November 16, 2010

Tuesday notebook: Fumbles top NU's list of concerns

Nebraska has put up more than a few impressive stats over the course of the past 10 games this season, but it currently leads the nation in one stat in which it would rather rank dead last.

The Huskers have fumbled a total of 33 times this season, four more than any other team in the country. Of those 33 fumbles, NU has lost 12, ranking 105 nationally.

Needless to say, head coach Bo Pelini points to ball security as the No. 1 area of concern for his team as it heads into the critical final stretch of the season.

"The ball security bothers me," Pelini said. "We emphasize it. We drill it. You have to take it to the field. I thought we went a couple weeks there where it really dramatically improved. Our execution improved, and then it kind of crept up the other day again.

"We just keep talking about it and keep working it. Some of those fumbles have been exchange problems out of the gun and some in the read game that comes with experience. It's an area we have to continue to clean up."

In Saturday's win over Kansas, Nebraska put the ball on the ground twice, including one by quarterback Taylor Martinez that was recovered by the Jayhawks and resulted in their only three points of the game.

Two weeks ago against Iowa State, NU fumbled five times and lost two that resulted in 10 points for the Cyclones.

The fact that the Huskers have consistently given their opponents easy scoring opportunities by giving up the football has been frustrating for the players to say the least.

"The funny thing is we work on it all the time," senior wide receiver Mike McNeill said. "We work on ball security, we have drills that we do every week, every Monday, every Tuesday we're working on ball security. It's something we've got to fix. Obviously we haven't been very good at it. We're leading the country in it and it's probably not a good stat. But we're working on it."

McNeill said the Huskers go through strip drills, contact drills, and drills with punching the ball out of ball carriers' hands from behind on a weekly basis in practice. In his opinion, the biggest obstacle for the team in that area is as easy a focusing on Day 1 fundamentals at all times.

"We've just got to lock up the rock, put two hands on it and take care of it," he said. "It's that simple."

- Robin Washut

Tuesday practice takes
NU going for nine: The number nine just might be Nebraska's lucky number this week, as the Huskers will look to reach the total in several of impressive streaks on Saturday. Nebraska will be looking for its ninth straight road victory since last year's loss at Virginia Tech, as well as its ninth straight Big 12 Conference road win against the Aggies. The Huskers have also won nine consecutive games in the month of November dating back to their loss at Oklahoma on Nov. 1, 2008.

Something's got to give: Nebraska's strengths on both sides of the football are undoubtedly its rushing offense and passing defense. As it turns out, Texas A&M's biggest strengths just happen to be its passing offense and rushing defense. When the Huskers have the ball, they'll pit a running game that ranks seventh nationally with 282.3 yards per game against an Aggie defense that leads the Big 12 in run defense (112.2 ypg) and has held six of its 10 opponents to less than 100 rushing yards as a team. On the other side, A&M's pass offense ranks eighth nationally with 308.1 ypg, while NU boasts the second-best pass defense in the country (140.2 ypg) and leads the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Injury update: Nebraska continues to appear as healthy as could be expected, as there were no new injuries to report following Tuesday's practice.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour full-padded practice inside the Hawks Indoor Championship Center and on the fields northwest of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. The Huskers are scheduled to hold another full-padded practice on Wednesday as they continue to get ready for Saturday's nationally televised showdown with Texas A&M.

Pelini didn't mean to criticize fans

The first question out of the gate to head coach Bo Pelini during Tuesday's weekly press conference regarded the comments he made both following Monday's practice and during his weekly television show regarding Nebraska fans.

While talking about Saturday's win over Kansas, Pelini said he was surprised by how quiet Memorial Stadium was at some points during the game and described it as more like a scrimmage than a Big 12 Conference showdown.

On Tuesday, Pelini tried his best to dismiss the topic as him merely making an observation and nothing more.

"It was just an observation," Pelini said. "I'm not talking about that anymore. It's over and done with. There are going to be some fans that are always a little disgruntled."

Pelini was then asked if he was worried about a potential disconnect between him and NU fans that could arise when he makes those types of comments and "observations."

"I don't think that deserves a disconnect with that fans," he said. "It was just an observation."

Pelini continued by reiterating that he meant no disrespect to the fans and saying he's always thought Memorial Stadium provided one of the best home field advantages in college football.

Coincidently, he was later asked about Texas A&M's fan base and what makes Kyle Field such a tough place to play. In particular, he was asked if there were any similarities between Aggie and Husker fans.

Pelini took that as an opportunity to make up to Husker Nation just a bit.

"Our fans are better than the Aggie fans," he said with a smirk.

- Robin Washut

Kinnie gets rematch with A&M's Judie

Some of the most intense competition Nebraska receiver Brandon Kinnie faced while at Fort Scott (Kan.) CC didn't come against opponents on game days, but against his own teammate during the week on the Greyhounds' practice field.

As the No. 1 receiver at Fort Scott, Kinnie was more often than not matched up against FSCC's No. 1 cornerback - Coryell Judie, who now holds the same roll at Texas A&M.

After going up against Judie for two seasons in 2007-08, Kinnie knows full well the level of player he and the rest of NU's wide outs are about to face. Judie ranks seventh in the Big 12 with three interceptions and also ran back a 95-yard kickoff return last week against Oklahoma.

In fact, Kinnie's former coach at Fort Scott, Jeff Sims, has already started giving him a hard time about his upcoming reunion with Judie.

"My junior college coach was texting me after the (Kansas) game, (asking) like would I even make the trip because Judie is lock down," Kinnie laughed. "I haven't texted him back yet."

It's been nearly two full seasons since Kinnie and Judie squared off on the football field, and Kinnie admitted that he's excited to see how he stacks up against one of the conference's better cornerbacks.

"I know I've grown as a player and I know he has as well, so we'll see," Kinnie said. "It's going to be fun."

Whatever happens in Saturday's game, one thing that is for sure is both Kinnie and Judie will make it a point to let the other know when one of them makes a good play.

"He's a good smack talker," Kinnie said. "Big time."

- Robin Washut

Smith still working to get Blackshirt back

Three weeks ago, Nebraska's coaching staff sent sophomore P.J. Smith and senior Rickey Thenarse a message by taking away their Blackshirts and giving them to then-backups Courtney Osborne and Austin Cassidy.

Three games later, Osborne and Cassidy are still the starting safeties, and Smith and Thenarse are still without their Blackshirts.

While it would be understandable for Smith and Thenarse to be down or upset about their demotions, Smith said they have taken the situation in stride and are doing their best to be supportive of Osborne and Cassidy while also working every day to earn their Blackshirts back.

"I'm handling it fine," Smith said. "It's been kind of tough, but at the same time, we knew (the coaches) were going to do something like that. They had to open our eyes up, and that's exactly what it was, an eye-opener. You have to give credit to Cassidy and Courtney. They've come out and are playing with their heads on fire. They're balling, and it's exciting to see.

"We don't get down, because there's nothing to get down about. It's competition, so it goes like that sometimes."

Smith said he was still confident he would be able to work his way back into the starting lineup by the end of the season, but even if he didn't he said he would still continue to give his best effort in practice to earn as much playing time as he could.

"Just work hard every day," he said. "That's all the motivation that you need. This is the game I love to play, so I'm going to go out there every day no matter what and bust my tail and let the chips fall where they may."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Statistically, Nebraska ranks as one of the best all-around defense in the country. Outside of scoring defense and wins and losses, though, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini doesn't care much about stats, no matter how high his defense ranks.

"Everyone has asked me about run defense, pass defense, and pass defense efficiency, all those things," Pelini said. "They don't mean anything. It's scoring defense and keeping your opponent to less points than you score, period. End of story. You give a little to get a little. If you want to be great in coverage sometimes you're going to give up a few yards in the run game. If you want to be stout against, the run you're going to give up something in the pass game.

"Ultimately the total defense stuff is all that matters. Quite frankly I don't care about that. I never talk about it, I never look at it. I wouldn't have known we were number one if you wouldn't have just said it. All I know is that on a given Saturday I want to be the best defense on the field. We have to outplay our opponents defensively and that is how we look at it."

***There was some thought that junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard may have actually let Kansas's D.J. Beshears get a few steps on him to bait the quarterback before his highlight interception on Saturday. Turns out, Beshears' good jump on the route definitely wasn't allowed by Dennard on purpose.

"I always try to compete with the receiver," Dennard said. "(Beshears) did a pretty good job of getting off the ball, and he's a fast kid, and he just like sprayed me. But I was there to recover."

***As the Huskers get ready to potentially clinch the Big 12 North title on Saturday at Texas A&M, McNeill has been getting a bit of déjà vu this week.

"I was just telling one of the strength guys that it's come full circle," McNeill said. "My first year (in 2006) we got a chance to go to A&M and win the North, and now as a senior I've got a chance to go to A&M and win the North. It's going to be fun."

***Junior linebacker Lavonte David has 106 tackles on the season so far, and with as many as four more games remaining on the schedule there's a legitimate chance he might make a run at Barrett Ruud's single-season school record of 149 tackles. At the moment, though, that doesn't seem to rank very high on David's concerns.

"I could always get better," David said. "Tackles are tackles. That's a just a stat. There are things more (important) than that. I mean, it'd be great for me, and it would showcase my hard work, but I can always get better."

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