October 3, 2011

Monday notebook: Pelini says Huskers can't panic

Though it may seem as if things couldn't have gotten any worse in Nebraska's Big Ten debut against Wisconsin on Saturday, the Huskers insist now is not the time for a complete overhaul of the program.

Head coach Bo Pelini said during Monday's weekly press conference that the best thing the team could do coming off a loss like that was stay the course and continue to focus on the process.

In other words, he said now was no time to for the Huskers to panic.

"Keep working. Keep getting better," Pelini said. "Like I said, you make subtle changes. You don't overhaul. You keep working to get better. It is about execution, technique and fundamentals. You stay the course. Does that mean you don't make adjustments? That's asinine. You just keep working to get better."

"You don't overhaul in the middle of a year. You don't panic."

However, Pelini didn't rule out the chance for a few shakeups this week, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Once again, Nebraska's secondary struggled with its downfield coverage and gave up a number of big pass plays to the Badgers.

The Huskers have used a different combination of defensive backs in all five games this season, and with the way the unit played last week, there could easily be a few more against Ohio State.

The linebackers also had a rough night trying to contain the likes of UW quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball. Senior Lavonte David had a nice game statistically with seven tackles and two sacks, but overall the unit was too out of position and not athletic enough to keep up with Wisconsin's playmakers.

"We are looking for the right combinations in a few areas," Pelini said. "We are not afraid to make changes, and I've said that we put a lot of stock in practice, so you will see a few different combinations."

It was obvious Nebraska's players were still reeling a bit from Saturday night's defeat, but the most encouraging sign was they all seemed to be chomping at the bit to get back on the practice field and fix what went wrong against the Badgers.

"You want to take it in and learn as much as you can from it, learn from those mistakes, learn from the hurting that put a bad taste in our mouth," junior running back Rex Burkhead said. "And you have to move forward. You can only go in two directions. You can either go down or you can go up. I think this team and the character on this team is going to go in a positive direction."

- Robin Washut

Tension rises between Martinez, media and fans

Quarterback Taylor Martinez was in no mood to talk with reporters during Monday's press conference, and he didn't really try to hide it much, either.

Giving responses of only a handful of words to questions about his play in the Huskers' 48-17 loss, Martinez was obviously agitated with the criticism he'd been receiving not only in the days following the loss in Madison, but all season.

Earlier in his interview, Martinez was asked how he would rate his ability to read defenses and make the right reads in the pocket, to which he answered he felt he does "a good job."

A bit later, Martinez was asked about fans that might disagree with him and "rip" him for that assessment. That was when things got a little tense.

"That's fine," Martinez said. "You guys rip me anyways, so it really doesn't matter."

He was then asked if it was tough to ignore all the outside criticism from fans and media.

"I don't read nothing you guys say anyway," he said. "I hear it from other people, and other people relay it back to me."

The interview only lasted a little under four minutes, but it was clear that the consternation regarding Martinez's play of the past season and a half was starting to get under the sophomore's skin.

It certainly won't make him feel any better that Pelini pointed out some of Martinez's flaws in one of his most honest assessments of his quarterback during the press conference just minutes earlier.

"He needs to let the game come to him," Pelini said. "He needs to make reads and not try to make a big play every time. Just take what is given. At times, he gets impatient and thinks he has to win the game himself. That is part of the growth as a quarterback. You have to read and understand you won't make a big play every down. That's part of the growth of the guy and the position."

Pelini did back up Martinez in the end, saying there was "quite a bit" of a gap between Martinez and redshirt freshman Brion Carnes at this point. For now and likely through the rest of the season, Nebraska's offensive success will continue to ride on the play of Martinez.

Things certainly haven't been nearly as consistent under center as Pelini would like, but that hasn't made him lose any faith that Martinez is the man for the job.

"People are always going to put the quarterback under the microscope," Pelini said. "Trust me, Taylor made a few plays he would like back, but if you look at what he has done over the course of the season, I'm glad he is our quarterback. He is a good football player."

- Robin Washut

Turner still a quarterback at heart

Freshman Jamal Turner is starting to come into his own at wide receiver since moving from quarterback in the spring, as he currently leads the Huskers with 13 catches for 233 yards.

However, it's not as if the former four-star quarterback recruit doesn't still think about moving back under center.

"Deep down I'm a quarterback, but I mean, I'm adjustable," Turner said. "If they want me to play corner, wide receiver, center, I'm going to do so. I'm a coachable player, and I'm an athlete. I can do a lot of things, so why not show it."

With Martinez's current struggles and the fact that Pelini said there's a big gap between Martinez and Carnes, it isn't that big of a stretch to wonder if Turner might move back to quarterback at some point.

Turner said he would loves the chance to throw the football again, but said he hasn't even thought about approaching the coaches about possibly making the move.

"That's not my place," Turner said. "They know what they're doing. They get paid all this money to coach us, and I'll let them handle that."

For now, Turner is content in continuing to progress at receiver. Saturday's loss was his best game yet, finishing the game with a team-high five catches for 84 yards.

He also said he's developed much better toughness from having to block and get tackled every day in practice, as he said he wasn't allowed to even be touched in practice while quarterbacking Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, Texas.

Still, Turner said he would jump at the opportunity to move back to his natural quarterback spot, even with all the criticism he's seen Martinez get at the position over the past few weeks.

"It's always been like that," Turner said. "The quarterback gets all the credit, but as soon as he messes up everybody looks at the quarterback like 'oh, he did bad' and this and that. (Martinez) knows it comes with the territory of the position, and he knows his role and does what he has to do."

Turner said he dealt with his share of scrutiny in high school, and he's well aware of the importance of having thick enough skin to not let all the scrutiny get to you.

"You have to," he said. "You can't let it affect you. We play football, and that's the last thing we need is to be thinking about what someone said or how people think about us. We have to focus on what we can do, what we can control and what we have to do to get better."

- Robin Washut

Ohio State's Posey, Herron ruled out for game vs. NU

Saturday was supposed to mark the return of some of Ohio State's top offensive players who had been suspended for the first five games after this summer's well-documented NCAA investigation of players receiving illegal benefits.

The Buckeyes will now have to wait even longer for two of those players, as running back Dan Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey were suspended for the Nebraska game along with offensive lineman Marcus Hall for accepting too much money for too little work at their summer jobs.

Herron, OSU's leading rusher last season, and Posey, the team's leading receiver last year, were initially suspended for accepting cash and tattoos in exchange for team memorabilia.

Left tackle Mike Adams, defensive end Solomon Thomas and former quarterback Terrelle Pryor were all suspended with Herron and Posey as part of the "Tattoo Five", but Adams and Thomas will both return to action on Saturday.

Hall was suspended for the first time. The redshirt freshman had started the first five games of the season at right guard for the Buckeyes.

The suspensions certainly won't help Ohio State's offense, which has struggled throughout the year. The Buckeyes rank no higher than seventh in the Big Ten in any offensive statistical category. They come in ranked 111th nationally in passing offense (154 yards per game) and 108th in total offense (308.2).

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Freshman running back Braylon Heard did not practice on Monday and was seen walking with a noticeable limp. Heard did not travel with the team to Wisconsin for an unspecified reason.

***Offensive coordinator Tim Beck backed up Martinez after Monday's practice, saying he wasn't all that surprised his quarterback let some of the pressure get to him last week when considering how much hype surrounded the game.

"You try, but it's hard, because everywhere he turns it's all about him," Beck said. "The whole game was built up as him versus Russell Wilson. I don't know how the kid even managed that. I tried to talk to him before the game, 'don't make it that. It's Nebraska vs. Wisconsin.' I don't know if I could as a sophomore in college."

***Beck did say the bulk of Martinez's problems were because he was trying to do too much in order to make up for previous mistakes.

"It's just a maturing process still," Beck said. "Any competitive, driven athlete that likes to win sometimes feels like they can do more than they can do. He took it hard. I think he took it hard. I think when he (threw) the first interception, I think the next time he was like 'I got to make a play.' He put a lot on his shoulders."

***Beck didn't mention anything about Turner and moving back to quarterback, but he did say he was very pleased with the way Turner played against the Badgers.

"I thought Jamal played well," he said. "He competed and went after the ball. He tried to make some things happen. He's another competitor, and that's the thing with our guys. He just wants to win and wants to compete. I think he was just having fun out there playing."

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