Nebraska coach Bo Pelini faced the local media at Monday’s news conference this way: Some coach-speak, some brutal honesty.
The coach-speak: “I still have confidence in this football team and what we’re going to be able to accomplish moving forward.”
The brutal honesty: “I’ve been sick to my stomach since that game. I felt like we should have won that football game. We didn’t and it hurts. It’s hard to live with.”
When a reporter asked if the missed tackles and blown assignments were about not wanting to play hard enough, Pelini bristled and said, “There isn’t any more ‘want-to’ out there. There’s not a guy out there that takes the field for Nebraska who doesn’t want to make a play.”
Such are the emotions after the 36-30 loss to UCLA, a game in which the Husker defense gave up more than 600 yards and the Nebraska offense sputtered and died in the second half. Pelini answered numerous questions about his defense’s lackluster effort.
“We don’t have time to sit there and cry about it, we have to move on,” he said. “We’ll fix what we have to get fixed. It’s a long season ahead of us. We’re looking at everything we need to do to get better as a football team and go back to work. That’s all you can do.”
How will improvements come? Pelini said tackling fundamentals will be the focus this week, as well as a continuing evaluation of personnel. He talked about expanding the roles of freshman defensive linemen Aaron Curry and Avery Moss, as well as redshirt freshman nose tackle Kevin Williams.
Pelini said a lot of the improvement that must take place this week is in the hands of the leaders on the team.
“I think the guys are angry. They should be,” he said. “They’re disappointed, but I think they will respond the right way because we have really good leadership on this team.”
Arkansas State comes to town Saturday and presents an offense similar to UCLA, which Pelini says will help the defense correct some of the issues it faced against the Bruins.
Rex Burkhead didn’t play against UCLA and Pelini said the senior running back was still “day-to-day” with a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
“Going into it, we thought he was ahead of schedule,” Pelini said. “We thought it was a 10-20-day injury (to recover). Rex is having a really good rehab. We’ll have to see how the week goes.”