November 10, 2009

Tuesday notebook: Watson stuck with game plan

It took everything Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson had to keep his ego in check and not call a few long bomb passes last week against Oklahoma.

His offense was struggling to even get a first down against Oklahoma's talented defense, and there was an uncomfortable feeling that 10 points wasn't going to be enough to hold on for the upset victory.

But Watson stuck with the game plan, which the coaching staff had spent the past week working on, and everything ended up rosy in the end for the Huskers.

On Tuesday, Watson called NU's offensive game plan one of the gutsiest efforts he'd ever been a part of simply because of how frustrating it was to be as conservative as the Huskers were on Saturday.

"It's one of those things, I told my wife, that was the most courage I've ever had," Watson said. "It takes a lot of guts to call that kind of game. It really does. It's a hard game. It's easy in some respects, but it's hard in other respects because it's what we needed to do to win. You've got to get your ego out of it. Your ego's got to leave. You want to throw it, you want to do all that, but you've got to get rid of it.

"I kept reminding myself about how well our defense was playing and the plan we put together to win, and that made it easier, because we all knew what we had to do."

Watson said the intention offensively was to run the ball right at Oklahoma's defense to try and limit the effectiveness of their speed and also control the clock as much as possible.

The idea was to ride the play of Nebraska's defense as long as possible and not do anything on offense to lose to the game, such as commit a costly turnover and give the Sooners easy points.

With the way the Blackshirts were playing, Watson said it was easier to stick with the game plan. In the end, as tough as it was to keep his play calling so bottled up, Watson said the plan worked to perfection and accomplished the Huskers' ultimate goal going to into the game - getting a win.

"There was no secret how we were going to win that football game," Watson said. "It was a very good defense, a speed defense, and we wanted to run the ball right at them. I don't apologize for it because it won us the game. That was a key factor."

- Robin Washut

Tuesday practice takes
Keeping up the trend: Heading into Saturday's game against Kansas, Nebraska has held all but one of its nine opponents this season to 16 points or less. Even better, the Huskers haven't allowed more than 10 points in their past three games. The stingy play defensively in recent weeks is probably the last thing the Jayhawks' offense wants to see this week. Not only has KU lost four straight games coming in, its also scored 13 points or less in two of its past three games. Unless the Jayhawks suddenly find a away to get their offense back on track in the next week, don't expect Saturday to be any higher scoring than any of Nebraska's other games the past month.
A welcomed farewell: Nebraska will help the Kansas football program bid farewell to 15 seniors on Saturday, as the game will be the Jayhawks' Senior Day. It won't be a mournful goodbye for the Huskers, however, as several Jayhawk seniors have been thorns in NU's side the past four years. Some of the KU seniors that will be facing Nebraska for the final time are quarterback Todd Reesing, receiver Kerry Meier and safety Darrell Stuckey. In the past four seasons, the senior group is a combined 31-16 and led the Jayhawks to consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history.
Injury update: Senior center Jacob Hickman sat out of practice for the second straight day. However, junior guard Keith Williams returned to practice, as did senior safety Larry Asante, who praticed in a green no-contact jersey.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two-hour half-padded practice on the grass fields North of Memorial Stadium and inside the Hawks indoor facility on Tuesday. NU is scheduled to come back on Wednesday for another two-hour full padded practice.

Home crowd had disappointed Pelini

It's hard to imagine a coach being disappointed in a fan base boasting the longest home sellout streak in college football history, but Pelini said that was the case the previous home games before last week's victory.

Pelini said Memorial Stadium felt a little flat at times, and that it was lacking the energy he felt it needed to get the Huskers pumped up enough to dominate opponents. However, he said the crowd on Saturday was as good as he's seen since coming to Lincoln.

"That crowd is always good, but the stadium just didn't have that juice," Pelini said. "I felt an extra bit of juice in that stadium on Saturday night. You could feel it. Sometimes I don't think the crowd realizes how big an impact they can have on a football team and the whole aura of what's going on and give us that extra juice. You go into a game and sometimes the crowd feels like they should win this game and sometimes you feel that.

"That's been the case everywhere I have been. That's human nature. I was trying to give an example to our crowd and fans of how big of an impact they can have. I thought they had a huge impact on that game the other night. I hope that continues. I would like that to be the case whether we're playing Oklahoma or whatever Scott Junior High School."

- Robin Washut

Reesing still poses a threat

Even though Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing hasn't quite lived up to his preseason billing as one of the conference's best quarterbacks the past few weeks, Nebraska's defense still considers the senior one of the focal points in stopping KU's offense.

Reesing is still putting up decent numbers, as he currently ranks sixth nationally with nearly 300 passing yards per game. However, his mistakes have been magnified recently, especially considering the Jayhawks have dropped their past four games.

Over the past four games, he's fumbled five times and thrown five interceptions, which have resulted in 49 points for opponents.

Still, the Huskers' defense says Reesing is still as capable as ever of completely taking over a football game.

"Todd Reesing is still a great quarterback, no matter what's been happening the last couple weeks," sophomore defensive tackle Jared Crick said. "We're going to take the approach that he's 100 percent healthy and he's back to his old self. We're just going to get a good scheme going, kind of base it around him, get pressure on him and hopefully force a lot of indecision."

One thing that Nebraska's defenders said they've been impressed most about Reesing has been his ability to rebound both physically and emotionally after he makes a mistake.

"He's a tough guy, a tough QB," senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "He takes a lot of pounding but always seems to get up and produce a play the next time he has an opportunity to, which is what a lot of quarterbacks do in this league, so he's a great quarterback and he's going to continue to play hard as long as he's on the field."

Because of that resiliency, the Huskers don't think Reesing's recent struggles will play much of a role at all on Saturday. That's why they're going into the game with the mindset that they'll be facing the same old Reesing who has caused them fits the past two years.

"It's going to be a little bit more difficult rattling Reesing, just because he's got that experience and he's just got that know-how," Crick said. "If we just get enough pressure, we can get in anybody's head, whether it be the Heisman winner or the worst QB in the league. We're just going to take the same mentality as we do every other week and just get after him, but like I said, Todd Reesing is a great quarterback and has great experience and it's going to be a little bit more difficult but I think we can still get the job done."

- Robin Washut

Conditioning helps defense carry the load

As Nebraska's offense continues to struggle to stay on the field each week, its defense has found itself on the field more than ever.

Since the start of Big 12 play, the Huskers' defense has played an average of 72 snaps per game, with the most yet coming last week against Oklahoma, when the Sooners ran an opponent season-high 87 plays.

Even so, the Blackshirts have maintained their stellar level of play even if they've been on the field more than ever in recent weeks. The bulk of the credit, they say, goes to Nebraska's strength and conditioning program, headed by James Dobson.

Because of their work with Dobson and the rest of the strength and conditioning coaches, the Huskers say they been well prepared physically for the demands of grinding out games down the stretch of the season.

"You get beyond that with your summer conditioning," Suh said. "I think I came out for maybe five plays. I don't feel like I was exhausted at all. I felt like I could still play another quarter, quarter and a half. That's all due to Coach Dobson and his program, getting us ready for those long games. That's something you've got to control and you deal with before you start the season.

"Obviously it's a little bit different when you start the season because you've got to get into playing shape and whatnot, but usually that playing shape gets in after that first month and you're good."

- Robin Washut

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