As head coach, Bill Callahan came out of practice, it wasn't hard to figure out what he was going to talk about as to the emphasis for practice this week.
First, it was about what Nebraska didn't do well during their first game away from the friendly confines of Memorial, a game that saw Nebraska take consistently good field position and not capitalize with points. "We worked extensively today in short yardage and goal-line." he said. "Then we also put a premium on our third down nickel defense, our coverage and also our pass package."
"We really tried to emphasize those two areas which we desperately need to improve."
A couple examples of the short-field frustrations for Nebraska were first, the Huskers with first and goal on the Pitt 4 yard-line, NU running four plays to no avail before they finally had to settle for a field goal. The second occurred in the second quarter, Nebraska starting on the Panthers' 36 yard-line, NU running 3 plays for a total of negative 6 yards, the Huskers eventually punting.
As to the defensive side of the ball, on third and long, Pitt was confronted with third and ten yards to go or more 11 times and fourth down three times. Out of those 11 times, there were two quick-kicks and out of the remaining 9 where Pitt was actually trying for a first down, they succeeded over half the time, all with passing plays, most over the middle.
The Panthers were also successful in two out of their three opportunities to convert on fourth down.
"We had a couple big plays hit against us in our coverage element on third down." Callahan said. "We had a good twenty-play period in third and long, from third and seven onto third and fifteen of concentrated work, so we feel really good about where we are at."
The other big opportunity for the Nebraska team was to start healing the hurting, a variety of Huskers still battling injuries like rush end, Adam Carriker and Lornell McPherson or those freshly injured from the Pittsburgh game like Fabian Washington and Ira Cooper. "We backed down some of our key players." Callahan said. "We wanted to get them rest and get them recuperated."
"Guys like Herian(Matt), Pilkington (Ross) and our DBs, Fabian Washington and Lornell McPherson, we backed down a lot of players today to get them some added rest in addition to some of the injuries that they've had."
Cory Ross was amongst that group as he was suited up, but for the second week in a row, Ross wore the green jersey normally wore by the quarterbacks, indicating that he was not to be hit. Today, Ross didn't have even a chance at that. "He didn't get a rep." Callahan said. "We backed him down completely. He just watched, did some conditioning, but aside from that, he did no work."
Ross himself didn't mind resting, but wasn't fond of the jersey he had to wear. "I don't even like talking about it." he said. "I think I am the first I-back to ever put one on for a practice. I mean, it's just to get me healed up a little bit."
That will be the theme for perhaps the entire two weeks leading up to the Kansas game when the Jayhawks come to Lincoln two Saturdays from now.
Bill Callahan is on his own for much of at least this week, many of the assistants on the road doing recruiting. Most of the assistants are expected back Thursday.
Nebraska will return to practice tomorrow and practice through Thursday and the players will then have Friday and Saturday off before returning Sunday as the continue preparations for Kansas.
Following today's regular practice, the younger members of the team worked with Callahan and company in what was termed a "developmental" session for the more inexperienced personnel. "We took a lot of young players from the offensive and defensive line and worked a lot of run fundamentals and techniques with those guys for about forty-five minutes." Callahan said. "Additionally, we had a seven-on-seven with the young defensive players, so we felt like we got a lot of work done."
Welcome to the club
During today's practice, defensive end Wali Muhammad was given his award for a great game against Pittsburgh. Muhammad's three tackles (all for a loss), 1 forced fumble and interception was the performance that put Muhammad over the hump as it were, the junior college transfer finally getting that coveted black jersey. "I figured I would get it before we played like Oklahoma." Wali said. "I got it sooner though, so I'm keeping it."
The actual presentation of it was during one of their many defensive meetings. "Coach Cosgrove was like ‘Where's Wali at?', he stood up said congratulations on your blackshirt, gave me a big round of applause, said my stats and it was awesome."