October 5, 2011

Wednesday notebook: Ohio ties run deep at NU

When Ohio State comes to Lincoln on Saturday, the game may not have the original luster most people thought at the beginning of the season, but the connections to the state of Ohio in the NU program still give this match-up some solid storylines.


Obviously starting with the NU coaching staff, both head coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, along with offensive coordinator Tim Beck and graduate assistant Vince Marrow all graduated from Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney High School.


Pelini was a captain for the Buckeyes and played for Earl Bruce and John Cooper during his time in Columbus from 1987-90.


"I had a great experience there. I enjoyed my time playing there," Pelini said. "I have a lot of friendships I've made and played for a lot of good coaches. I played for Coach Bruce and Coach Cooper and a lot of great assistants. I've always said the experience you have helps lead to where you are and what you accomplish."


Beck played his college ball at Central Florida, but growing up he vividly remembers how much of an impact Buckeye games on Saturday played in his life.


"You grow up every Saturday just like here it's Nebraska, well for me every Saturday it was Ohio State," Beck said. "You can't help but know about their tradition and the excellence of their program and the great players that have played there. It's going to be a fun game and it's going to be a heck of a challenge for us."


On top of the Ohio influence on Nebraska's coaching staff, there are also six Ohio natives on NU's roster.


Junior wide receiver Tim Marlowe, sophomore fullback Mike Marrow, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Mark Pelini, freshman running back Braylon Heard, freshman linebacker Max Pirman and freshman defensive tackle Kevin Williams all came to Lincoln via Ohio.


Marlowe said growing up in Youngstown, his family supported Notre Dame, but most of his friends were big Buckeye fans.


"It means a lot," Marlowe said of this week. "Obviously being from Ohio, I have a buddy that plays for Ohio State and having to hear the Ohio State fans my whole life, we are excited to get after it.


"It's going to mean a lot to me personally, but as a team it's just two great teams playing against each other. There will be a lot of tradition on the field, a lot of Heisman Trophies, National Championships and seeing the Buckeyes and Huskers on the same field will be exciting."


Marlowe added that the friends he's talked to back home are all frustrated with OSU's recent struggles, but he still knows they'll get the Buckeyes' best shot on Saturday.


"It's frustrating (to Ohio State fans)," Marlowe said. "They've been struggling and (the fans) are not happy with it. Ohio State is used to winning. They've won seven out of the last 10 Big Ten titles and they're not happy right now. The fans are in a panic mode, but like I said, it's Ohio State, and they're going to come ready on Saturday."


- Sean Callahan


Turner emerges as top receiving threat


For a guy who didn't start playing wide receiver since last spring, Jamal Turner sure hasn't wasted any time developing into Nebraska's go-to guy in the passing game.


The true freshman's 13 receptions are four more than any other player on the roster, and his 223 receiving yards are 83 more than the next highest total. Turner has caught at least one pass in all five games this season, including a career-high five catches for 84 yards in last week's loss to Wisconsin.


He's now led the Huskers in receiving in a game twice this year, as he also had a team-high three grabs for 63 yards against Fresno State, including a career-best 43-yarder that stands as NU's third-longest pass play this season.


Funny thing is, no one may be more surprised to know Turner is Nebraska's top receiving threat so far than he is.


"That's crazy," Turner said. "I try not to pay too much attention to it. If it happens, it's a positive. If not, I just want to win games. That's why I'm here, to win games."


One of the biggest reasons for Turner's productivity has been the Huskers' use of him on the perimeter with more short routes and screen passes. Earlier in the year, Turner said he was being used more and a deep threat, which is understandable because of his speed.


But what really makes the Arlington, Texas, native so dangerous with the ball is his ability to make defenders miss in the open field. While offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Turner sometimes drives him crazy by trying to do too many juke moves instead of getting the ball up field, Turner said it's just the playmaker in him going to work.


"I saw on film, a lot of times I could've got the ball and just gone North and got more yards, but I'm a young player and I'm still learning," Turner said. "I'm figuring out it's not high school anymore. That's just me trying to score, man. I'm just trying to make a big play, and I just need to let the game to me and stop trying to do too much."


- Robin Washut


NU preparing for both Buckeye quarterbacks


Nebraska's defense still isn't quite completely sure which Ohio State quarterback it's going to see the most on Saturday, as the Buckeyes have used a combination of senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller this season.


When former starter Terrelle Pryor was suspended over the offseason along with four other OSU starters, he opted to enter the NFL's supplemental draft and is now with the Oakland Raiders.


As a result, Ohio State was forced to scramble a bit to find its new starting signal caller during fall camp. Five games into the season, the Buckeyes don't seem much closer to finding an answer.


Bauserman opened the year as the starter, but it didn't take long for Miller to replace him. However, both quarterbacks saw playing time in last week's 10-7 loss to Michigan State, and Bauserman replaced Miller and led OSU to its only touchdown of the game.


Either way, the Buckeyes' offense has been dismal all season, as they rank 108th nationally in total offense and put up just 178 yards last week against the Spartans.


Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said the Huskers have been preparing to face both QBs on Saturday. While Bauserman and Miller have both struggled, Pelini said NU isn't taking either of them lightly.


"They both have different approaches to the game," Pelini said. "One is probably a little more mobile than the other one. I think they're both efficient in what they do. Ohio State is Ohio State. They run their offense, they execute well, they're very sound fundamentally, and the quarterback is asked to manage the game. I think both of them do it, and it'll be interesting to see who gets more time against us. I'm not really sure how that'll go."


Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell compared and contrasted what both of his quarterbacks bring to the table during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference.


"Joe is more of a guy who sees the field and has thrown a little bit more times back there," Fickell said of Bauserman. "Obviously he's a much older guy. He's 25 years old, but Joe is also a guy that does have some athleticism. He's not real fast, but he's a guy who can keep the play alive at times."


Fickell said of Miller:


"He's got good mechanics. He can put some zip on the football. He's just trying to learn what guys are doing and where they're going to be and what to anticipate. They both have some similar qualities in that they can keep the play alive. Obviously Braxton has a little bit more of a true athletic ability, but he also can, when we get him comfortable, he can throw a good ball and he has good mechanics."


- Robin Washut


Defense lacking in turnover department


Nebraska's defense certainly hasn't done itself many favors this season by not being able to capitalize on opposing offenses' mistakes. Through five games, the Huskers rank 83rd nationally in turnover margin at -0.4.


On the year, NU has four interceptions, three fumble recoveries, three forced turnovers on downs and no defensive touchdowns.


To put that into perspective, the Huskers had forced 14 total turnovers through five games last season, including 11 interceptions and three defensive scores. By the end of the season, Nebraska's defense had produced 34 turnovers and four touchdowns.


Bo Pelini said one of the biggest reasons for the lack of turnovers this season has been NU's inability take advantage when opportunities to take the ball away come up. Part of the reason has been the loss of veteran defensive backs like Prince Amukamara, DeJon Gomes and Eric Hagg, all of which made throwing the ball a risk on every play last season.


"The communication has to be good and you have to make plays at the end of the day," Pelini said. "There were a lot of times we could have gotten off the field the other day and we didn't align correctly. We didn't play with the correct leverage and play with the correct defense the way it was designed to work and it hurt us."


Like Pelini, safety P.J. Smith said it's going to be on the players to step up and start making plays on the ball when they have the chance. Smith said that starts with being more aggressive and looking to take the ball away on every snap.


"Just be more physical and get your hands on the ball," Smith said. "Every opportunity you get to tackle somebody and strip, tackle and try to strip them. Every time the ball is in the air, compete. That's one of the main things that coach talked about is competing.


"We haven't been competing the way we should be, and that's what is killing us as a secondary and as a defense together. Competing more and being aggressive. When you see the ball, go get it. There are times when we go for the ball and miss it, and they catch it and get the first down."


- Robin Washut


Quick hits


***Offensive line coach Barney Cotton gave some insight into the changes Nebraska has made to its practice format this week. He said the team starts off with the offense running against Nebraska's style of defense. Later, the defense will mimic the opponent's style of defense, in this case Ohio State's. Cotton said NU worked one's on one's for about 40 minutes on Wednesday.


***Cotton said sophomore Andrew Rodriguez will get the start this week at left guard over junior Sueng Hoon Choi this week against Ohio State.


"We thought that after the Wyoming game that (Rodriguez) played well enough that we switched the role," Cotton said. "Although Choi still played half the game last week, but Andrew (Rodriguez) started. As it stands this week right now Andrew will start, but Choi will still play."


***When asked if the gap between Taylor Martinez and Brion Carnes is really that wide, Cotton immediately came to the defense of Martinez.


"We have a starting quarterback, there's no question about that. That's all I'm going to say," Cotton said.


***Linebackers coach Ross Els echoed Carl Pelini's evaluation of the Nebraska's linebackers from Tuesday by saying the unit's biggest problem isn't being in the right spots, but finishing plays. He said the linebackers, particularly Will Compton and Sean Fisher, are slowing down once they hit their assigned gaps instead of going full speed through them and attacking blockers and ball carrier.


***Els said Nebraska has been proactive this week in addressing that problem with the linebackers, saying they've emphasized playing all the way through the end of drills instead of letting up too soon. He said once linebackers get to their gaps in drills, they've been really focusing on shedding blocks correctly and pursuing on to the football.


***As for Fisher in particular, Els said the junior was "doing OK." He said Fisher needs to work on finishing plays and that open-field tackling has been an issue for him this season. Els said part of the problem with Fisher is he hasn't played in many of football games at Nebraska, since he was lost for the season with his injury last fall.


***From the sounds of things, don't expect Nebraska to start rotating more at linebacker much more than they have been, as Els said there's "quite a bit of a difference between our one's and two's at linebacker right now." He said until the second unit shows it can close that gap, NU wouldn't rotate much.


***Els said he doesn't expect Nebraska to go out of its way to stop the run this week against Ohio State. He said even though the Buckeyes haven't been completing many passes, their play-action game is still a threat NU has to account for.



***When recruiting coordinator John Papuchis looks at the future of the quarterback position, he said it's a must NU builds up depth. Papuchis said NU has to be the only Division I team in the country with just two scholarship quarterbacks on campus.


"We definitely are going to beef that area up," Papuchis said of the quarterback position. "We aren't just going to take guys to take them though."


***The strength of Ohio State's team this season has undoubtedly been its defense, as the Buckeyes come into Saturday's game ranked 13th nationally in total defense at just 285.2 yards allowed per game. Fickell said he's seen his defense settle in well over the course of the season, and it only continues to get better every week.


"Their attitudes, their comfort level, their ability to handle a situation like giving up a long touchdown and a big play, that's probably the thing that we've done a better job of from the first and second week to now, being able to handle those types of situations," Fickell said. "You're going to get that with the better competition like this week. You're going to get that. You're going to get some big plays, and you've got to be able to handle them and move onto the next play."

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