October 15, 2009

Thursday notebook: DBs ready for Tech this time

It's usually pretty difficult for any defense to prepare for Texas Tech's passing game, especially if none of the coaches or players had ever faced it before.

That was the case for Nebraska last season, as it traveled down to Lubbock, Texas, not knowing exactly what to expect when it took the field against the Red Raiders' potent passing offense.

This time around, though, the Huskers know full well what they're about to face on Saturday.

Defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders said the preparation this week has been significantly smoother than it was a year ago, as his players have actually seen Tech's offense in live action and understand what it's going to take to stop it.

"I think our players understand the tempo of the game better," Sanders said. "You can talk about it as much as you want in film study and on the practice field, but the (scout) teams can service that as good. At least now, Larry can tell Gomes how to understand how quick the tempo's going to be and we've got to be ready, so I think that'll help."

Sanders went on to say that the secondary has shown noticeable improvement in general from having a year in NU's defensive system under its belt. In particular, the many spread offenses the Huskers face no longer seem quite as intimidating as they did last season.

"I have a pretty good group back there who understands offenses now," he said. "They've played some football. It's not like when we strolled in here last year, I think against New Mexico State, and nobody had really any experience. We've got guys with some experience.

"They might throw some new wrinkles at us, but I think our players will be able to adjust to that."

With a better grasp of what the Red Raiders will bring to the table, Sanders said the biggest emphasis this week in practice has been on one extremely important yet often overlooked aspect.

"Open-field tackling," Sanders said. "You have to. They're going to make their catches. They're going to make their 6-yard plays. You just got to hold that 6-yard catch to a 6-yard catch. We've got to tackle. We have to tackle… Tackling is always important, but there's a difference between trying to make a tackle in a phone booth compared to making a tackle out in the open field.

"That's an important area. We have to be good in the open field, because they're going to spread you out and throw the ball."

- Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
South woes: Over the last five seasons Nebraska is 4-11 against Big 12 South opponents and the last time the Huskers have won more than one South game in a season was in 2003. With that said, it's pretty well documented how much NU has struggled with Big 12 South opponents. The Huskers have not beaten Texas Teach since 2001, Texas since 1999, Oklahoma since 2001 and Oklahoma State since 2003. They have a good chance to win at least two southern division games this season, if not all three.
Sheffield named starter: To no surprise, Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach has named Steven Sheffield as his starting quarterback. Leach made the announcement on Thursday when he released the official depth chart for the NU game. Taylor Potts will also travel to Lincoln for Saturday's game and he's listed as Sheffield's back-up.
Injury update: Other than the already reported injuries to players like freshman running back Rex Burkhead, Nebraska is expected to enter the Texas Tech game at full health. Junior running back Roy Helu has practiced in a green no contact jersey all week, but the coaches say it was merely for precautionary reasons and expect him to be good to go on Saturday.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a 90 minute helmets only practice inside Memorial Stadium on Thursday. NU is scheduled to hold a short walk-thru practice on Friday afternoon.

Texas Tech not worried about Suh?

According to Texas Tech offensive line coach Matt Moore, the Red Raiders feel perfectly comfortable matching up All-Big 12 right guard Brandon Carter one-on-one against Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on Saturday.

Moore told RedRaiders.com that he's watched film on Suh and noticed that he lines up over the opposing right guard 95 percent of the time, meaning he'll likely be matched against Tech's best offensive lineman the entire game.

The Red Raiders already boast one of the best sack-to-pass attempt ratios in college football, and they feel they don't need to do anything differently against Suh.

Moore said Tech did the same thing against Suh last season and held him to five tackles and just one tackle for loss.

"We just ran our offense,'' Moore said. "Sometimes the center would slide over and help him. Sometimes Carter was by himself. We didn't game plan around him at all.''

- Robin Washut

Matching up with Tech

Last week in Nebraska's win over Missouri the Huskers showed they have the horses to match-up with spread offenses in the Big 12.

The Huskers attacked the Tigers with a dime base defense that featured Phillip Dillard most of the time as the lone linebacker on the field. Dillard said he feels like NU's plan to attack the spread worked to perfection last week at Mizzou.

"It gives us an extra couple D-Backs, a lot more speed and quickness," Dillard said. "Those guys in the back in the secondary are playing real amazing. The D-Line getting pressure on them and the D-Backs handling the man coverage and double-teaming...the extra D-Backs help a lot and also our D-Backs are playing physical.

"They come in and it's just like an extra linebacker too, a smaller, faster linebacker."

Dillard also feels that because NU is in year two of head coach Bo Pelini's defensive system, the players obviously have a better understanding of the defense and all the base concepts.

"A lot more have bought into the defense and the coach's philosophy: be physical, read your keys," Dillard said. "The game will slow down for you. The game's a lot easier than you make it out to be. Don't make it so difficult. If they line up in this, they run this 98 percent of the time out of this. Studying it over and over and just reviewing it on film, guys have bought into it and you can tell that they're really focused out there.

- Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Pelini didn't give any more indication of who would step up a replace injured freshman Rex Burkhead as the Huskers' No. 2 running back. In fact, there's a chance it might not be just one guy who does it.

"You'll see a committee of guys," Pelini said. "You'll see a number of different guys, and we'll see how it goes. We've got a lot of guys reps this week, and we feel good about that group. It's not as big of an issue as you guys are making it out to be."

***Pelini said he was impressed with the way Texas Tech has played defense, saying their simple yet effective approach is a reflection of Red Raider head coach Mike Leach.

"They play hard," he said. "They're not real fancy. They have a lot of guys back from last year - a number of guys, especially in the front. They play hard, they play fast, and they're aggressive. They play with a good attitude. I like the way they play on defense."

***Sanders said senior safety Larry Asante would start on Saturday, and that while his injured ankle is still not 100 percent, it's about as good as it's going to get until the season is over.

***In his interview with RedRaiders.com, Moore was asked how Nebraska's defensive line compared to that of No. 3, which posted three sacks and five quarterback hurries in a 34-24 win over Texas Tech earlier this season.

"They're bigger," Moore said. "Probably not as fast. Texas, their ball get-off is so good, and they're so fast. But (the Cornhuskers) are definitely bigger and stronger. They look like a Nebraska D-line is supposed to look.''

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