Steven M. Sipple: Shootouts? Defensive-minded Pelini doesn't want to hear it

2013-07-24T18:00:00Z 2015-04-03T21:17:26Z Steven M. Sipple: Shootouts? Defensive-minded Pelini doesn't want to hear itBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Column

CHICAGO — Someone suggested to Bo Pelini that Nebraska, because of its youthful and relatively inexperienced defense, might need to win some shootouts this season.

You know, some high-scoring affairs.

Pelini, the Huskers' defensive-oriented head coach, quickly shot down the notion, as one might expect.

Turns out, Bo's not particularly fond of the word "shootout."

"It's going to be hard to sleep if I start thinking about shootouts," said the sixth-year Nebraska coach, who was relaxed, poised and confident Wednesday during Big Ten Media Days.

He joked with fellow coaches, his players, media members.

He carried himself with the demeanor of a man who sleeps just fine these days, even as a growing portion of the Nebraska fan base grumbles that Pelini can't get off the four-loss jag.

Pelini expresses confidence even though his front seven on defense has only three players with significant experience (Jason Ankrah, Thad Randle and David Santos).

Rest assured, Nebraska will have to win a shootout or two, or several.

If Nebraska were to lose one of its first eight games -- before a Nov. 9 trip to Michigan -- the heat will be turned up on Pelini. Some folks are waiting to pounce. That's become clear.

Something is out of whack in that regard.

On one hand, legions of Nebraska fans (and some media) expect the Huskers to start 8-0, given their eminently manageable schedule.

On the other hand, a question: Is Pelini's program really stumbling badly if it's expected to start 8-0? I mean, such high expectations indicate that the program isn't exactly in shambles. Right?

I asked Pelini if he feels any more pressure to win big this year than he did in recent years.

"I don't feel any pressure," he said, noting the pressure he puts on himself is greater than anything he could feel from outside the program.

"It's a high standard that I hold myself and my staff to," he said. "Nobody wants to win more than I do, more than our staff does. I want to make sure we win the right way."

We appreciate Bo doing things "the right way." The Nebraska way, if you will. But we all know the bottom line. It's about winning conference championships and being in position to capture all the marbles. Nebraska never should lower those standards. Pelini certainly doesn't.

Yeah, Bo is confident. He always is. He thinks the defense could be more "multiple" this season. Thinks it could show more looks, perhaps bring a larger assortment of blitzes despite its youth.

In layman's terms, I think Pelini will take more chances. I think he should do that. We saw vanilla last season, and it wasn't always smooth.

"We're doing some different things," he said. "We experimented through the spring. I think we're going to have some different options, because we're going to have some different dynamics, as far as some guys we have. Some of the skill sets we have we maybe haven't had in the past."

Nebraska is counting on speed and athleticism on defense to compensate for lack of experience. That makes perfect sense, assuming the young and/or inexperienced players understand assignments.

We're talking about guys such as Zaire Anderson, Jared Afalava, Greg McMullen, Aaron Curry, Kevin Williams, Brodrick Nickens and junior-college transfer Randy Gregory, to name a few.

Maybe even true freshmen Josh Banderas, Maliek Collins, Courtney Love, Marcus Newby, A.J. Natter, Dimarya Mixon and Kevin Maurice.

The list is long, and I've covered only the front seven.

That's right, greenhorns galore. Sort of scary.

It's daunting, because we've heard it often in recent seasons: One defender out of position in Pelini's defense increases exponentially the chances of surrendering a big play. Exhibits A, B and C, of course, are losses last season to UCLA (36-30), Ohio State (63-38) and Wisconsin (70-31).

The bowl loss to Georgia (45-31) wasn't exactly a thing of beauty defensively.

However, Pelini insists the scheme works.

"Everyone wants to talk so much about scheme and X's and O's," the coach said. "It's not like you can do things magically to allow you to have great success. At the end of the day, to be a great football team and to play great defense, it's not about what you do, it's how you do it.

"When we suffered last year, that (execution) is usually where we fell short."

Nebraska begins preseason camp Aug. 5. Hope, as always, springs eternal. The early part of the season could be critical as a time for youngsters to generate confidence. They will have to adjust to more significant roles. Yeah, there could be shootouts.

Ooh, that word again.

Pelini wants nothing of it.

"Every year is going to be a little different," he said. "We've been really close (to winning a conference championship). You keep banging on the door, hopefully you'll knock it down."

Hopefully with significant help from the defense.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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