"There has been a lot of good play by a lot of good players, but we're just collectively not consistent enough to come through, week-in and week-out, especially on the defensive side of the ball. That is an issue. That's something we look straight in the eye and say, ‘We have to fix this. We have to find ways to get the pass rush better. We have to find ways to cover better. We have to get the right people in the game.' We're doing all that. We're trying to get as many of our players on the field as possible to make plays."
The Huskers offense really hasn't been the problem most of the season. The emphasis early this season was to get the running game going and Marlon Lucky got out to a fast start. He is still the leading rusher overall in the Big 12, but Oklahoma State's Dantrell Savage, after missing several games, is poised to pass by him and already has for the lead in conference games. Lucky is averaging 105yards per game and 5.1-yards per carry. The depth at that position has been whittled down to slim.
The Huskers staff decided on Arizona State transfer Sam Keller at quarterback and he has been solid in the regular Callahan West Coast portion of the offense, completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,720 yards with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Keller isn't real mobile, so the Cowboys don't have to worry about a two-way threat at quarterback, but the Nebraska offensive line has only allowed seven sacks.
Lucky is also the leading receiver with 35 receptions, but close behind are Maurice Purify, Nate Swift and Terrence Nunn. Those four have combined for 96 receptions.
Keller believes it is his responsibility to get the offense kicked in this week.
"We have guys," said Keller. "They just have to show themselves. I think that can happen this week. I think we have had those guys all along. We just did not have them against Missouri . Missouri was just a train wreck. When you look at the guys we have, that can be those guys, they are all there. That is the week where I will try to facilitate them coming out and having a good time playing this week. We have to get back to playing football. We have to get back to loving football and enjoying each other.
"It is cliché somewhat but that is what it is. Our backs are a little bit against the wall. We had a horrible performance and we have to respond. You cannot respond by feeling pressure. You cannot respond by feeling sorry for yourself. You have to respond by knowing that you are here for a reason, knowing that you are a good ball player and knowing that we have a good team. Just have confidence in each other. We have to have trust and confidence and go out and execute and have fun. Have fun doing it."
Playing defense has been no fun for Nebraska. The Blackshirts have allowed 29 points a game and are the Big 12's worst in total defense allowing 441.5 yards a game. The defensive line lacks the NFL-type talent that it had a year ago, but Bo Ruud is a talented linebacker and the secondary has two returning starters and three-year lettermen back in right corner Cortney Grixby and free safety Tierre Green.
Callahan was asked several times to explain the problems on defense.
"I don't ever believe that (we're not that good)," said Callahan. "I always keep hope alive and keep looking forward to a positive performance, because I know that we're capable of doing that. I see so many signs of it in practice. Again, it comes to the consistency of making a big play. I'm not delusional when I say this to you: there were opportunities in that game the other night where plays could have been made. They were some drops, some momentum changers early in the game that could've made a difference. Who knows? Again, I see positive signs that our team is getting better in certain areas and there are certain areas where we have some issues. There is inconsistency in that regard. We're striving to be a better football team and become more consistent across the board."
The problem appears to be, after looking at tape, team speed. This Husker defense looks slow to the ball. They don't have control of the line of scrimmage that they had a year ago and coupled with the lack of speed that adds to giving up big plays.