Pelini Presser: Rutgers Game Week

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini went in-depth on the latest with Cornhusker football and thoughts on Rutgers game week during his Monday press conference leading into kickoff against the Scarlet Knights.

On how nice it is to finally play at home after long road trip

“It is going to be nice not playing a night game, five night games in-a-row wears on you, with three on the road. I am looking forward to playing some day games, especially with those three on the road. Our bye week came at a good time and really this fall break came at a good time for our kids to be able to take a breath. It wears on you. You get back late at night. I know me – I was worn down. It just takes its toll on you. I am glad that we have that part of the schedule behind us. We might have a night game coming up, I don’t even know, as far as that is going to work as the season goes on. It was a tough stretch, and I think I said it, it is going to be good to get home for these next couple of weeks.”

On balancing practice with late arrivals after road games

“We have looked for ways to alter the schedule a little bit, let our guys get a chance to get their legs back. As far as how we have handled our Sundays, with getting back late at night, sometimes as late as six in the morning, with the Fresno State game. We have had to adjust our Sunday schedules a little bit because of that. We have Monday off. It just throws you off a little bit. I told our guys, you have to be disciplined. You have to be disciplined to make sure you get yourself in bed and get plenty of rest during the week. Otherwise, you spend a week trying to catch up. Like I said, I am glad that part of the schedule is behind us.”

On sophomore safety Nate Gerry

“I think Nate had a great spring, a really good fall camp and I think he gets more comfortable every day. I think personally, his experience playing ‘up’ (linebacker) last year helped him. I don’t think he was real comfortable with it last year, especially early on, but I think that experience having to deal with the run fits and things you have to at the second level really helped things come together for him at the safety position. We do use the safeties a lot in our run fits, so he had that experience in high school playing safety, but I think him playing up gave him a lot more exposure and has made him a better player. I think his understanding of what is going on is really growing. I think Coop (Corey Cooper) went through the same thing. I think that is beneficial to a large extent because you have to understand the run fits and the gaps that you probably weren’t exposed to in high school. He has great ball skills, and he is just a lot more comfortable deep than where he was. He actually struggled some in coverage a year ago at the second level from the linebacker position. It was more because his eyes were in the wrong position because he was used to playing from a deeper level. Now you see he is very, very natural back there in the safety position. That becomes more obvious. He makes great plays on the football, and has really good instincts at the position.”

On how impressed Pelini is on third-down defense

“At times I have been really happy with it, at times I wish we were more consistent at times as far as getting off the field and executing our third-down pressures and such. We have seen a lot of different things. We get a lot of people that play us different on third down. So you have to make adjustments during the game because I think teams get a little bit wary of our pressure packages. You have to be ready to make quick adjustments as far as what you are seeing and how they are seeing it and how they are going to protect, because they are so concerned where Randy Gregory is coming. You have to be able to make quick adjustments, and I think we have been able to take advantage of some things. Early in the game the other day, we were right on some people and just didn’t make the play, which really hurt us on a couple of drives they were able to convert. Then I thought we settled in and had good third-down defense as the game went on.”

On why his third-down defense is usually good

“We spend a lot of time on it. We spend a lot of time on protections, on how we can exploit what teams are doing. We make some adjustments week-to-week and try to be creative in what we are doing and give a lot of different looks. It takes time. You have to put some time into it to make sure the guys have a good understanding of it, and I think our guys do have a good understanding of what we are doing. Mix it up a little bit. It comes down to execution. It comes down to everyone being where they are supposed to be and doing their job.”

On any extra challenge with a new opponent Rutgers coming to Lincoln

“I spent some of the bye week looking at them, prior to the Northwestern game, like you say, it is like we are playing a new opponent. We have not played these guys before. Trying to familiarize with what they are trying to do. I know Tim (Beck) got a little bit of a jump during the bye week. It's one thing seeing them on film, then playing them and seeing them live and what they do. I am sure there will be adjustments that will have to be made on both sides, because we are new to them, too.”

On Rutgers

“They kind of do what they do. They are going to have one or two specific packages that they do. You see that week-to-week. They have 90 percent of something they do, and they are not going to change that, but the 10 percent changes depending on their opponent. They haven’t changed a whole heckuva lot. You have to have a philosophy, and I know Coach (Ralph) Friedgen and Coach (Kyle) Flood, they have what they believe and do what they do. I am sure they will adjust some things because of our structures, but for the most part they are going to run their offense and their defense and try to execute it at a high level.”

On the play of linebackers Trevor Roach and Josh Banderas

“I thought OK. We got better as the game went on. We missed some tackles early on in the game which hurt us. Not just those two guys, I should say it was more whoever was in the game before 'Bando’ was. Really across the board, we had some leaky yardage that hurt us. For whatever reason I thought the tempo got to us early. We were prepared for it I thought, but we didn’t react well early on certain things. Then when you have opportunities to get off the field on third down and you miss a tackle, miss a tackle there in the run game, then it becomes a run play that should have been a tackle for a loss that ends up being a 15- to 20-yard gainer. That gets you on your heels. That is what we have to fix in my opinion. You are not going to go three and out all the time, I’d like to, but you are not, when teams get you reeling, we have to make a play. We have to put a stop to it. When you are missing tackles, that is what we have to get better at.”

On offensive line depth

“I thought they did well. I thought all three guys did good things. Just like a lot of other areas, I think they got better as the game went on. We stuck with the run, I thought (Offensive Coordinator) Tim (Beck) did a good job of mixing it up and continued to stay running the football. I thought it got better as the game went on. It is easy to get discouraged if you miss a couple of plays, here or there. They changed up some things that we had plans for going into the game. We had to make a couple of adjustments and were able to exploit some things that we did not think were going to be there going in. I thought we did a good job with that, and obviously our third-down offense in the second half was very good. We were able to make some big-time third-down conversions in the second half that really helped us. Tommy (Armstrong Jr.) made some big-time throws in the second half that really helped us keep drives alive.”

On quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.

“What I know is he is learning something every day. I don’t think sometimes people realize how much is on a kid's plate. It is a hard position to play. He is still learning. He works very hard at it. He studies the game hard. Every week is a little different. He is seeing different structures and coverages every week. I think it comes down to, and I think Tim (Beck) is conscious of this, week to week you have to find that happy medium between being able to attack and game plan for somebody and do something specific that can exploit what people are doing. But also not going outside of your quarterback's comfort zone. There is a lot, as much as we use the quarterbacks in the run game and in the zone read, all those things can add up to a lot."

On whether it was a bit too much at times for the then-freshman Armstrong

“He has great leadership skills. He’s a tremendous competitor. That part of it, that’s one thing you never question about Tommy, ever. As far as being able to understand and execute and do everything from play-to-play, game-to-game, I think he has done a heckuva job. I think he is getting better and he’s going to continue to get better. Every week is another opportunity to keep learning and growing. I see him making big strides, and he is only going to keep getting better. He’s a young player who is playing an extremely difficult position to play and master. You look across the country and look on Sunday, it’s a difficult position to play and you’re not going to be perfect. I think he has done a heckuva job, and he’s our quarterback.”

On Armstrong being hard on himself

“Sometimes he’s too hard on himself. But I think he has gotten better in that area.”

On what he saw from Armstrong during the bye week

“When he walks on the field to go to practice and when he walks into the meeting room, he has one thing on his mind and that’s to get better. I think he’s really matured. He has such high expectations for himself. At this time a year ago he would make a mistake and he wasn’t able to let it go. You see right now, he knows when he makes a mistake or when something didn’t go right, but he’s on to the next thing and talking about why he made that mistake. He’s really matured in that way, which is a real positive because you have to be that way. I know myself, whether it’s the quarterback position or anything else, I’ve never seen anybody play a perfect game. You’re going to face adversity. You are going to make some mistakes, and you’re going to experience some failure and when you do that’s when you’ve got to be strong enough and mentally tough enough to move on to the next thing and believe. He’s gotten so much better in those regards. He’s really matured as far as that’s concerned. It’s one thing to make a mistake, it’s another thing and important to understand why you made that mistake. That’s the only way you correct it.”

On any new injury information following the Northwestern game

“We came out of Northwestern pretty good.”

On defensive end Randy Gregory’s health

“He got it banged a couple times. Not just his knee, his thigh. He found himself wrapped up in a couple odd positions the other day. But he was fine the other day. He’s feeling pretty good.”

On how Gregory is handling the way offenses scheme against him

“Randy doesn’t get caught up in all of that. Number one he doesn’t get caught up in statistics and all of that. He plays extremely hard and he's a force out there. It doesn’t matter how they’re blocking it or whether they are turning their protections towards him. He still finds a way to be productive and it opens up one-on-ones on the other side, which I think we saw in the second half last week where we were able to take advantage of it.”

On the state of recruiting

“I like where we are in recruiting. I think that (Director of Athletics) Shawn (Eichorst) and the administration have done a heckuva job giving us all the tools and sitting down and trying to figure out everything we need. I like what we have in place. I think we have some good momentum. I like where it stands right now and hopefully we can finish this class off. I feel like we are a lot further ahead. I’m watching at a lot earlier of a time. We won’t have a huge signing class because of the number of seniors we have. I’ve watched a lot more 2016 guys this year than I remember in the past. For every 2015 guy I look at, I’ve looked at two, three, five kids. We are getting a lot more familiar and as a staff we are getting ahead. In this day in age you have to.”

On how the extra staff helps in recruiting

“Getting those kids on campus and getting familiar and communicating with kids via letters or social media and all of those types of stuff that build relationships early on. Sometimes to even weed out guys because I’m not going to waste my time there because there’s no interest. Or even sometimes geographically a kid that is not going to be interested and then you see there’s a tie in and we really have a shot at getting those kids. The earlier on that happens the better chance you have of saying this is our pool of guys we are going to spend our time on. Because you can’t recruit everybody. You can narrow it down. There are a lot of good players and you need to see who fits you, who do you like and who can help you win a championship? Also who do we have a shot at and who do we get interest from and who we don’t.”

On whether he expects pushback on parents being able to come on visits with recruits

“I think that’s always a problem when they are making rules in the structure of the NCAA now, everyone has different agendas. It’s like when you walk into a room and talk about rule changes and you have different subdivisions. They all have different issues that they’re dealing with. That’s why sometimes they don’t always make sense. You have a lot of different people who have different problems and different things they have to try and deal with. Putting it under one umbrella doesn’t always work. My whole sense of bringing parents on visits is I just look at it from a parent’s standpoint. If a kid, a 17 or 18-year-old, is getting ready to make a life-changing decision his parents should be with him. You have a small percentage of kids who are ready to weed out and be able to make their decisions for the right reasons, but you have a large majority of kids who aren’t ready to make that decision because they don’t even know what is important at that point. They should have their parents with them when they make this kind of decision. Like it’s not about the uniforms bud, this is a 40-year decision. These are the things that are important here, and I think that some times that gets lost. I think that it is really important if a kid wants to get on a plane and look at a school his parents should be sitting next to him when he gets on that plane.”

On how good the SEC West is

“I don’t know. I think that will play out as the season goes on. We will find out. We will see how that goes. They play good football, and I know there is some good football played in some other conferences, too. It’s hard to say because you just don’t see unfortunately in this day in age a lot of crossovers. So you don’t get a lot to make that decision on to be able to compare and contrast. You have to go off what the media says to a certain extent and what some people say.”

On ESPN’s and the SEC’s relationship involving the SEC Network

“I don’t think that kind of relationship is good for college football. That’s just my opinion. Anytime you have a relationship with somebody, you have a partnership, you are supposed to be neutral. It’s pretty hard to stay neutral in that situation.”

On offensive lineman Ryne Reeves

“Ryan is a team guy. He works hard every day and he’s getting better. He had some tough injuries and he stuck with it and he just keeps working hard. It’s paying off for him and it’s good to see.”

On late-Husker quarterback Brook Berringer

“That’s a little bit before my time, but obviously I was fully aware. I have had a chance to meet his family and obviously he was a pretty special guy. Somebody who stands for the things he did will always have an impact on any program for ever. The people who knew him and the people he touched.”

On the offense being a lot more efficient in the second half on Saturday

"I thought Tommy made some big-time throws and I thought structurally we kind of saw some things of how they were playing us and we were able to exploit some things and we executed well. Some of those were some big conversions that helped keep some drives alive.”

On how much energy it feeds into the team to see reserves have success

“I just talked to the team about it the other day and yesterday again. You put it on the film during the week and you will get your opportunity on Saturday. We want to play a lot of people, but we are not going to put you out there if you don’t put it on the film during the week. There’s got to be that trust level that shows you can execute during the week. It isn’t going to magically just happen on Saturdays if you haven’t practiced to a high level during the week. Guys understand that. You see guys like Kevin Williams. He had a great week of practice and look what happened for him. He ended up having a really good game. Obviously for him he’s now healthy, which he hasn’t really been. That’s just an example, you practice well during the week it usually pays off on Saturday.”

On Tommy Armstrong’s near-touchdown

“You can’t take away a guy’s aggressiveness. He was trying to make a play. My heart kind of stops for a second when they do that, but when guys are out there competing you have got to let them play. I told him that was pretty good for someone who doesn’t have any hops.”

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