Nebraska receivers struggling with dropped balls
Nebraska wide receivers dropped four passes against Northwestern and three more against Penn State, and the No. 17 Cornhuskers' receptions leader over the first half of the season hasn't caught a ball in three games.
The mantra heading into this week's game at No. 20 Michigan? Practice, practice, practice.
''Practice makes perfect,'' coach Bo Pelini said. ''Catch a lot of balls.''
Third-down drops by Brandon Kinnie ended two drives in last week's 17-14 win at Penn State, and a ball through Kenny Bell's hands led to a three-and-out on another series.
''A drop can be the same as a fumble or interception,'' Bell said. ''It's absolutely demoralizing. It's something we've talked about all year. It's something we can't allow to happen.''
No one has struggled more than Kinnie, who led the Huskers with 44 catches for 494 yards and five touchdowns as a junior last season.
He started the season with two ugly drops against Chattanooga. He has 19 catches for 192 yards and hasn't scored.
The Huskers had to punt on their first series against Penn State when Kinnie couldn't hang on to Taylor Martinez's pass on third-and-13. The Huskers had to punt inside Penn State territory in the third quarter after Kinnie let a ball bounce off the breast plate of his shoulder pads.
''It's been a very frustrating year, very up-and-down year for me,'' said Kinnie said, who finished with no catches against the Nittany Lions.
Kinnie said he's developed the bad habit of jumping for balls that he could catch with his feet on the ground. The result is that he takes his eyes off the ball and his hands wind up in the wrong place, he said.
''You've got to flush it and move on,'' he said. ''I can't dwell on it. It's not like I wake up and want to drop every damn ball that gets thrown to me. That's not the case. Stuff happens. I've got to stop letting it occur.''
Kinnie isn't alone in his struggles as the Huskers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) prepare for Michigan (8-2, 4-2). Bell had two drops and Jamal Turner one on long passes in the win at Minnesota last month.
Bell had a team-high four catches for 42 yards against Penn State. But he failed to come up with a catchable low ball across the middle early in the game and immediately looked at his hands as if they betrayed him. He also ran the wrong route in the third quarter and Martinez's pass sailed behind him.
Turner, one of the Huskers' prize 2011 recruits, has been conspicuously absent since he made two catches for short gains against Minnesota. The freshman had a team-leading 15 catches for 243 yards through seven games but lost his starting job to junior Tim Marlowe.
Turner didn't play against Michigan State and was in for three plays against Northwestern and about the same number against Penn State.
Turner acknowledges he's on the sidelines now because of his lackadaisical ways in practice.
''I guess my work ethic isn't as high as it needs to be,'' Turner said. ''I thought coming out of high school I had a really high work ethic. It's really pretty bad. I'm trying my hardest to pick that up and understand there are guys just as good as me at the position and I have to work hard to earn my spot.''
Martinez has mostly shown patience with his receivers when they make mistakes.
Kinnie said no one blames the receivers' problems on Martinez, whose unorthodox throwing motion has been scrutinized all season.
''He throws a ball we need to catch,'' Kinnie said. ''It is what it is. We're wide receivers, and we've got to catch the ball no matter how hard it's thrown, when it shouldn't be, how high, no matter what. He's the quarterback. He's putting it there for us to catch, and we have to catch the ball.''