Huskers Look to Clean Up Mistakes Against Minnesota

Posted By: Sports

sports@klntv.com

Story Courtesy: Nebraska Athletics

Lincoln – Coach Bo Pelini and Nebraska football student-athletes discussed this Saturday’s Senior Day showdown against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium with media members Monday.

Kickoff between the No. 21 Huskers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) and the Gophers (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) is set for 11 a.m., with live national television coverage provided by ESPN.

The Huskers and Gophers are still in the hunt for the Big Ten West Division title, but both teams will be looking to regroup following losses over the weekend. Nebraska will try to bounce back from a 59-24 setback at No. 22 Wisconsin, while Minnesota will attempt to recover from a 31-24 loss to a top-10 Ohio State squad.

The Big Red should have plenty of motivation on Saturday. Not only will the Huskers be looking to avenge last year’s road loss at Minnesota, they also have the chance to send a group of 13 active seniors out with a victory in their final home games at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska also has a chance to complete a perfect home season in the 340th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. A win would also give the Big Red their seventh consecutive nine-win season under Coach Bo Pelini.

Nebraska Football
Weekly Press Conference
Monday, Nov. 17, 2014
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Pre-Minnesota

Opening statement
“Well we got back to work yesterday. Took a good, hard look at the film. Talked about some things. Talked about what we have ahead of us. Got a workout in. Got to move on. Hopefully learn some things and get better. Stay the course. That’s all you can do in a situation like this. We have a lot of football left ahead of us. There’s still a lot out there for this football team. We’ll stay the course.”

On the demeanor of the players after the game
“Obviously upset. In some cases embarrassed. Mad. Especially after you look at the film. Disappointing. You put as much work into as you do, players and coaches alike, and obviously you don’t like a result like that.”

On why the team felt embarrassed
“When I say embarrassed, I mean there were things technique-wise and execution-wise that you can’t explain. If you’ve ever played the game, you would understand that you make mistakes. Certain simple fundamental mistakes that hurt you. You have to figure out why it happens. I’m sure there are some guys going through that. There’s always that sense of embarrassment when you feel like you’ve let down your teammates.”

On if he thinks the team lacked effort
“It wasn’t effort. It’s not like they weren’t playing hard. Guys played hard, we just didn’t play smart. And like I told the guys going into the game, you have to have your focus each and every play. You can’t let down. You’re playing against a great back that’s going to hurt you, especially if you’re not in the right spot. A good example is the touchdown where Coop (Corey Cooper) missed a tackle on the sideline. They run that play earlier in the game and we tackled it for a either a loss or no gain. When you get two guys who lose what their responsibility is, lose their focus or are in a wrong spot? Boom. One guy is out of position and the second guy doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, and boom. It hits you. Then we don’t get the guy on the ground. You know, playing great doesn’t mean doing anything out of the ordinary. It’s executing play after play after play. To a certain extent on both sides of the football that’s hurt us all year. That’s why I keep saying it every week. It’s about becoming more consistent, more accountable, more where we don’t lose our focus. Where we don’t find ourselves out of position on really a basic football play. It hurts us.”

On if his best defenses had the ability to stay focused play after play
“Absolutely. The thing that was disappointing about some of the plays is if a guy missed his gap or did something out of the ordinary, we wanted to be able to get him on the ground. At times we didn’t. We missed some tackles on the second level and such that hurt us. Some of the basic fundamental things that are imperative and basic to how we play, we missed at times, which really I never thought would have been an issue. Certain basic fundamental things that for whatever reason we got outside of and made mistakes. And it hurt us.”

On if talent can make up for some of the missed fundamental techniques
“The misconception is that if they have the talent, you can just go ahead and throw them out there to play. It doesn’t work that way. You better be able to execute. And for a large part, we had been getting better in that area. We had been getting better as the year went on. There were some things where different guys were taking there turns. As coaches, we have to make sure to stay the course and keep coaching them. Keep working to get better. But on top of that, we didn’t play our best football. Like I told our team, the team that was up 17-3, that’s our team. But so is the team that got beaten in the last two and a half quarters. What we have to do is become that team that played early on consistently in all four quarters. That’s easy to do. It takes a certain level of mental toughness, focus and discipline to do it play after play after play. That’s what we’re working toward.”

On if the defense communicated their mistakes to him and if he can see it on film
“I think that’s always the case in football. I always say you don’t play a great game by trying to make an extraordinary play. It’s doing our job. And doing it play after play after play. That’s how a great game is accomplished, individually and as a team. Then you have to go back to the fundamentals and the technique of your playing. A good example is a guy who makes a mistake and ends up in a bad situation on a play. Let’s say it’s a defensive end that gets reached on a play. And then he thinks, ‘I can’t let that happen again.’ So he lines up out of position wider to take care of that play and it hurts him on a different play rather than trusting and having the focus to stay within the technique. Play the technique better on the first play rather than trying to compensate, because when you try and fix something on your own, it’s usually a bad result. Let me tell you, that happens sometimes. It comes sometimes with experience, sometimes with trusting and doing what you’re being coached to do. There are no miraculous fixes. The miraculous fix is stick with the fundamentals and techniques with which you’re being coached. Otherwise it can come pound on you. To a certain extent, when you find yourself in a situation when things aren’t going well, sometimes that can happen. Sometimes you talk to them and you coach them through it, but sometimes that has to happen to you unfortunately. I think that happened a number of times.”

On what Wisconsin does that gives the defense so much trouble
“Well I have to tell you, I didn’t expect to play the way we did the other day. I expected more of what we saw early on in the game. I thought we struggled a couple years ago because at that point in the season, we weren’t very good. I thought we were better now. I still think we’re better than how we played. But at the point in the Big Ten Championship game, we weren’t as good at that time. Personnel-wise we had a bunch of injuries and things like that. You have to play well. For a team that plays good fundamental defense, you have to fit it right. You have to adjust right and we didn’t do that. We didn’t play consistently enough. That comes back to me. That comes back to coaching first and foremost.”

On where he thinks sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is at this point in his career
“I don’t think Tommy had his best game the other day. And I think he’s disappointed. Where he is in his career is that I still think he’s a good football player. He’s a competitor and he’ll get better as we move forward. I believe that. He’ll continue to work, he made some mistakes. I thought fundamentally he wasn’t great and it hurt him at times. And in some cases like I said before, we had to play better around him.”

On how close the backup quarterbacks are behind Armstrong
“Where it was last week. I think the other guys are capable, but I think Tommy gives us our best chance of winning right now.”

On if there were any situations where he would change up the quarterback
“I always consider it if I thought that would be the best thing for our football team. I would always consider that. I don’t care what that position is. You’re always trying to make yourself better.”

On if the quarterback job is open based on Armstrong’s completion percentage
“The job is always open.”

On what stopped the momentum from the early lead
“That’s a good question. I thought it was more of when it got to be 17-17. Even then, I thought we were OK. It felt like it changed a little bit for our guys when we had that fumble going in. We were on the 40 yard line or so in their territory. That’s where it seemed to snowball. I can’t remember the exact drive charts, but I think when we started the third quarter it seemed like we went nearly four possessions in a row where we turned the football over. Obviously that’s a recipe for disaster.”

On how he responds to losses like this
“I don’t think it’s a leadership issue. To a certain extent, I don’t know. You sit there and think about it why it happened. It felt like déjà vu to me on some of the things I watched out there. I felt like we were almost in a worse situation at times during the Michigan State game. Our guys responded a certain way. At some point you have to make a play. Somewhere along the line, it was like we took turns. A guy here and a guy here were not necessarily blowing assignments, but in some sense blowing assignments. Putting ourselves in bad situation after bad situation and it just snowballed on us. I’ve been there as a coach before and I’ve been there as a player. In a situation like that, we were able to make plays in the Michigan State game to kind of keep it going and weather the storm and go. Here we couldn’t make a play. It snowballed on us. Obviously we’re very disappointed.”

On how concerning it is to have a blowout happen again and again
“Well you’re playing with different situations and different players all the time. You have to guard against it. And it’s not like it only happens to us. Look across the country. It happens. I don’t want to make an excuse because I’m not, and at the end of the day what happened, happened. But some of our guys put so much pressure on themselves to win that they’re not going to play to win, they’re playing not to lose. And that’s a bad recipe. Sometimes these kids want to win in the worst way. They want to have success. You try to think back as a coach if you handled it the right way or if you put too much pressure on them. You try not to put pressure on them and make sure they go out there and have fun in the game. I don’t know if that was the case.”

On how he tries to make sure there is not too much pressure on the players
“Keep talking to them. Stay within the things they can control. Control what they can control. That’s what’s on the field. You win by doing play after play. It’s not going to happen in one play good, one play bad. Otherwise it could make you do things that are out of character. At times I saw that with our kids. Like I said, the worst thing to say is that they didn’t care. That isn’t the case.”

On if they were so worried about making a mistake that they weren’t focused on the actual game
“I think they were the other day. I thought at times they were.”

On if Wisconsin should have felt the pressure since they were ranked lower
“You tell me. I have my theories on it, but it’s something that we have to continue to fight with our kids.”

On if he’s considered bringing on a team psychologist
“We have team psychologists. We have guys that work with our kids.”

On the status of senior I-back Ameer Abdullah
“Ameer came out of the game pretty good. The knee is fine. He kind of banged his shoulder a little bit, but I think he’ll be fine going forward for the Minnesota game.”

On the status of junior defensive end Randy Gregory
“Randy is good. I think it scared him more than anything. Like one of those deals when you’re in a basketball game and your ankle turns over, but it’s not as bad as you think. It’s kind of more like a low ankle sprain. Even then it wasn’t as bad. He was good to go, but we just decided to pull him at that point.”

On if the other running backs will have to help Abdullah carry the load over the next two weeks
“I think Ameer is just going to keep getting better and healthier over these next two weeks. But you always have to have other guys ready to go.”

On if he was aware of where Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was statistically on Saturday
“No, but I saw enough long runs to see he was doing well.”

On if the players are feeding off of his demeanor
“I’m very consistent with our kids. I don’t get too high or too low believe it or not. I know you guys look at me sometimes and think that’s impossible. I’m very consistent in how I look at it and how I approach it. I always have. I’m very businesslike during the week, even joking at times. But when you watch the film I’m very detail-oriented and almost a perfectionist as far as how I want those guys to approach their trade. Because I always want them to keep their mind on that. Keeping their mind on what they can control. And that’s what they’re putting on film day to day. I’ve also said this, that some of the consistency things and some of the focus things that were there the other day have been an issue for this football team. To do it week in and week out, you have to be extremely focused, mentally tough and be able to do it play after play. Am I surprised that we played the way we played? Yes. I think we’re a better football team than that. But some of the things that hurt us were magnified. I see some of those things during the week. Like I said to some of our defensive guys yesterday, it doesn’t matter if we’re playing Wisconsin. I’ve seen the scout team make runs like that. Is it a total surprise? No. But the amount of them and the total amount of mistakes we made? Yes. That was obviously very disappointing. If you’re not focused and you’re not executing, it doesn’t matter who or where you’re playing, you’re going to look bad. I don’t know if people are saying ‘you just got mauled,’ but when one or two guys make a mistake against a good back, it’s going to make all 11 look really bad. Same thing offensively. You could have everybody blocked. We had some instances even as the game went on to have some breakout runs. But when you have one guy here or there that turns somebody loose or you don’t execute or a wrong assignment, it makes it look like across the board you’re getting your tail kicked. And that’s not necessarily the case.”

On if he feels like he’s hit the ceiling after several years
“No. You mean me personally? Because I’ve been around coaching and football long enough to know that you stay the course. It’s just like any given play. You have to keep working. You just have to keep fighting and keep working to do everything you can to play. Every single game, every single play, every single series, you have to keep working to try and get better. And that’s the case. Every season and every team is different. Let me tell you, what happened three and four years ago had nothing to do with what happened on Saturday. It’s a different time, different place, different team.”

On what he thinks is the overall perception of Nebraska football
“Better than what it is locally. I think nationally, other people see things differently. Games like this or losing a football game isn’t just exclusive to Nebraska.”

On who is looking at the big picture if he isn’t
“Every game we have high stakes. We’ve won a lot of football games since I’ve been here. A lot of football games that many programs would love to have won the same amount.”

On what he believes is his biggest achievement
“Since I’ve been the head football coach? We’ve been very consistent. I’m not looking to defend the program or where we are right now. What we come here to do is win a conference championship and win a national championship. And we’re going to fight tooth and nail to keep trying to get that done. I’m not going to sit here and apologize. The time I start apologizing is when I stop working. I believe that the program is on a good track. It’s on the right track. We have two more games left in the season. Who knows, maybe three. Two for sure. Hopefully a good bowl game if we finish this out right. The only think we can control right now is the next week. We have a good opponent coming in here this week, and that’s where our focus is right now.”

On what he identifies as the commonalities between the big losses over the last few years
“I’ve spent a lot of hours trying to figure out while all of a sudden in a situation we jump offside. Or why we would all of a sudden put the ball on the ground four series in a row. It’s hard to identify.”

On what he has tried to change over the years to fix these situations
“Keep stressing fundamental things. If it happened week after week after week it would be easier to identify.”

On if offensive coordinator Tim Beck has tried to talk with Armstrong in between drives to keep him focused
“He has Joe Ganz down there who does a heckuva job communicating with him. Unfortunately I think he got into a game where he got out of it. There were a couple times when a guy started on a route and thought he was going deep, so he shot it down. It kind of got Tommy off balance. So some things I think were in his control, while some things he read it wrong. But he’s growing. And at the end of the day he just has to play better. Guys that were open were missed and we had some opportunities. He’s just got to keep working to get better. Keep getting more efficient.”

On if Armstrong’s mechanics got worse as the game went on
“No, not really. We missed some throws early on. He made a nice throw on Kenny (Bell)’s touchdown, but there were a couple throws even early on that weren’t quite right.”

On Armstrong’s mechanical issues
“I think he’s made some improvement. He got into the game and I don’t know whether he was feeling the rush or his adrenaline took over. You have to stay focused on the details, stay calm and stay within yourself.”

On if he has considered hiring a paid quarterback coach
“We have a paid quarterback coach.”

On the similarities between Minnesota and Wisconsin
“They do a lot of similar things. They do a lot of things that are similar and some that are different. I would say that have a lot of similarities. They also have a good back in their own right. He’s a really good player.”

On if this week will be the same kind of test for the players as last week
“Yeah, it’s going to be very similar. It’s like that every week. These guys are going to be in the same personnel groupings, plays, that type of thing.”

On his feelings about the seniors
“It’s a small group. It’s really 13 seniors and Tyler Evans who got medically exempt. He’s going to be heading off to medical school. But it’s been a really good group. There have been a lot of good stories in that group. They have meant a lot to this program. Meant a lot to me.”

On if senior wide receiver Jamal Turner will return next year
“Yes, he’ll be back. Jamal will be back.”

On what he will do to make sure the players don’t psych themselves out again
“Pressure is perceived. Talk to them about it. Hopefully get them in the right frame of mind. Tell them to go out there and have fun playing this game.”

On his plans to adjust the scheme
“I thought about that. I’ve thought about it. But is that the right answer? No. It’s not a scheme thing. You know the scheme changes week to week. And it works. It doesn’t matter what the scheme is. At the same time, you have to execute it. If we came out of a game and I said that what we did was unsound, then I would sit there and say structurally if it doesn’t work, then I better take a look in the mirror and figure out something else. We need to coach it better. That’s what we need to do. And execute it better.”

On if any players will wear a Blackshirt this week
“I haven’t even given that a thought. But my guess is that I’m not going to change anything.”