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September 2, 2013

Husker Buzz: Defense must re-find swagger


It's no secret as Nebraska gets ready to take the field this week to prepare for Southern Miss the defense needs to re-find their swagger.

Dating back to last season, the Huskers have played their worst statistical stretch in school history, giving up a combined 1,831 yards in losses to Wisconsin, Georgia and in Saturday's win over Wyoming.

Everybody knew it was going to be a work in progress to get this defense up to snuff, but nobody was expecting a 602 yard day from Wyoming. Nobody was expecting the Cowboys to get an opponent record 35 first downs and have the ball in the game's final minutes with a chance to win.

With UCLA and their talented offense looming down the road, it's vitally important the Blackshirts take a step in the right direction and play at a higher level this week. Another shaky performance against the Golden Eagles, even if it results in a win, will not be the statement you want heading into one of the biggest games of the season.

"It's very important, especially confidence, but you can only build confidence in preparation," senior cornerback Ciante Evans said when talking about playing with more swagger this week. "That's throughout the whole week being prepared and knowing your assignments. I tell them just do your job and if you take care of your responsibilities then that confidence and that swagger comes with it."

Too many times on Saturday players were thinking instead of playing. In order for this defense to get to where it needs to be that needs to turn around.

Head coach Bo Pelini did his best on Monday to point out the positives of Nebraska's 602 yard defensive performance against Wyoming, but even he left the stadium on Saturday night with some uneasiness in his stomach.

Pelini said after he got done taping his coach's TV show he went back up to the office and watched the entire game film.

"I actually like the way we played in some instances," Pelini said. "I like how some of the young guys reacted and some of the things we did. There was a lot of positives that came out of it that I think got masked because some of the things that happened in my opinion shouldn't have happened. Like I said, I think we will learn a lot from what happened, and I think we will grow exponentially from that game the other night.

"I went right to the film afterwards. I was here till the wee hours of the morning watching it and I came out of it - because I wouldn't have been able to sleep - but I came out of it, I said 'OK, I have a pretty good idea of what this football team can be.'"

In a way, this is one of the biggest weeks of the season, because NU has to get things going in the right direction defensively in order to have confidence heading into the UCLA game.


Look for the deep ball

As I watched the Wyoming game on Saturday night I was shocked Nebraska wasn't testing the Cowboys deep in the passing game.

Wyoming had their safeties up in the box and they were clearly favoring the run, leaving NU's corners in one-on-one situations on the edge. The deep ball was there for the taking and even on Monday Pelini hinted he was disappointed with the lack of deep shots they took down field.

"I think we should've taken more shots down the field, especially early on," Pelini said. "I thought we had some opportunities, like I said you live and learn."

I also feel like the 15 to 25 yard plays in the passing game are what really ignite the offense and they are the plays that get the defense on their heels, which opens up the running game even more.

Punt return game must improve

I absolutely despise bad rugby punters. It's amazing how good Nebraska made Wyoming's Ethan Wood look on Saturday.

Wood is one of the five worst punters I've probably ever seen in the 15 seasons I've covered Nebraska football, but he still managed to an average of 52.3 yards per punt on his four attempts that barely got off the ground 10 feet.

Wood's punts skipped on the turf about several times and were nearly impossible to field because NU gave him so much time to hold the ball, which allowed the Cowboy's coverage to get down the field. Going forward this has to improve.

Even if they aren't going for a block Nebraska has to find ways to put a little pressure on rugby style punters to give the return man a chance. If Jamal Turner could've fielded those punts cleanly, you are talking about potentially 20 or 30 more yards of possible field position.

Bohl got the last word on Snyder

It was fun seeing former Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl get the last word on Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder this past Friday in the Bison's 24-21 victory in Manhattan.

If you remember, in 2002 Snyder really stuck it to Bohl's defense scoring 21 points on him in the fourth quarter with quarterback Ell Roberson and running back Darren Sproles still in the game on Senior Day.

KSU went on to win that game 49-13 and Sproles scored the final two touchdowns in the game's last 5 minutes. Bohl was essentially fired a week later before Nebraska played Colorado.

I was told after NDSU's win in Manhattan on Friday Bohl told his assistants that game was "personal" for him after Snyder ran it up on him late in 2002. Kansas State fans can say all they want about Osborne running it up on people in the 80's and the 90's, but never were starting players in the game that late doing it.

Three and out

***I heard great reviews about the view from the new East Balcony seats in Memorial Stadium. The biggest complaints I heard were the amount of bugs near the lights, and the exiting process. Apparently it was single file all the way down the escalators, so several people took the emergency exit stairs because things were back up so far.

***Since this Southern Miss game was originally supposed to be in New Orleans, can somebody buy me a Hurricane this week on Friday night? In a way though, it's good this game is at home, because this young defense doesn't need any other distractions with traveling to a neutral site game.

***Until we see more improvement from Nebraska, Michigan has to be the early favorite in the Legend's Division after week 1. I was also very impressed with Wisconsin, and I thought Penn State showed some toughness in their win over Syracuse.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.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.



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