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October 28, 2013Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has already made a lot of changes to his approach this season.
For the first time ever he named captains before the start of the season. He also had offensive and defensive players sit next to each other in team meetings to create more unity between the two units. Pelini himself even loosed up more around his guys, having them do a "Harlem Shake" video in the spring and organizing a team prank caught on video during fall camp - both which became YouTube sensations.
After a loss to UCLA Pelini decided his players weren't having enough fun, so he gave them Monday's off to focus on academics and used Sunday as a practice day. After NU's loss to the Bruins Pelini simplified his defense to help bring along the younger players.
As the Huskers dropped a disappointing loss to Minnesota on Saturday Pelini was once again searching for answers on Monday during his weekly press conference. The sixth-year head coach talked to the media for 46 minutes - unofficially the longest press conference in school history.
"I don't think the state of our program is any different from where it was a week ago," Pelini said on Monday. "Until we win them all, I'm not going to be satisfied. That's what we are looking to do. That's what we are working towards. That standard isn't going to change. That's what the expectation is and that's what the expectation should be in a place like this."
Pelini was questioned hard about why things aren't working and what's so different about this group compared some of his better teams in 2009 and 2010.
As Pelini gets his team ready for another must win type of game against Northwestern he brought on more changes this week.
It started with a full-padded practice on Sunday that was run at full speed, and not at the typical walk-thru pace helmets only pace. I must admit that is very different. There probably isn't another team in the country that played on Saturday who went full pads like that Sunday.
In some ways it reminds me of 2007 after USC blew out Nebraska in Lincoln former head coach Bill Callahan had his team practice live in full pads the entire week leading up to Ball State to try and get their physical edge back.
Obviously we know how that went, but I think Pelini has to do something different with this group to build their physical and mental toughness. That got physically manhandled up-front by a bunch of players quite frankly Nebraska didn't even recruit.
"I think we were a little bit surprised, but after we went through practice and had our meetings with coach, I think we understood why were in it," defensive end Randy Gregory said of Sunday's full-padded practice. "It was something we need. I'm not completely for it, but if it helps us play better on Saturday I think we should do it every Sunday. The coaches really stressed physicality and we didn't show it in the game and that's the reason why we did it on Sunday."
As for personnel changes, Pelini in so many words said expect to see redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong start at quarterback over Taylor Martinez.
Pelini also plans to move Michael Rose to middle linebacker and use freshman Josh Banderas there more this week as well. It was pretty clear after Saturday's loss to Minnesota David Santos is not that answer and that's why he'll be moving back to Will linebacker.
It's hard saying what type of impact, if any will these moves have. Martinez didn't get a lot of help from his offensive line and receivers at times on Saturday, but something still didn't seem right about him. I've come to the conclusion he's never going to be fully healthy this season.
If you are Pelini and your job is on the line do you play a limited Martinez and take that risk? I think the right move is definitely playing Armstrong/Kellogg. When Martinez is limited, I think it has an effect on the entire offense.
"Obviously they are down," Pelini said of his football team on Monday. "I like the way they came out yesterday. We padded up yesterday. We got some good fundamental work in. We gave an introduction to Northwestern. I think if the guys could've played last night, they would've played last night. I like the way they responded yesterday."
Three and out
***I really enjoy covering games at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The crowd at Minnesota games has as much fun as any in the Big Ten because they don't have near the expectation level of some of the other Big Ten fan bases. It just has a real carefree feel around the stadium. The only other stadium in the Big Ten like that is Wisconsin.
***After watching Northwestern nearly beat Ohio State over a month ago there's no way in a million years I would've thought they'd be 0-4 in Big Ten Conference play. This game went from being a potential match-up of two ranked teams, to a game of two programs trying to salvage their season.
***I would be very surprised if Northwestern running back Venric Mark played on Saturday. I'm told he has a pretty severe foot injury and there's even some thought of him applying for a medical redshirt to get him back for 2014. To me that makes the most sense for Pat Fitzgerald right now since the Wildcats are completely out of the Legends Division race.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.