Pelini to address Huskers' defense during bye week
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)
Nebraska has a timely open date before it starts Big Ten play. It will be no vacation for the Cornhuskers' defense.
Masked by the margin of victory in Saturday's 59-20 win over South Dakota State was another disconcerting defensive performance, one that coach Bo Pelini called his team's worst of the season.
The Championship Subdivision Jackrabbits piled up 465 yards, including 202 on the ground by Zach Zenner. SDSU made 25 first downs and averaged 6.9 yards a play.
''I don't want to take away from the win,'' Pelini said, ''but we're going to use this bye week. We need to make a big jump between now and two Saturdays from now.''
A lot of the problem came down to simple things, like getting off blocks, tackling and being in the right place at the right time.
The lapses were particularly shocking in the first quarter against a no-nonsense SDSU offense that, Pelini said, didn't do anything ''magical.'' Zenner tore through huge holes, splitting two safeties and outrunning them for a 40-yard touchdown. He reached the 100-yard mark on his seventh carry.
''You have to have a certain kind of mentality when you take the field,'' Pelini said. ''I just feel like sometimes we're sitting back, taking it.''
Pelini added, ''You've got to have a killer instinct. In football, no one is going to give you anything. You have to go take it. You have to go earn it. And if you don't have that kind of approach, then it's not going to work out well for you.''
Pelini's frustration has carried over from late last season, when the Huskers couldn't seem to stop anybody.
Four games into this season, Nebraska (3-1) is 108th out of 125 FBS teams in total defense (463.8 ypg), 108th in passing yards (284.3), 84th against the run (179.5 ypg) and 72nd in scoring defense (26.7 ppg).
The secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but it has underperformed. The Huskers are giving up 116 more passing yards a game than they did last year, when they were among the top pass defenses in the nation. They are allowing opponents to complete 63 percent of their passes this year, much worse than their nation-leading 47.1 percent in 2012.
The Huskers have given up a stunning 79 plays of 10 yards or longer, including a nation-worst 52 on pass plays.
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said some of his players need to improve how they react to things they didn't see in practice. Case in point: South Dakota State used tight end Cam Jones in more of a receiver's role than it had in previous games. Jones led the Jackrabbits with six catches for 68 yards.
''It took two series for us to explain how we were going to handle it,'' Papuchis said.
There were some positives Saturday. The Huskers recorded five sacks, Stanley Jean-Baptiste had his fourth interception in four games and defensive end Randy Gregory ran back a pick 33 yards for a touchdown.
Avery Moss, who helped on a sack and had another tackle for loss, said he and his teammates weren't mentally ready at the start.
''We thought it was going to be a walk in the park,'' he said. ''After we got a dose of reality by their running back, it was like a slap in the fact. It was, `All right, we're Nebraska, we need to show them we can bow up and play some defense.' ''
The Huskers improved in the second half, allowing 5.5 yards a play compared with 8.3 in the first.
That didn't satisfy Pelini, whose team plays Oct. 5 at home against an Illinois team whose offense is averaging 438 yards and 37 points.
''I work in the business of getting it fixed,'' Pelini said. ''I take it as a challenge right now to get this thing fixed. We'll find the right combination and we'll find a way. I've always been able to do that. I feel confident we're going to be able to do that. I'll get this fixed. Trust me there.''