Red Report: Huskers know they must buck turnover trend

2012-12-29T19:30:00Z 2012-12-31T17:07:16Z Red Report: Huskers know they must buck turnover trendBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

ORLANDO, Fla.— Turnover talk has been a constant this Husker season.

And it will continue for a few more days.

Because the defense the Huskers are going up against Tuesday in the Capital One Bowl? Well, those Georgia Bulldogs rank 21st nationally in takeaways, having caused 27 turnovers over the course of the season.

That’s a scary stat for a Husker offense that is 115th nationally in turnovers, having given the ball away 33 times.

In a Saturday news conference that featured coordinators from both teams, Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck did not mince words about NU’s turnover issues.

“I’ve done about everything, anything I can think of,” Beck said. “It’s kind of like a baseball player who’s up there and strikes out. You can’t harp on it too much. You want to make sure you’re coaching the correct techniques: hang on to the football, pointing out Georgia does a tremendous job of stripping the football.

“We’ve shown our guys on tape how they hold guys up, digging after the ball. We have to do a great job of holding on to the ball. I feel like, offensively, that’s been our Achilles' heel all year. We hurt ourselves more consistently in games than defenses do.”

* Not about redemption: The “R” word came up during the news conference.

Do Nebraska coaches view Tuesday’s game as a chance for redemption after what happened in Indianapolis?

“To me it has little to do with redemption and more with opportunity,” said defensive coordinator John Papuchis. “This is an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country in one of the best bowls in the country on a national stage, and for us to take another step forward with this program.”

Papuchis said the hardest part about the 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game was that he thought the defense had made a lot of strides in the six games leading up to it.

“That second half of the year, and some of the emotional wins we had, that was a special six weeks,” Papuchis said. “Obviously, that’s tarnished and diminished with the way things finished. But we’re all competitors and all excited about the challenges that lay ahead."

* Confident group: Bo Pelini is 3-2 as Nebraska’s head coach in bowl games. But the two defeats have come most recently -- a 19-7 loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl and a 30-13 loss to South Carolina here last year.

“I don’t think anything that’s happened the past two years in a bowl game has anything to do with what this team’s all about,” said offensive line coach Barney Cotton. “This has been a great bowl preparation at home. This has been a great preparation here at the bowl site. We’re going to go into this game very confident that we can play well offensively.”

The Huskers have seemed quite relaxed, too.

“This is a very confident bunch. Hopefully that will parlay itself into something special Tuesday,” Cotton said. “I think confidence allows you to be relaxed.”

* Seven does it: Cotton said he assumes junior Cole Pensick will get the start at center Tuesday, though he said he doesn’t look at it as just the first five offensive linemen who take the field.

“We kind of look at it as we have seven starters,” he said.

Since Pensick will likely be playing a lot at center, it’s possible Jake Cotton and/or Ryne Reeves could see action at the right guard spot where Pensick has helped out most of the season.

“If we want to stick with seven guys, we’re going to have to throw one more guy in the mix,” Cotton said.

* Numbers games: As you’d probably expect, the Huskers have lost more bowl games than they’ve won where they’ve entered as the lower-ranked team.

Nebraska is 5-18 in bowl games as the lower-ranked team, having lost 11 of the last 12 in such scenarios.

The wins came in the 2005 Alamo Bowl (Michigan), the 1987 Sugar Bowl (LSU), the 1976 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl (Texas Tech), the 1974 Cotton Bowl (Texas) and the 1964 Orange Bowl (Auburn).

Going by the AP rankings, a win by Nebraska (No. 23) against Georgia (No. 6) would be the biggest bowl upset by NU in terms of separation between the teams by rankings.

* Goodbye to seniors: This senior class is no doubt a special one to Pelini.

Many of them are fifth-year players who were in his first recruiting class.

“It’s a good group,” he said.” Not only what they did for this football program, but who they are as people and how they represented the program. It’s always an emotional time. It’s hard to see them go. But after this game, it becomes time to turn the page and head to the next chapter of the program.”

Pelini was asked specifically about senior running back Rex Burkhead, a fan favorite.

“Regardless, he goes out the right way,” Pelini said. “He does everything the right way. He’s a special young man. It’s not real often when you recruit a kid and you … kind of have in mind what that could mean to your program, it’s not real often that they exceed those expectations. And I think he’s done that every step of the way. … I think because of everything he represents, he’ll be remembered for a long time at the University of Nebraska.”

* Locked in: While there are many distractions in Orlando -- Mickey and Minnie, Jaws and Shamu -- Pelini said he doesn’t believe any of it has gotten in the way of his team getting done what it needs to preparation-wise.

Asked if guys were starting to get more locked in with the game approaching, Pelini said: “I think our guys have been pretty locked in for the week.”

“They still have their opportunities to kind of go out and do some things," he added. “But I’ve noticed you see a lot more guys in the hotel earlier as the week goes on. Curfews a lot earlier (Saturday night). … They know the game’s right around the corner now.”

* Dodging raindrops: Rain showers hit the area just as Nebraska began practice Saturday morning.

For the most part, the raindrops went away during the 90-minute practice.

“We got the weather report,” Pelini said. “There was no problem out there. It was a little slick at first. But that field drains pretty well. It was more mist than anything else.”

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

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