September 30, 2009

Wednesday notebook: Huskers stay quiet on Tigers

Even though their showdown with bitter rival Missouri is only eight days away, Nebraska's players didn't quite feel like talking about the Tigers on Wednesday.

On the only day of media availability of the bye week, the Huskers pretty much steered clear of discussing their Big 12 Conference opener on Oct. 8 in Columbia, Mo. - a place where they haven't won since 2001.

However, considering all the rough recent history the two teams have both on and off the field, somebody eventually had to let something slip.

Senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was asked about the recent bad blood between the teams, specifically when MU linebacker Sean Weatherspoon accused him of spitting on Tiger quarterback Chase Daniel during pre-game warm-ups last year in Lincoln.

While he didn't come out and say it, it was pretty obvious that Suh wasn't too fond of the Tigers' propensity to trash talk.

"I really don't care about what they said," Suh said. "They can speculate and say what they want, as they always do. I mean, it is what it is. I'm going to keep going about my business and going out there to beat them, and that's it."

Junior quarterback Zac Lee - Nebraska's offensive spokesman - had a similar outlook on not worrying about the Huskers' struggles with the Tigers. Next Thursday will be his first start against Missouri, and Lee said he and his teammates are focused on simply improving as a team and not worrying about the past.

"This week, we're focusing on us," Lee said. "That's going to be this week. I'm sure next week we'll get into all that stuff, but we're trying to do the things we need to do to get better and do the things we can control."

The players' approach to their upcoming game is undoubtedly a reflection of head coach Bo Pelini, who said he's making sure the team ignores the past and take care of the task at hand this season.

"I don't care about history," Pelini said. "That's the last thing that's on my mind. They're a good football team and we are playing a very, very good, well-coached football team. It's going to be a heck of a challenge, but it's going to be won in 2009, not in 2008 or 2007 or 2006. It's going to be won or lost by the kids that take the field this year."

Suh said some Huskers might be using Nebraska's recent struggles against Missouri as motivation heading into next Thursday's game, but he is looking at the contest as a chance to take another big step towards achieving the team's season goals.

"I just want to go out there, and this is one of the teams on our schedule that we have to play," he said. "Obviously to reach some of the goals that we have, we have to go through this team. So that's a team we have to deal with.

"That's all in the past. We're looking forward to the future. That's it."

- Robin Washut

Wednesday practice takes
Still no Blackshirts: Nebraska ranks third nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 7 points per game behind only Oklahoma and South Florida. However, even with that number the prestigious Blackshirt practice jerseys have yet to be handed out by head coach Bo Pelini. It's hard saying when they'll be given out this season. Last year they weren't awarded to the starting defense until after the 10th game when the Huskers beat Kansas.
Coaches back from the road: After hitting the recruiting trail the last couple of days, the entire coaching staff was back in Lincoln for Wednesday's practice. The open date is always a good opportunity for NU to send out their coaches on the road to get a few days of recruiting in at the beginning of the week.
Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini said that senior safety Rickey Thenarse will be out indefinitely with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman defensive end Josh Williams also was out on Wednesday with a boot on his left foot. Pelini doesn't expect Williams to be out for every long. Senior safety Larry Asante did return back to practice after suffering an ankle injury on his interception return for a touchdown this past Saturday.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour half-padded practice inside the Hawks Championship Indoor Facility on Wednesday. NU will come back for another regularly scheduled practice on Thursday and take Friday off, before starting game week preparations for Missouri on Saturday.

Lee's confidence never wavered after loss to Virginia Tech

In some ways, Lee's performance in last week's win over Louisiana-Lafayette was the perfect confidence boost following his disappointing outing against Virginia Tech.

Well, it would have been had his confidence actually been shaken in the loss to the Hokies.

While he was obviously disappointed with his play two weeks ago, Lee said he quickly moved on from the game and shifted his focus to the Ragin' Cajuns. Judging from his 15-of-18 passing performance in leading the Huskers to a season-high 55 points, he didn't dwell on it much at all.

"I think as a quarterback, you have to be like a pitcher in baseball," Lee said. "You might remember what happened and try and get better from the situation, but you forget it. You try and forget it as quick as possible. You look at it, learn from it and move on. It's tough to do sometimes, but you have to."

Lee has always been a confident player, but he's also his own harshest critic. The day after the Virginia Tech loss, Lee met with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and watched the game film to see exactly what he did wrong.

He pinpointed those errors, corrected them the following week in practice and went out the next Saturday and had arguably his best game as a Husker. For a guy like Lee, moving on was as easy as that.

"It was definitely nice," Lee said. "It was good to get another good game under my belt, but there were definitely some things that we could've done better. That's something that I have to do - I have to be my own biggest critic and just continue to really nitpick myself at the little things I can do that's going to help the team.

"It was good to go back out and have some success, but personally I'm not going to stop. I'm going to keep going."

- Robin Washut

Brooks continues to get better

With three catches for 50 yards and one touchdown, senior wide receiver Chris Brooks had a career day last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Brooks said he's grown a lot as a player over the last four years and a lot of his recent emergence has happened because he has better understanding of the game.

"I just think I'm more aware of the situations on the field and I'm using my hands and I'm just reading defenses now," Brooks said. "We like to get me matched up on linebackers now and stuff like that. So me being able to work releases on that and get into voids has really been big for me. There's a couple times you get man looks and you lick your chops for that. You feel like you can beat guys and that's really what we try to do with me."

As for Brooks' future role, it remains to be seen how the NU offensive staff will utilize him down the road. Brooks has been working though as the Husker fourth wide-out behind Niles Paul, Menelik Holt and Curenski Gilleylen.

"I really don't know and I really don't care," Brooks said when asked about his role. "I just want to play football. That's just been the aspect of it all along. When coach put me in there, I just wanted to be in a position to make a play, whether it's a block or whatever."

- Sean Callahan

Dean's big play bittersweet

For redshirt freshman cornerback Jase Dean Saturday was his first big moment as a Husker. The walk-on out of Bridgeport laid a jarring hit on punt coverage that caused a fumble which ended up being recovered by the Huskers.

The only problem was the officiating crew thought differently of Dean's hit on punt coverage and penalized him for making helmet-to-helmet contact, which canceled out the play.

"I just ran down there and I hit him like I was taught to and coached to do," Dean said. "Unfortunately it was a flag I guess."

Dean works on both the punt and punt return teams for the Huskers, along with the kickoff coverage unit. With senior safety Rickey Thenarse out for the season, Dean will now take his place as one of the downfield gunners in punt coverage.

"It's a little frustrating," Dean said. "You just have to let it go. Turn around and forget about it and move onto the next play."

- Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***With a bye week and a Thursday night game, the Huskers practice schedule is different this week. NU's typical Monday practice will happen on Saturday.

"It doesn't matter to us," Pelini said. "Our weeks are always screwed up anyway. Saturday will just be a Monday to me. It will actually be a benefit, because there won't be school on Saturday and Sunday. There are really no issues. It doesn't really make a difference to us."

***Pelini said that both junior Anthony West and sophomore Alfonzo Dennard continue to battle one another at cornerback.

"We have lot of confidence in (Dennard) and we have a lot of confidence in West," Pelini said. "There's a lot of those guys back there that we feel are really capable. We are a lot deeper there than we were a year ago."

***Pelini said the staff feels good about the chance to get Thenarse a medical redshirt for the 2009 season. Thenarse suffered a season-ending knee injury this past Saturday.

***Nebraska's special teams played arguably their best game of the season last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. Special teams coach John Papuchis said he feels good about how far along NU's special teams play has come over the first four weeks.

"It's a huge advantage to play well on special teams, but it's an emphasis to our program," Papuchis said. "We are truly committed to making it one-third of the game, and one of our main objectives is to control field position, and I thought we did that pretty well on Saturday night."

***The hot stat of the week so far has been Nebraska's jump to No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (7 points allowed per game). However, Suh didn't seem all that impressed about it on Wednesday.

"That's all nice, but I want to be No. 1," Suh said. "Because I'm assuming that if we're No. 1, we'll be in the National Championship."

***Offensive line coach Barney Cotton talked about last year's Missouri game and the lessons the Huskers' offense learned in their 52-17 loss to the Tigers.

"I can't speak for the defense, but I know offensively, we did some real soul searching after that game," Cotton said. "We kind of simplified some things and became a better offense after that game last year. We're still working towards that this year."

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