October 4, 2011

Tuesday notebook: NU taking a new approach

As Nebraska left the practice field on Monday and Tuesday, you could just sense from the body language of the players and coaches it had been a long two days of hard work.

On Monday, the Huskers didn't leave the practice field until nearly 6 p.m., and they didn't walk off until around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Both days the Huskers were out practicing around 30 minutes longer than normally scheduled.

Senior offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick said the Huskers have taken on a new practice approach this week that features more one's vs. one's work than ever before during the regular season.

Hardrick said typically Nebraska would typically do 10 minutes of good-on-good work, but on both Monday and Tuesday they did 60 minutes worth.

It's a fall camp mentality head coach Bo Pelini has brought back to practice in order to build up more hunger in his players after last week's disappointing loss to Wisconsin.

"It has (been an intense week) and a lot of people are tired," Hardrick said following Tuesday's practice. "We've got to learn to fight through and get us stronger and get a lot of hungry people.

"I don't think (Pelini) wants us to get complacent anymore. I think he wants us to fight every day and we are going to be tired and he wants to see us push through it."

Hardrick added that going one's on one's forces NU's players to be more focused in practice versus the look they'd get from a scout team player.

"I don't think we were as hungry as we were during fall camp," Hardrick said. "That's what they took it back to fall camp like. In fall camp we were just hungry and we were trying to fight and do anything to get to the next level."

Senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said Pelini's early practice message for the week has definitely had an impact and the focus level has been very intense both days.

"We are just competing with each other," Dennard said. "We are working on never backing down and never taking plays off; just trying to get into the groove of competing with each other again.

"We are just trying to go after it. This is where it starts. Once you do everything good during the week it carries over into the game."

- Sean Callahan

Hardrick: Martinez fed up with criticism

After quarterback Taylor Martinez's terse session with reporters during Nebraska's weekly press conference on Monday, Hardrick gave some insight into his teammate's frustration.

From what Hardrick has gathered, Martinez reached a breaking point from all of the outside criticism he's been receiving essentially since things went south last season.

"I know he gets a lot of people talking about him, and I think it finally hit him," Hardrick said. "He'd been holding in a lot, like, I don't know, he said he couldn't take it anymore. He knows he played bad; he doesn't need to hear it a lot. I guess he has to man up to the media when he messes up."

Hardrick should know how Martinez is handling the pressures of the season as well as anyone, as the two talk or text each other practically every night after practice. He said Martinez hasn't been able to avoid the scrutiny anywhere he goes, as Hardrick has even seen the sophomore quarterback get flack from other students during class.

"He just old me he's sick of it," Hardrick said. "These next seven games he just wants the world to get off his back, so he's going to have to do something about it. That's pretty much what he told me in a text last night… He just wants all the negativity away from him wherever he goes and stuff like that. Like I know in our class, some girl told him 'stop throwing those interceptions' and things like that. It was just too much. He was in a Spanish class and they're talking about interceptions."

The final straw for Martinez, Hardrick said, came when his girlfriend started getting harassed in public when Martinez had a bad game.

"I think his girlfriend, a lot of people (have been) talking very bad to her, and I think that really got to him," Hardrick said. "They were saying a lot of things to her and making her mad talking about him. I think he couldn't take it anymore… This is the first time I've ever seen him mad. He (usually) doesn't care what anybody thinks about him."

Hardrick said the rest of the team has rallied around Martinez in support, especially this week following his three interceptions against Wisconsin. He said the Huskers want to make sure that Martinez knows they still have his back, even if it seems no one else does.

"Everybody loves Taylor," Hardrick said. "He's the leader of the team. He's the quarterback. We turn our back on him, it'd be pretty bad. I know he's trying to keep everybody happy and keep everybody upbeat. He's not trying to hold his head down.

"We've just got to get him back up. We can't let him feel like he's on an island by himself. We're not pointing any fingers. We'll take the losses as a team and the wins as a team. We're going to need everybody, and he's going to be the biggest person we need to win."

As much as players say they don't read anything media says or writes about them, Hardrick said it's pretty much impossible not to see or hear it. He said often times players themselves will bring articles into the locker room and pass them around amongst the team.

"We've got some guys that don't get off the Internet, and they bring it in the locker room and we all read it," Hardrick said. "Taylor pretty much doesn't. He knows everything he reads is going to be bad, so I guess he's tired of it."

In Hardrick's opinion, people have been way to hard on Martinez. He said for as much as Martinez means to Nebraska on the field, he should get a little more positive press than he does.

"I don't think they ever write anything good about Taylor," Hardrick said. "I would think he deserves some good things. He's the leader of our team. I think they need to build his confidence instead of bringing him down."

- Robin Washut

Huskers not passing blame for disappointing loss

The final score of last week's 48-17 blowout loss to Wisconsin was obviously a tough pill to swallow for Nebraska, but it was way the team responded when the game got out of hand that stood as the most upsetting aspect.

After Saturday night's game, Bo Pelini and some veteran players spoke out about their displeasure with the way the Huskers finished off the game. In some ways, they felt as if the team gave up a bit as adversity set in.

"I don't think we responded well to adversity," Pelini said. "I just don't think we did. We did earlier in the year. We did well in the Washington game. It is interesting. You can't practice everything you will see in a game. You'll always see something new. If you always say we will take care of these things and something different happens, OK. You apply roles and make adjustments.

"But if something happens and they make a play and we forget about what we were prepared for, then you didn't respond well. That didn't necessarily happen. We were playing well and then, boom, we didn't handle the end of the first half well. From that point, we got worse as a team. It just means we didn't respond well. Somebody has to step up and make a play, we have to be together as a unit. We didn't quite do that. I thought we did earlier in the year. We didn't, for whatever reason, the other night."

Redshirt freshman receiver Kenny Bell said he was very surprised by the way the Huskers let up towards the end of the game, mostly because of the way they had responded so well in the second half throughout the season.

Bell said for whatever reason the players got so discouraged by their own mistakes that they became their own worst enemy by trying to hard to make up for their errors.

"It's not that physically we were defeated, I think it was a mental thing," Bell said. "We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We can be a phenomenal football team if we take care of us. Now that's a big if. That's not an if you want to have, but it something that we're going to deal with this week."

The good news for the Huskers is that every player in the locker room felt accountable for the disaster up in Madison. Junior tight end Ben Cotton described it as players feeling like they had each let their team down with the individual performance, rather than pointing the blame at others.

"Guys were more of the feeling that you let your brothers down on the team," Cotton said. "You let the guy next you down, and they were more upset that we could've done better than we did than they were about worrying about whose fault it was, because everybody knows it was a team effort."

Through the first two practices of the week, players and coaches alike have said the team has bounced back and practiced at a very high level in getting ready for Saturday's game against Ohio State.

However, as much as fans may want to forget what happened against the Badgers, the Huskers know the sting of a loss like that won't go away for some time. This week and for the rest of the season, avoiding that feeling just might be all the motivation Nebraska needs.

"It's impossible to just turn the page," Bell said. "Losses are the worst feeling you can ever have, especially in a town like Lincoln where you're constantly reminded. This loss is going to sting far past this week after we win. It's hard to turn the page, but you buckle down, you move on with your teammates and your coaching staff and you get after it all week. That's exactly what we're doing."

- Robin Washut

Buckeyes suffer even more setbacks

As if the suspensions of five of Ohio State's best players before the season even started wasn't bad enough, the Buckeye's suffered a few more major blows this week as they get ready to take on Nebraska.

First was the news on Monday that running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey, two of the five players suspended for the first five games for receiving improper benefits, would not be reinstated this week after the NCAA ruled they'd received improper employment from a booster over the summer.

Then on Tuesday, word broke that redshirt freshman Verlon Reed, the team's second-leading receiver this year, would be lost for the season after suffering an ACL injury in last week's loss to Michigan State.

Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell certainly hasn't had many breaks go his way since taking over for Jim Tressel over the offseason, but he said the only thing the Buckeyes could do was continue to move on and play with the cards they've been dealt.

"It's part of life," Fickell said during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "Don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses. That's the theme, the timeless wisdom of John Wooden. That's where we are. That's what we're going with.

"Some things we don't have control over, and we have to be able to handle the things we do have control over, and our attitude is one of them. That's what we have to be able to handle and maintain."

With Reed and Posey, last year's team receiving leader, both out of the mix in the passing game, Ohio State will have to rely even more on junior tight end Jake Stoneburner.

Stoneburner leads OSU with 10 catches for 101 yards and four touchdowns on the year, but Fickell knows teams will be keying in heavily on shutting him down and making the Buckeyes rely on less experienced targets.

"We've got to find a way, whether it's moving or flexing (Stoneburner) out, doing some things with him, motioning him around, we've got to find a way to get the ball in the hands of the guys who can make some plays," Fickell said.

"We know people are going to be focused on him. We just have to find a different way to get him singled up or whatever it is to get him some more space."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Ohio State's loss of running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey to additional suspension this week wouldn't change the way Nebraska's defense prepared for the Buckeyes. He said all the film they have of OSU didn't include Herron or Posey, so it would actually make it a bit easier.

"It really doesn't change anything, because truthfully, the team that we've been breaking down for four weeks didn't have Posey or Herron," Carl said. "So we're kind of preparing against the team we've been watching on film. Had they been playing, it might have made us look back a little more towards last year to see how they used those guys."

***Carl said OSU tight end Jake Stoneburner was a big, physical player who could run, which he called "a dangerous combination" at the position to match-up with.

"He's a big, tall, physical tight end who can run, and that's a dangerous combination," Carl said. "It's hard to match-up with him. If you match him up with a linebacker, he runs really well. You match him up with a DB, he's really tall and physical. Anytime you've got a tight end with those skills, he's a tough match-up for you."

***Senior linebacker Lavonte David said from what he's seen on film, Ohio State's running game a really aggressive, downhill scheme that was similar to what they saw last week against Wisconsin.

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