that it has completely taken over yet. It is a process and it's not something that happens overnight. I understood that coming in and I know it's a process. I've been through this before. I do not by any means want to make it look like I'm making an excuse. I believe we are good enough and we have the tools to win right now. I don't believe that, I know that.
"We have a lot of work to do. We are in a situation right now as a football team and a staff and as a program, we have to be prepared to roll up our sleeves every single day and go to work, because we are not near where we need to be in a lot of different aspects."