Pelini confident defense can be fixed

2012-09-10T23:50:00Z 2012-09-14T15:57:04Z Pelini confident defense can be fixedBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

That bitter pill of losing does not go down with a couple of glasses of water.

Or, apparently, after a couple nights' sleep – assuming there was sleep.

“I’ve been sick to my stomach since that game,” Bo Pelini said two days after Nebraska's embarrassing night at the Rose Bowl. “I felt we should have won that football game. We didn’t. You know, it hurts. It’s hard to live with. But you have to move on. You have to. That’s part of the deal. It’s part of this profession. It’s sickening to you, but you can’t turn back the clock.”

Instead, the search for answers is on after the 36-30 loss to UCLA in which the Nebraska defense gave up 653 yards.

The fifth-year Husker head coach is confident he’ll find them.

“I’ve been there before,” Pelini said matter-of-factly Monday during his weekly news conference. “I know what I’m doing defensively. The last thing I’m going to be doing is shaking in my confidence. That won’t happen.”

But some player personnel changes could.

“We’re dissecting every little piece of what we've got to do,” Pelini said.

Already Monday, redshirt freshman David Santos and newcomer Zaire Anderson were getting some looks with the No. 1 defense at the WILL linebacker position.

And on the defensive line? Freshmen Kevin Williams, Aaron Curry and Avery Moss will all have expanded roles as the season goes on, Pelini said.

Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said one of the things that coaches are looking to do is put more speed on the field.

“Team speed is something that has been a little bit lacking over the first couple games,” Papuchis said. “So we’re going to try to get some of our faster guys on the field and see how that works this week.

"Everybody is in the equation right now. If we have to work 24 hours a day for the next seven days, and really for the next three months, we’re going to figure it out.”

One of those young players, the redshirt freshman defensive tackle Williams, has already been put to significant use.

Against UCLA, in his first action as a Husker, Williams played 42 snaps, according to defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski.

Those were the second-most snaps of any defensive tackle, behind only senior Baker Steinkuhler, who had 51.

“That’s the future,” Kaczenski said of those freshmen on his line. “Those guys, you’re going to see more and more of them.”

At this point, it might be as much out of necessity as anything.

Pelini said the defensive line hasn’t played as well as he’d like, struggling against spread attacks and quarterback runs on zone-read plays.

“I want to get them back to coming off the football and being more aggressive up front,” Pelini said. “I think to a certain extent, we’ve let the style of offense dictate to us instead of us dictating to the offense.”

While the Huskers will be a considerable favorite Saturday, the Husker defense does face a fair challenge from an Arkansas State team coached by Gus Malzahn, who had major success as the offensive coordinator at Auburn.

Arkansas State runs a spread attack and currently ranks seventh nationally in total offense, averaging 574.5 yards a game.

“We will be tested,” Pelini said.

Improved tackling will be a must for a Husker defense has struggled mightily the first two weeks.

Nebraska had 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage Saturday, but Pelini said the Huskers could have had twice as many if they had only tackled better.

“And the ones we missed really hurt us,” Pelini said. “A couple of times it wasn’t just one. A couple of the times it was two, and you’re talking about a lot of yards after.”

The poor tackling allowed UCLA too much success on first and second down, Pelini said, which in turn spilled over to success on third down.

UCLA was 9-of-20 on third-down conversions.

“That’s not good enough,” Papuchis said. “I think the biggest issue that we deal with on third down right now has less to do on the actual third down and more to do on first and second downs. When you talk about winning third down, you have to have winnable downs.”

Ideally, Papuchis said Nebraska does the job well enough on early downs to force “third-and-6 or more.”

Pelini also said UCLA’s fast tempo early in the game seemed to bother his defense, which came as a surprise, considering Nebraska’s defense has gone against a fast-paced offense all fall camp.

“But you get out there, you have some different plays, some adjusting to do,” Pelini said. “We didn’t do that – especially early on in the game. We let a couple guys go free that happened all week (in practice).”

He was calm as he discussed the state of his team during his news conference.

Pelini showed annoyance to one only question about tackling, and if succeeding at it came down to “want-to.”

“Come on. Want-to from our players?” he said. “Let me tell you something about our football team and our football players and everybody associated with our football program -- There isn’t any more want-to out there. Don’t start questioning the integrity of our football team.”

Pelini pointed out that he’s had bad weeks like this past one even with some of his best defenses, even on the LSU national championship team when he was defensive coordinator.

“You’re going to have games where you have a rough go of it,” he said. “It’s how you come back from those things that are going to define you in the end.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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