October 12, 2009

Monday notebook: Mum still the word on Blackshirts

After Nebraska's 27-12 victory over Missouri this past weekend, you got the impression talking to Husker defensive coordinator Carl Pelini that the Blackshirts could be handed out to NU's starting defense as early as Monday.

Nebraska held Mizzou to just 225 yards of offense and the Huskers currently rank second nationally in scoring defense and 13th in total defense.

"For three weeks in a row I think we've earned our Blackshirts," Carl Pelini said after the Missouri win. "There's no doubt in my mind."

However, it's not Carl Pelini making the final decision - it's his younger brother Bo that will decide that.

On Monday when the Huskers took the practice field there was still no sign of the Blackshirts and you get the impression head coach Bo Pelini is tired of talking about it.

"No, next question," Pelini responded when asked when he plans to address the Blackshirt issue.

Senior safety Larry Asante said he'd also like to know when the team will get their Blackshirts, but he feels like the defense has a long ways to go in his mind before earning them.

Even though the Huskers statically dominated Mizzou this past Thursday, Asante said the defense still has yet to reach Pelini's "Blackshirt level" of play.

"That's a good question," Asante said when asked when his white practice jersey will turn black. "I think that's a question everybody wants to know…we want to know.

"I feel like going back and watching film, we played good on defense, but we still haven't played a complete football game yet and I think coach is waiting for us to play our best football."

Unlike the fans and media, Asante said the team is not talking about it or making a big deal about the Blackshirts behind the scenes.

Asante said NU's main focus this week is facing off against another good offensive team in Texas Tech.

"We don't care about the Blackshirts," Asante said. "We just want to play great team defense and win football games.

"For me personally, after watching the film against Missouri, we haven't played a perfect football game yet. I think it's a great motivation, because we are going to keep striving to get them. We might get them the last game of the season. We might get them after this game this Saturday. Who knows? After we play a complete game, coach is going to give them to us."

- Sean Callahan

Monday practice takes
Dealing with the elements: With the way that Nebraska struggled with holding onto and catching the football in the rainy conditions in Thursday's win over Missouri, it appears the Huskers could have used a little more time preparing for inclement weather. NU receivers coach Ted Gilmore said the Huskers spent a couple days last week working with wet footballs to get ready for the rainy game, but opted not to do it every practice leading up to it. In fact, when it has rained during practices, the team always heads indoors to the Hawks Center. Maybe next time the team will stay outside and get a little wet so they don't have another five-fumble night like they did against the Tigers.
Game time decision: Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach said it will be a "game time decision" as to who will be the Red Raiders starting quarterback on Saturday against Nebraska. It's assumed Steven Sheffield has won the job over Taylor Potts after his performance against Kansas State last Saturday, but with Leach you never know. Sheffield has passed for 728 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two weeks, sparking the Red Raiders in wins over Kansas State and New Mexico. Tech's players also did a re-vote for team captains on Sunday and Sheffield was one of the newly-named captains.
Injury update: Both junior running back Roy Helu (right shoulder) and senior safety Larry Asate (left ankle) practiced on Monday with no problems. In other injury news, Pelini said that freshman tight end J.T. Kerr had shoulder surgery and will miss the remainder of the season. Pelini expects Kerr to be fully ready when spring practice
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two-hour half padded practice inside the Hawks Champion Indoor Facility on Monday. NU is scheduled to come back on Tuesday for a two-hour full padded practice.

Suh for Heisman?

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's name is starting to get some legitimate buzz for the Heisman Trophy.

Asante called Suh the "best defensive player in the nation" on Monday and said Suh deserves every piece of press he's getting right now.

"I support him 100 percent," Asante said of Suh's Heisman campaign. "I hope he wins it too."

Husker defensive ends coach John Papuchis has worked with both 2007 Outland Trophy winner Glenn Dorsey and Suh over the last few seasons.

So how do the two compare?

"They're both great players," Papuchis said. "Suh is having a tremendous year. I haven't seen a guy dominate a football game from a nose tackle position before ever in my life. Take that forever how you want to take it. He's had a good year, but I think the biggest thing is he has three guys around him that are playing really well at the same time, and that's allowing him to really feature his abilities too."

-Sean Callahan

Mangieri not making excuses

True freshman P.J. Mangieri has been long snapping since the seventh grade, so he's well aware of the old saying that the only time a long snapper's name is mentioned is if he makes a mistake.

This past Thursday at Missouri, the Illinois native had a rough outing, misfiring on more than a couple of snaps to Alex Henery. However, Mangieri said he doesn't blame his bad game solely on the wet conditions in Columbia.

"I don't really want to make excuses for what happened during that game," Mangieri said. "I think it was just a combination of everything around. Different factors contributed to it."

Mangieri said Pelini grabbed him after he misfired on his first couple of snaps and did his best to keep him motivated not to mess up again.

"I definitely felt the pressure mounting after that play," Mangieri said after misfire that led to a safety in the end zone. "Coach Bo (Pelini) got in my face and got everything straightened out and got my mind back into the game.

"He mostly said get your head back into the game and get everything figured out to 'get the ball straight back there, otherwise I'll find somebody else that can do it to replace you.'

-Sean Callahan

Gillmore gets creative to prove point

Sometimes you have to get a little creative to get your point across.

After spending the entire first half of Thursday's win over Missouri watching his receivers drop passes and play with a lack of focus, Nebraska receivers coach Ted Gilmore used a somewhat unconventional method to get his players' attention.

At halftime, Gilmore had all of the Husker wide outs turn in their gloves, towels and hand warmers for the rest of the game in an attempt to keep them focused on catching balls instead of adjusting their gloves or trying to warm up their hands.

So what if it the rain was coming down in buckets and the temperature had fallen into the 40s?

"(Gilmore) said he saw the Missouri team focusing on the job that they had to do, and he said he didn't like us having our hands in our hand warmers between plays and worrying about our gloves being wet and all that stuff," sophomore Curenski Gilleylen said. "He just wanted us to go out and play, and he made sure he got rid of all the distractions before we went back out in the second half."

Led by two touchdown catches by junior Niles Paul, Nebraska's receivers appeared to respond to the move quite well. Gilmore said he wanted to make a point that his players should be able to produce no matter what the weather was like.

"The conditions - it is what it is," Gilmore said. "We've still got to focus in even more and do our job. When I see guys leaving the huddle and running all the way up to the line of scrimmage and taking their hands out of whatever you call those things, we're not focused on what we needed to be focused on. So I just asked them kindly to remove them.

"My observation was that they were worried about things that they shouldn't have been worrying about, instead of just focusing on the job at hand. So we just removed all those distractions an we just had to man up and play ball."

Ironically, the receiver who responded the most was Paul, who was the only wide out who didn't wear gloves in the first half. He did, however, have to give up his hand warmers and the towel he was using to keep his hands dry.

"When he did that, that was his decision and we respected it, so we took them off," Paul said. "But it was cold out there. My hands were freezing."

- Robin Washut

Second half benching sent message to Paul

If losing the gloves and hand warmers weren't enough, Gilmore went another step to send a message to his players when he temporarily benched Paul, Gilleylen and senior Menelik Holt to start the second half.

Gilmore said he wanted to have his starters watch a series or two from the sideline to help them appreciate being in the game and hopefully get them to play more focused when they returned to the field.

Paul said he got the Gilmore's message loud and clear, and judging from his huge fourth-quarter performance, he took it to heart.

"At first I was a little frustrated and a little mad about it, but I realized he was only doing it just to get us back in the right mindset in that game," Paul said. "We weren't getting the job done. So when he put us back in there, we went in and we played hard.

"I wanted to show Coach that, hey, don't pull me out again."

Gilmore agreed that Paul and the others certainly weren't pleased about watching from the sideline as guys like redshirt freshman Khiry Cooper and sophomore Brandon Kinnie took the field in their place.

As he expected, the move elicited exactly the motivated response he was looking for.

"Well, I don't think Niles likes standing next to me (during games)," Gilmore said. "I think he figured it out very quickly. I let him zero in, let him focus up and do what he's capable of doing."

Gilmore said Paul's play in the fourth quarter on Thursday was exactly the type of performance he was capable of all along.

It may have taken a dismal start to the game for him to get there, but the Omaha native might have taken the next step in becoming the game-changing receiver everyone has hoped he'd be.

"You think about the opportunities this fall, for the most part when he's had the chance, he's taken advantage of it," Gilmore said. "It just happened to be in a huge situation in a huge moment in the ball game, which was outstanding because he's been doing it. I'm just glad that all his hard work paid off and he was able to take advantage and make those plays."

- Robin Washut

Huskers determined to improve punt returns

One of the worst aspects for Nebraska on Thursday came in its punt return unit.

Returners Paul and freshman Rex Burkhead combined for two fumbled punts and just three returns for -1 yard. That didn't include one punt that ricocheted off linebacker Matthew May and was recovered by Missouri.

Paul said he was obviously disappointed with his performance, especially when he was relieved of his punt return duties by Burkhead because the freshman - supposedly - would do a better job of catching the ball.

"It was very frustrating," Paul said. "What a lot of people don't understand is that it was storming, and that ball was wet and heavy. Not to mention that it was a left-footed punter, so it was a little different for me and Rex. We were out there trying our hardest to field that thing, and as soon as we thought we had it, it was gone. It was real frustrating. I was upset with myself."

The good news is that Paul said the Huskers have taken a proactive approach in making sure they don't have another performance like Thursday's ever again.

He said the unit worked on catching wet balls on Monday and have put an extra emphasis on handling a variety of punts, including those from left-footed punters, which Paul said put a different spin on their kicks.

"That won't happen to us again," Paul said. "It was unexpected, and we weren't ready, we weren't prepared for that. We're hitting it every day now."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Pelini said the extra time off from Thursday's game was very beneficial in helping the team heal up.

"It was good," Pelini said. "They got their legs underneath them. We got some bumps and bruises healed. It was good. We had good tempo today."

***When asked to compare Texas Tech and Missouri's offense, Pelini said there are no similarities at all in his mind.

"It's not a similar offense," Pelini said. "It's a much different offense in a lot of different ways. Different running plays, different passing plays - it's much different."

***With the off Saturday, Asante said he took advantage of the day by watching several different teams play on TV.

"I watched the Florida game," Asante said. "I watched Oklahoma and Baylor and just kind of checked them out just to see what they got. I just wanted to check out the Big 12 games. I also watched the KU and the Iowa State game."

***It's been a while since Paul had a quarter like he did in the fourth against Missouri. In fact, you'd have to go back to his high school days to find one quite like it. Maybe that's why Paul said he felt like he was back at Omaha North at times Thursday night.

"I felt like I was in high school again," he said. "(Lee) threw it up, and I felt like all I had to do was go get it, and I did."

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