After a game where the Huskers gave up 35 points to Kansas, you might not think that when you look at the entire picture this would have been the most ideal game to pick as your inspiration for handing out the "Blackshirts", the coveted practice jerseys which usually go to the starters on the defensive side of the ball.
But it wasn't just about numbers, as Defensive Line Coach Carl Pelini said after practice today. "The physical nature of the play on Saturday, the great effort our guys made running from sideline to sideline, we felt like that was a performance where they earned the Blackshirts," Carl Pelini said. "So, we put them in their lockers today, (and) when they came out of meetings they were waiting on them."
For defensive end Pierre Allen, just a sophomore and finding himself as a starter due to former starting defensive end Barry Turner going down with a season-ending injury, when he saw his jersey he didn't quite know what to think. "It was completely out of the blue. It wasn't expected at all," said Allen, who is fifth on the team in tackles with 44 on the season, including seven for loss, three of which were sacks.
But he thinks Bo had a plan.
"Yeah, I think there was a plan, and the plan was to wait until we came together and played like blackshirts," he continued. "Like any team there were a lot of mistakes going on, and we weren't playing up to our potential. But last Saturday's game, I think we have played great, collectively."
That game, the 45-35 home victory over the Kansas Jayhawks, saw the Huskers notch five sacks, the most they have had in a single game all year. Coincidentally enough or perhaps ironically, depending on your point of view, the defense didn't get hit with a single penalty the entire game outside of a special teams hiccup by sophomore wide receiver Will Henry, who was called for an illegal block in the back.The following is a list of all the players who received their blackshirts today:
DE – Sr. Zach Potter
DE – Sr. Clayton Sievers
DE – So. Pierre Allen
LB – Jr. Phillip Dillard
LB – Sr. Tyler Wortman
DB – Jr. Larry Asante
DB – So. Eric Hagg (Nickel)
DB – Sr. Armando Murillo
DB – So. Anthony West
DT – Jr. Ndamukong Suh
DT – Sr. Ty Steinkuhler
Noteable absences from this group are, of course, senior linebacker Cody Glenn, who was officially suspended from the team indefinitely today for a violation of team rules, according to a release from the University issued earlier today. Also not wearing one of the coveted jerseys is starting safety Jr. Matt O'Hanlon.
Players who talked following practice today commented about just how practice went on the defensive side, sophomore defensive back Eric Hagg saying that he lost track of all the interceptions they brought down today. Coach Carl Pelini said he saw the difference as well. "Today I thought it was our best practice of the year, honestly. There was a certain level of excitement there and a certain level of our guys feeling a sense of achievement, because they really feel like they earned those shirts and they did," he said.
Senior cornerback Armando Murillo said that the intensity of the defense today and what they were doing, was actually humorous at times. "It was pretty funny, because everyone was picking all the balls off," Murillo said of 12 balls he estimated the defense picked from the Husker offense during today's practice. Allen said just going to the practice field with that jersey on was something else. "It was an indescribable feeling. You feel great. You feel like a new person," he said.
For someone a little closer to home who might have a better sense of the tradition behind this not-so-ordinary practice jersey, "I think a lot of them know enough about it to know what it signifies and how large of a role it plays for the defense. Just the people who wore it before and built up the foundation of the blackshirt defenses, is something we have to continue to honor what it stood for," senior linebacker and Grand Island, Nebraska native Tyler Wortman said.
"For me I think of when I was a kid growing up watching the championship defenses. Guys that were just so intense, flew around and were all over the ball and pretty much just killed teams. That's what it means to me."
But you don't have to be a Nebraska native to understand it, at least in regard to knowing what it symbolizes to every player on that side of the ball. So much so that at first glance upon seeing it in your locker, you aren't quite sure if you want to put it on. "I didn't know if I was ready for it. I mean, I knew what it meant, because coach Sanders would tell us what it was like when he was here and what it meant to him," sophomore cornerback Eric Hagg said of comments from Secondary Coach Marvin Sanders, who played for the Huskers from 1987 to 1989. "But I was still messing up a lot, and I wasn't sure I deserved to put it on."
Even for someone on the other side of the ball, there's an appreciation for the moment, but even more appreciation for the fact that the first-year Husker head coach made sure that what went into getting those jerseys meant just as much as the jerseys themselves. "It's an honor, and it should be worn as an honor. That means it should be earned," Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson said. "And I think Bo did exactly the right thing with it."
Practice Notes: Returning to practice today was sophomore offensive guard Keith Williams, as well as senior running back Marlon Lucky. Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson said after practice today that Williams went full speed today, and Lucky's injury, diagnosed as a turf toe, was of the mild variety and the starting running back took much of the first-team reps today.
Junior linebacker Phillip Dillard continues to be out with an ankle injury, his timetable for his return still uncertain. The same can be said for senior offensive tackle Lydon Murtha, who, according to Watson, is day-to-day.
Check out the full post practice audio with Carl Pelini as he talks about the blackshirts and much more, and make sure to stay tuned to Big Red Report as we will bring you more audio from players following today's practice, as well as a video 1-on-1 with Pierre Allen as he talks about getting that blackshirt and where he sees this team going from here on out.
- Carl Pelini