September 10, 2009

Thursday notebook: Young linebackers stepping up

After getting their first taste of game action on Saturday, Nebraska's freshmen and redshirt freshmen linebackers didn't seem all that affected by the pressure of playing in front of 85,000 fans.

Well, at least they didn't show it with their play on the field.

All together, the Huskers' young linebackers combined for 18 tackles in the win over Florida Atlantic, with players like redshirt freshmen Sean Fisher and Will Compton starting the game and seeing extensive playing time throughout the night.

For a unit that was one of the most scrutinized of any on the defense this offseason, NU's linebackers proved more than capable in their Husker debuts - mostly because they knew they would be all along.

"I don't blame those question marks, but what we knew we had and how we prepared during fall camp and spring, we knew we were going to be just fine," Compton said. "We have experienced linebackers, but if they didn't think you could play, you wouldn't be out there on the field.

"We have total confidence, we were prepared the right way, and we knew there was no problem with anything."

Because of their quick learning of the defense and ability to translate it onto the field, NU's freshmen and redshirt freshmen linebackers have given a boost to the entire unit this fall. Along with providing some much-needed depth, the newcomers have increased the overall competition at the position in every practice.

Compton said having a year to sit out learn the defense last season has helped him and the rest of the redshirts hit the ground running this year.

"This year, we just have such a better feel for what's going on around us," he said. "We all know what's going on around us, and now we're all on the same page. It's just a blast out there because you can just fly around."

Head coach Bo Pelini said that while he was pleased with the unit's play in the opener, he expects his linebackers - especially guys like Fisher and Compton - to make a big jump against Arkansas State on Saturday.

"I expect big progress," Pelini said. "Hopefully we've got the butterflies out. I expect them to play even better. I thought they played decent for their first time out, but we have a long way to go there. We've just got to get some things cleaned up, and I expect them to do that."

- Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
This week's payout: Nebraska will pay Arkansas State $750,000 to come into Memorial Stadium on Saturday, which is about $100,000 more than Florida Atlantic got last week. If you think $750,000 is bad, ASU will get 1 million dollar payouts from Auburn in 2010 and Virginia Tech in 2011. Last year NU's highest payout was $825,000 to New Mexico State. All together the Huskers paid their four non-conference opponents in 2008 2.725 million dollars, the second highest figure in the country behind LSU at 2.85 million. A lot of that had to do with the fact that both Nebraska and LSU played four non-conference home games in 2008.
Padrta a huge loss: Arkansas State suffered a huge loss in their season opening win last week by losing senior offensive lineman Dominic Padrta for the entire season with a leg injury. Pedrta was considered ASU's best offensive linemen and he was a big reason why their ground game has been so successful the last few seasons. Without Padrta, NU's interior defensive line should have a significant advantage on Saturday.
Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini said junior guard Keith Williams is listed as probable for Saturday's game. Williams has practiced all week since missing all of last week with an undisclosed injury. As for senior guard Andy Christensen, Pelini listed him as questionable, as he's missed all of this week's practice due to injury. Other than that, Pelini said the Huskers' were more healthy than normal at this point of the season.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a 90-minute helmets-only workout inside Memorial Stadium on Thursday. The Huskers are scheduled to come back on Friday for a short walk-thru practice. Kickoff for Saturday is set for 1 p.m.

Crick proves there's more to worry about than Suh

While all the attention of Florida Atlantic's offensive line was fixated on stopping senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, sophomore Jared Crick made sure to let everyone know he was there as well.

Though he didn't record a sack, Crick took full advantage of the one-on-one blocking match-ups he faced because of the constant double teams on Suh. He finished with three tackles, .5 tackles for loss and a blocked field goal, along with being a reoccurring presence in FAU's backfield in the first quarter.

Crick said he came into the game expecting to be somewhat ignored by the Owls' offensive line, and he made it a point to make them pay for it.

"I don't think they gave me enough respect," Crick said. "They were double-teaming Suh pretty much the whole first quarter, so I knew I had to take advantage of the one-on-one. I was taking my counters well. I think it was the first series, I thought they were going to run the screen and I could've got a wide-open sack.

"That kind of frustrated me a little, but I definitely took advantage, I thought, of the one-on-ones. Unfortunately I didn't get any sacks, but I think I got quite a bit of pressure, enough to get some turnovers."

Crick said he hoped his performance on Saturday would let future opponents aware that they can't get away with only trying to stop Suh.

"I hope so," he said. "That was my plan, to get double teams off Suh so he can make tackles and make plays. That's what he does. He's a playmaker. The goal this game was definitely to get more respect for me - to have the center maybe turn my way instead of Suh, or at least make them think twice.

"I've still got a long ways to go before I get to Suh's level, but I think it was a great first step."

- Robin Washut

O-line faces tougher test this week

In last week's 49-3 victory over Florida Atlantic, Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee was barely touched by the Owl defensive line.

On Saturday, that probably won't be the case as the Huskers will face off against a much better defensive line led by potential high round NFL draft pick Alex Carrington.

NU offensive line coach Barney Cotton said his players know they have a tough test ahead of them on Saturday.

"He's a quality guy," Cotton said of Carrington. "He's absolutely as good as any Big 12 end we'll play against and they also have a defensive tackle that certainly is in that category as well. Bryan Hall is a quality d-tackle. They are a good football team, they're a top-notch defense.

"I know last year when we played San Jose State, they had a number of guys that got drafted in the NFL and people were kind of disappointed with us, but that was an awfully good defensive front too. This Arkansas State d-line is certainly a Big 12 quality defensive line."

NU's match-up with Carrington should also give Cotton and his crew a good idea of where they are before they face off against Virginia Tech All-American defensive end Jason Worilds.

"They are different kind of guys," Cotton said when asked to compare Carrington to Worilds. "You've got a big, strong, physical d-end in Carrington, plus he can run. I guess he's ran 4.7 before. He's got good speed too.

"(Worilds) is the shorter, real explosive kind of guy and is a little bit different with his style of play. Once you get going, it doesn't matter who you play. There are going to be good players every week."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Pelini said he had no intentions of putting an emphasis on getting his younger players more playing time on Saturday.

"We're just trying to win the football game," he said. "We don't care about all that. The guys that have earned it on the practice field are going to play, and the guys that didn't aren't. We've got to get ready to play a good football team, and it depends on the situation of the game on who plays and who doesn't play."

***Fisher was asked about the leeway Nebraska's coaches give the younger players as far as making mistakes in practice and in games. Apparently, it's a pretty small window of forgiveness.

"I think you've got that for about two days," Fisher said. "After that, they expect you to start picking it up. That's the big thing - if you make a mistake once, that's one thing, but don't be a repeat error maker. They expect a lot, but that's fine."

***Pelini said he expected to have recruiting visitors on Saturday, but because of the game's 1 p.m. kickoff none are listed as "official visitors", as there's no guarantees players from out of state are going to be able to make it to Lincoln in time for kickoff.

***One of the more overlooked errors for Nebraska last week was the blocked punt in the fourth quarter. Junior punter Alex Henery was able to get 23 yards out of the punt, but with a special teams unit like Virginia Tech's looming a week away, Pelini was asked if there was any reason for concern for the mishap.

"It was just a miscommunication," Pelini said. "We'll be fine. There's really no issue except somebody who shouldn't have made the call made the call. It's easy to get fixed."

***After calling his defense "soft" during Tuesday's press conference, Pelini was asked if he saw any improvements in the way of physicality this week in practice.

"We'll find out on Saturday," he said. "It wasn't a problem during the week, it's just - a lot of the things were fundamentals, technique-oriented. Hopefully we got those things fixed, because like I said, I expect us to make a big jump as a football team."

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