Following a route that wasn't really a route of Arizona State, there's much to be proud of and much still to work on. Coach Solich started the Monday post-practice interview session by giving kudos to the big XII players of the week, starting with Josh Brown. Josh kicked two field goals in Saturday's contest against ASU, both at least 40 yards in distance. He was also perfect on his PATs, going 6 for 6. What impressed Solich more though was his ability to keep the opponent pinned at the 20 by one bomb after another on kickoffs that sailed into the endzone. "His (Josh's) kickoffs were vital." Solich stated. "The field goals kind of stand out to everybody, because he had two over 40 yards, but his kickoffs were imperative in terms of field position for us and what we got done."
Special teams were definitely attributed to much of NU' success against ASU as they accounted for a variety of plays that turned a nail-biter into a comfortable win for the Huskers. Josh's ability to be consistent in his kickoffs along with his field goals and the two blocked punts, one resulting in a score for NU was just the culmination of efforts across the board. Solich thought the entire unit was excellent, but pointed to one player that impressed overall. "Lannie Hopkins just had a great, great day for us special team wise." Solich stated.
As to the progression of the special teams from where they were in prior to the start of this season, Solich said he was pleased, but reminded everyone that with special teams, you can look great one minute and not so just a minute later. "We are really pleased that we are progressing there (on special teams), very early in the season." Solich stated. "But, the thing about special teams is, all it takes is one breakdown and you look pretty lousy, so you have to keep working, you have to keep practicing and you have to stay on top of your game as far as that is concerned."
Going back a little to the Big XII awards, Pat Ricketts took away some hardware of his own, winning the conference defensive player of the week. "He really had a very good game for us." Solich stated. "He had a number of pass break-ups and played on the run very well. He's also been in our nickle and dime packages and has really done a great job in terms of knowing it all."
With so many new faces on the offensive front, there were questions as to how effective they would be. If they would be effective at all and after the game was done, just what lie before the coaches in terms of progress to make, whether it be a mole hill or a mountain. "I think, offensively, it was a mixed bag for all of us." Solich stated. "There were a lot of good things though. They were very aggressive coming off the ball and they probably saw as much movement and as many blitzes as you are going to see throughout the course of the year from any one team."
"I thought they did a good job in picking a lot of it up, but there were times that we did get beat some, one-on-one, especially on some pass-rush situations."
Some of the lack of success of the offensive line could be due in great part to the defense they were facing. Though ASU certainly didn't gain any real positive press last year , defensively speaking, this year's returning class of 8 starters was expected to make an impact, not the least of which was pre-season All-american, Terrell Suggs. Nebraska would have it's work cut out for them. "They (ASU) had excellent people in terms of quickness all the way across the board on their defensive line and rush ends, so that was a major test for us." Solich stated. "For being inexperienced as we are there, I thought we held up well, but we will continue to get better."
And speaking of the offensive line and well, speaking of speaking, the debut of one Richie Incognito was awaited, more so because of the pre-game banter that went on in the media between Richie Jr. and just about any press publication that could get him to talk about this personal agenda with the Sun Devils. Many looked to this game as a true test of the poise of a player who's poise isn't what he's necessarily known for and coach Solich thought he did quite well. "I was pleased with his play." Solich stated. "I thought he played under control and that wasn't easy to do, because he is from the state of Arizona and there were some articles that kind of made it difficult for him and he played with great composure and did an excellent job against some great football players."
Richie and company had what you consider a game like any other that is the first for many of these as starters. Inexperience showing, mistakes in execution were made, blocks were missed and a variety of things that again, you can attribute to everyone all being out there for the first time in a game that really mattered. One thing though that the offense didn't do was something that a reporter had noted, NU hasn't done in almost 30 years, start a season with a game that had absolutely no turnovers. You might imagine the optimism Solich had for this particular statistic, but as usual, remained cautiously so. "That's what you are after." Solich stated. "But, I was adding up the turnovers (on other pre-season games) and in one of them, we had a total of seven turnovers between interceptions and fumbles and in another, there were 6, between fumbles and interceptions, so that's your worst nightmare.'
"In the early 80s, when we went back and played Penn State in the kickoff classic, we had 9 balls on the ground and we were very fortunate as we had maybe only one turnover out of it."
"I thought they (the present day Huskers) were great at taking care of the ball and also, not taking themselves offensively out of drives with penalties. That's something we did a lot of in fall camp scrimmages and really, this spring. There weren't motion penalties and those types of penalties that give you long yardage situations."
"We (the coaches) probably could have done a better job on our end of as far as working the option game and taking advantage of some of those."
Injuries are the nature of the game, but when a fifth year senior is lost in Jason Lohr, it's effect is obvious. Lohr was bigger, he was faster and was expected to be a major part of this front line, but an injury late in the practice season has Jason watching this season from the sidelines. With the loss of such a key player along with injuries to others along that front, the effectiveness was going to be tested early and often for this new front, mostly filled with new faces.
Throughout most of the game, this front was effective to say the least. Forcing consistent double-teams from the ASU O-line, Kelsay and Adams were free to do their damage. Kelsay took advantage of that, having a stellar day for the defense, possibly the best if not one of the best overall performances of the game. It's that ability to get your man one-on-one that set the tone for the NU defense and this being the first live game for so many, Solich admitted to being encouraged, especially due to the injuries that have effected that line. "We were able to bring guys in at a steady rate where it wasn't a situation where we weren't playing "out there". Solich stated. "And that's an easy position to do that, because you are fighting double-teams a share of the time and you are pass rushing, so the fact that we have some depth there is a big advantage to us and we do have the two players we have that are out for the year. That can't continue though, because we have to maintain some depth there."
Notes of interest:
Benard Thomas will most likely be redshirting this season. Frank Solich commented on that, but also stated that depending on the health of everyone ahead of Thomas, he would still practice with the team. "We have discussed this considerably and so when he came out and warmed up, he didn't want to go with his uniform since he was looking at redshirting." There was some question as to who's overall decision it was in making this, but Solich stated that this was a decision the coaches let Benard make for himself. "We really left it up to him." Solich stated. "We felt that he could work his way into the mix this year, but his feeling was that two strong years would be excellent for him (by redshirting) and you can see the reasoning there also."
"This could all change if we get an injury or two, but he's practicing up there with us and will remain practicing with the top units throughout the course of practice this year."
As you know, Jason Lohr is out for the year following a tear of his left ACL. Lohr did go through surgery and coach Solich commented on that and where Jason is (mentally) at, right now. "I saw him last week and the night of the surgery (the night of the game) and he looked very good after having surgery that day."
"His attitude is very good as he is in as good of spirits as you could be in."
Marques Simmons and Chad Sievers are both back to practicing this week. Sievers is coming off of a knee strain and Simmons has been nursing a sore ham string.