November 8, 2011

Tuesday notebook: Turner ready to improve

One of the bigger mysteries with Nebraska's offense over the last two weeks has been the disappearance of freshman wide receiver Jamal Turner.

Following NU's win over Minnesota, Turner left Minneapolis as the Huskers' leader in total receptions and yardage. Since then, Turner has played little to no snaps the last two games.

Last week, wide receivers coach Rich Fisher said plain and simple Turner hadn't been playing because his practice effort hadn't been up to standard.

Following Monday's practice, Turner confirmed Fisher's reasoning as to why he hasn't been playing and said he had to improve in his practice habits.

"(Coach Fisher) will say 'you are not practicing hard,' and I'm like, 'I am, I am.'" Turner said. "Then he shows me the film and I'm not running even close to full speed. I looked like I was jogging. It opened my eyes and showed me that I need to work a little harder."

Another thing that has opened Turner's eyes is the effort level junior Tim Marlowe has put in to overtake him down the stretch.

Marlowe was the starter to begin the season, but Turner took over the job after a few games. Now Marlowe has played the best football of his career with solid performances against Michigan State and Northwestern to win back the starting spot.

"I honestly felt it when I saw just how much (Marlowe) stepped up," Turner said. "I never really had to compete for a position. I always just have been given it because I was athletic.

"That's one thing the coaches have shown me and that's if you're good, but not showing it in practice, they aren't not going to play you. I'm trying to get that fire back in me and win that spot back."

Turner said he hopes he can use this experience from his freshman year as a learning tool for down the road.

"I have learned a lot about myself," Turner said. "I'm really impatient, I learned that. I guess I also learned that my work ethic is not where it needs to be. Coming out of high school I had a really high work ethic, but I guess it's pretty bad now.

"I'm really trying my hardest to pick that up and I have to understand that there are guys just as good as me at the position I'm playing, so I have to work hard to earn my spot."

- Sean Callahan

Huskers have already moved on

The most important thing a team can do following a loss as frustrating and disappointing as the one Nebraska suffered last week to Northwestern is to put it behind you and move on as fast as possible.

After going over the game film one last time on Sunday, the Huskers say they had already taken that step even before the start of Monday's first practice of the week.

Needing to bounce back in a big way to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive, Nebraska has come out with what the team has called two of its best practices of the season the past two days. Sometimes a loss can actually improve a team's focus moving forward the rest of the season, and at least so far, that looks to be the case with the Huskers.

"You just move on to the next one," redshirt freshman receiver Kenny Bell said. "That's kind of our mentality every week, whether it's a big win or a big loss. Just got to focus in and get the next one… What helps with moving onto the next one is knowing the consequences if we don't. We can't let this one effect us, because there's no dropping another one.

"We've got to win out. That's the No. 1 thing that's going to help us, is knowing the consequences is we don't get it together."

The road ahead obviously won't be easy for Nebraska, as back-to-back road trips at Penn State and Michigan await the Huskers before closing out the year at home against Iowa in a game that could potentially determine the Legends Division winner.

Head coach Bo Pelini's outlook no matter the situation is to focus only on what his team can control and not look ahead past the next opponent on the schedule. Now that the Huskers have lost control of their destiny after Saturday's loss, Pelini's philosophy could be exactly what NU needs to get through this brutal final stretch of the regular season.

"They're all tough this late in the year," Pelini said. "You have to fight and persevere and get through it. Our guys will come out fighting on Saturday."

While it will obviously be an uphill battle for Nebraska to make it to Indianapolis, the Huskers know that as easily as they lost control of their post-season fate, there's plenty of football left to get it back.

"You never know with college football," senior safety Austin Cassidy said. "Who knows what's going to happen in the next couple weeks. We just have to focus on us. We have to win out just to be in position to get lucky, I guess. That's really all we can do.

"It's unfortunate that we did control our own destiny and now even if we do win out, we're looking to other people and hoping and praying that they do something for us, which is too bad."

- Robin Washut

Martinez keeps getting better

Since the start of fall camp, all Nebraska's players and coaches could talk about what was how much better sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez had gotten from last season.

Now nine games into his second year as a starter, they say it's hard to even compare where he was at the beginning of the season to where he is now. In particular, the Huskers' say Martinez has made night-and-day improvements in his overall ability as a passer.

"I think Taylor does a good job throwing the football," Pelini said during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference on Tuesday. "Like anybody else, there's always room for improvement, but I think he's done a lot of good things throwing the ball. His decision-making has gotten better. Yeah, I think he's done a really good job.

"We all know he's a threat running the football, but I think he's shown he can hurt you through the air too. I think he's just developing every week. He's developing as a football player and he keeps getting better. Hopefully that will continue."

Martinez is coming off one of the best passing games of his career, completing 28-of-37 passes (76 percent) for a season-high 289 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern.

His overall passing numbers on the season aren't anything to write home about, as he ranks 101st nationally in passing yards per game at 174.6. It's been his play in Nebraska's past four games that has caught people's eyes, though.

Martinez has completed 68 percent of his passes with six touchdowns to just two interceptions during that span. He only threw for 80 yards against Michigan State, including zero yards in the first half, but he was 6-of-7 in the second half with a game-clinching touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead.

Martinez's play of late has definitely garnered some attention, but his teammates say they've noticed his development as a quarterback each day since the season began.

"I feel like it's been the whole year," Bell said. "He keeps getting better and better. He's a sophomore quarterback; his best football is still ahead of him. It's no surprise that he's getting better each week, but it's good to see him have success."

- Robin Washut

Fitzgerald responds to signal stealing claim

Martinez definitely stirred things up a bit at Monday's weekly press conference when he essentially accused Northwestern's defense of stealing Nebraska's play signals from the sidelines to know what play the Huskers were going to run before the ball was even snapped.

On Tuesday, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald responded to Martinez's claim during his interview on the weekly Big Ten coaches' teleconference.

"There were some things that we saw from our film study of them that (Martinez) gave away that we thought we could take advantage of," Fitzgerald said. "When they were confirmed I think we took advantage of some of those things."

Per NCAA rules, there's nothing illegal about decoding play call signals to get an advantage on an opposing offense, and NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Monday that it's actually not all that uncommon for team's to try and get an edge that way.

"It's not like they're changing necessarily to stop a specific play," Beck said. "They may just be changing a coverage or a blitz from one side to another or something. But nothing to a point where we got 'got' during a course of a game."

Fitzgerald said the Wildcats didn't do anything differently defensively than what they had been doing all season, though he admitted he certainly wouldn't mind knowing other team's plays ahead of time.

"If we could steal their signals and get lined up, we'd be undefeated," Fitzgerald said. "We'd shut everybody out."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Rome was suited up and practiced on Tuesday. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Rome was limited on Tuesday, and the team would play it day by day and see how he responds throughout the week.

***Sophomore cornerback Ciante Evans was wearing a Blackshirt on Tuesday. There was some question about that last week since he was coming off injury.

***Several players talked about how the intensity level in practice the past two days. Senior tackle Jermarcus Hardrick said there were at least 10 small fights during Monday's practice, mostly between starters and scout teams players. He said if the Huskers would have come out with that kind of intensity for every game, there wasn't any team in the country that could beat them.

***The physical practices were obviously a good sign for Hardrick, as he said Nebraska needed to get back to playing like "ball's on fire" after last week's lackluster effort.

***Junior defensive end Cameron Meredith said NU's ends have been preparing to play some at the three technique (defensive tackle) more often to help provide depth on the interior line.

***Hardrick said he's still dealing with an ankle injury he suffered against Michigan State, but he still expects to start on Saturday.

***Carl Pelini also said defensive back Lance Thorell played the majority of last week's game with an undisclosed injury, which he didn't inform the coaching staff of until after the game.

***Carl Pelini said Andrew Green has all but won the starting cornerback job over so Stanley Jean-Baptiste over the past three weeks of competition. Green has started the last two games, and Pelini said he's playing a very high level both in games and in practice. Pelini also said Jean-Baptiste, who has been nursing a bruised knee, still had some catching up to do in learning the position, but Pelini expects him to grow into a very good corner in time.

***In case anyone was wondering, Pelini said there was no chance Nebraska would pull true freshman defensive tackle Todd Peat Jr.'s redshirt at this point in the season, even with the depth issues it has at the position. Pelini said it simply wouldn't be fair to Peat to waste a season of eligibility to play a backup role.

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