Rick Kaczenski’s answer came out before the question was finished.
“They’re going to respond,” the Husker defensive line coach said after a night of survival. “I think they feel the same way the coaches do right now. We have to do more. We have to do better. I think they’re high-character kids, it’s important to them. They recognize that, hey, we were fortunate to get out of here with a win and we can’t continue to operate like this if we want to have a good season.”
Kaczenski talked about “a sense of urgency” he sensed from players in the moments after hanging on to beat Wyoming 37-34 in the season opener.
Redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine put it another way.
“It’s definitely going to get crazy around here,” said the big defensive tackle.
It was the craziness of the final 6½ minutes of Saturday night’s game that had Husker players and coaches walking off the field with the type of disappointed expressions that usually accompany a loss.
After Taylor Martinez threw an interception with 6:26 left, Wyoming put up two touchdowns and 139 of its 602 yards. All told, the Cowboys had 204 yards of offense in the fourth quarter.
Four of Wyoming's eight "explosive" plays of 20 yards or more came in that final frame.
And when momentum turned, the young Husker defense did not deal with it particularly well.
“(When) the momentum starts going against you in football at times and when things happen, and when you don’t react well … sometimes it makes the ordinary plays that much more difficult,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said. “And you end up trying to make plays you shouldn’t try to make. I think our young guys will understand that. You stay with what you’re being asked to do. You don’t try and make a miraculous play; then you’ll just compound the situations. At times we did that. We showed our youth in some of those situations.”
And when things did go haywire, Pelini said his team sometimes failed to react correctly “because we were still thinking about what just happened.”
For certain, it’s an opener that will cause plenty of restlessness around the Husker fan base, with Southern Mississippi coming this week and then a much-anticipated meeting with UCLA the week after.
As much as anything, the key to defensive improvement will be based on whether the Huskers can do better with in-game adjustments.
“The hardest thing when you have new guys, it isn’t that you feel they’re going to make mistakes on the things they practice,” said Husker defensive coordinator John Papuchis. “Where you get concerned is making adjustments and their ability to handle them. We didn’t do a great job of handling the adjustments that were made. … With a young group, it was a real struggle on the sideline.”
A lot of work to do. Little time to do it.
Thus explains that craziness Valentine was anticipating.
Asked how he thought the young kids would react this week, Papuchis said he expected to see a proud group.
“They always say in college football your biggest improvement is going to be from Week 1 to Week 2, and in my eyes we really have nowhere to go but up,” he said. “And I assume that’s going to be the case for us.”
* SPECIAL BRETT: Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith certainly made a strong case that he’ll be one of the best quarterbacks the Huskers will see this year.
He tormented Nebraska for 475 total yards — 383 in the air and 92 in the ground. That’s the fourth-most yards an individual has had against Nebraska.
“I have had a 'special' guy a few times in my career, and he fits that bill,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said. “He is different from all the other guys. He throws, he can get away, he can run and he is a great competitor and great leader. He did some things in the second half on the sideline with his teammates, which was unbelievable. When times got tough, he never lost his focus."
* NUMBER OF THE DAY: 1,831. That’s how many yards Nebraska has surrendered in its past three games — 640 against Wisconsin, 589 against Georgia, 602 against Wyoming.
Add to the mix the UCLA game of last year, and those four games in the last year rank within the worst nine defensive performances — from a yardage standpoint — in Husker history.
The most yards Nebraska has surrendered in a game is 656, against Oklahoma in 1956.
QUOTES ON THE RUN
“We just didn’t finish. We talk about being a dominant offensive team, and we didn’t come out there and put on the show that we wanted to put on today.” — Husker offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles
“It definitely wasn’t up to our standards. We definitely didn’t attack as often as we could have. There were a few plays left on the field. It was just a learning experience, really. Next time, we’re going to come out and play a little different than we did today.” — Husker wide receiver Quincy Enunwa
“Honestly, I’ve been playing since I was 7 years old. I’ve never heard of roughing the passer when I actually sack the quarterback.” — Husker defensive end Randy Gregory