September 9, 2008

Tuesday notebook: Little concern over offense

Though Nebraska's sluggish game offensively last week against San Jose State left some fans ready hit the panic button, the Huskers' themselves don't seem all that worried about it.

Despite a rash of penalties and turnovers that held NU to just 14 points through the first three quarters of the game, senior quarterback Joe Ganz said the performance was nothing to fret over.

"I don't know how much to put into it, having one mediocre performance," Ganz said. "I don't think it's time for concern or time to panic. It was just one game where bad things happened and we just couldn't find a rhythm.

"I'm not really putting too much emphasis on it. I'm not really worried about it. I know what we're capable of it. It's not that big of a deal."

The biggest complaint following Saturday's win was the ineffectiveness of the running game for the second week in a row. The Huskers managed just 99 yards on 30 carries, and had just 20 carries for 53 yards heading into the fourth quarter.

Nebraska was able to get things going a little bit in the fourth quarter, but the was certainly some concern about not being able to establish the ground game from the beginning of the game.

Ganz, though, doesn't think that concern is warranted.

"I'm not worried about it," he said. "I know the type of guys we have in that room. I the type of running backs, I know the type of offensive linemen we have. I think it's really overblown a lot. I'm really not worried about it. I know we can run the ball. We will. We'll just find our groove."

Another major concern was Nebraska's inability to stay out of its own way on numerous drives. The Huskers committed five false start penalties in the game, including one drive that saw three straight false starts without running a play.

Senior receiver Nate Swift said that after watching film, he saw that the Huskers scored on every drive in which they didn't commit a penalty, and were scoreless on every drive they did.

As the Big 12 conference schedule steadily approaches, the Huskers know those mental mistakes must be corrected soon.

"We left a lot of big plays on the field," Ganz said. "We had certain looks on those three false start penalties that would've been potential touchdowns. It's just disappointing just to see leaving all those yards and big plays on the field."

Tuesday's Practice Takes
All-Conference target?: Through two games, it's indisputable who Joe Ganz's favorite target in the passing game is. Senior Nate Swift leads the Huskers in every major receiving category with 11 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, his performance this season has been so good that Ganz went as far as to say he's one of the best receivers in the conference. "He's been playing great," Ganz said. "Even in the running game, he's playing as hard as he can. He's a complete football player. He's one of the best receivers in the Big 12."

Sievers finds a home: After playing three different positions the past three years, it's safe to call senior [db]Clayton Sievers Nebraska's Mr. Everything. Recruited as both a tight end and defensive end out of high school, Sievers started his collegiate career at tight end, but moved to linebacker as a sophomore. When Barry Turner went down with an injury lst season, Sievers was then moved occasionally to defensive end to help provide depth. Now, Sievers appears to have found a home on the d-line, as he's listed solely as a defensive end this season.
Injury update: Offensive lineman Lydon Murtha once again sat out of practice with an infection on his right leg. Murtha had a wrap around his right calf and was not suited up for Tuesday's practice. Junior safety Rickey Thenarse also wore a green no-contact jersey for the second practice in a row, though he was in full pads.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team held a 90 minute full-padded workout inside Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. NU will come back on Wednesday for a 2 hour full-padded practice.

Spread offenses changing role of linebackers

A lot has changed for junior linebacker Phillip Dillard since he first suited up or Nebraska as a true freshman in 2005.

With the increased presence of the spread offense and pass-heavy systems across the nation, the role of the linebacker has shifted from a bruising run-stopper to move of a defensive back who can also play the run.

Coming out of high school, Dillard said he hardly had to drop back into coverage. Now, he and NU's defense have had to defend only a combined 59 opponent rushing attempts compared to 82 passes.

With New Mexico State's high-flying offense coming to town on Saturday, Dillard expects only more of the same.

"For the first five or six games, it's nothing but spread offenses," Dillard said. "It's kind of frustrating because you want people to run the ball, but it seems like no one wants to run the ball anymore. For some reason it's like everyone just wants to pass, which I think is pretty weak."

Dillard said that adjusting his playing style more toward pass coverage has been a learning experience, but he also sees it as a good way to help improve himself as an all around player.

"You've got to learn how to play pass coverage too," he said. "In the NFL, they're big on that. In college now, they're real big on pass coverages for linebackers and knowing your assignments…but you 'd still like a team to run the ball a little bit."

Dillard, who looked up to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis as his football idol as a kid, said there are still ways linebackers can be physical against pass-heavy offenses.

By establishing his presence in the middle, Dillard said he can force receivers to second-guess running crossing routes and help isolate opponents' passing games towards the sidelines.

"Probably just let those receivers and tight ends know that you're there in the middle, so it makes them think twice about coming across," he said.

Quick hits

***Following Tuesday's practice, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was asked about the status of senior Thomas Lawson and whether the fullback was injured. Instead of answering, Watson essentially pleaded the fifth and differed the question to Bo Pelini.

"I'll let Bo answer those things," Watson said. "I think that's better said to let Bo answer that. We kind of have a staff policy, so if you ask him I'm sure he'll tell you what's up with Thomas."

***With the loss of Barry Turner on Saturday, much has been made of the possible emergence of true freshmen Josh Williams and Cameron Meredith as possibly burning their redshirts to provide depth on the defensive line.

While the coaches haven't ruled that out as a possibility, senior defensive end Clayton Sievers gave his take on the situation on Tuesday.

"We'll see what they do as far as if they're going to pull them out of redshirt or not," he said. "I don't think they will likely unless one of us gets hurt."

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