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Pelini: NU offense needs makeover

October 28, 2009

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— His team mired in a midseason funk, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is calling out his offense and promising changes.

Nebraska (4-3, 1-2 Big 12) heads into Saturday’s game at Baylor (3-4, 0-3) having scored a total of 17 points the past two weeks. The Huskers followed a flat performance in a 31-10 loss to Texas Tech on Oct. 17 with a 9-7 defeat to Iowa State that was marred by a school record-tying eight turnovers.

Pelini said Tuesday that he and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson are conducting auditions at almost every position and that there would be some new faces in different places. He wouldn’t offer details.

“As you move along, you can sit there and continue to try to pound a square peg into a round hole,” Pelini said. “At times, you have to think outside the box and look at what your personnel is and what they’ve been able to execute.”

The most visible sign of change so far has been at receiver. Two of the top four, Curenski Gilleylen and Menelik Holt, were practicing with the scout unit Monday and Tuesday. That doesn’t mean they won’t be on the field Saturday, but it does show the level of frustration among the coaches.

Pelini said the receivers need to block better on the perimeter and catch — and hold onto — the ball. There were at least four drops against Iowa State, including one by Gilleylen that resulted in an interception.

“They need to play cleaner,” Pelini said. “We need to make plays. We need attitude out there.”

Watson said freshman Khiry Cooper has earned the start at one of the receiver spots, and red-shirt freshmen Steven Osborne and Tim Marlowe are getting long looks at practice.

Pelini also admonished I-back Roy Helu Jr. for playing tentatively. Helu fumbled on two of his five carries against ISU. Helu has been playing with a sore shoulder, but Pelini said if Helu is on the field, he has no excuse for underperforming.

“I expect him to play like he’s OK if he puts himself in the football game. Period, end of story,” Pelini said. “If you’re hurt, you’re hurt. If you’re not and you walk out there on the field, I expect you to give it up and to play the way we expect you to play.”

Freshman Dontrayevous Robinson emerged as Helu’s top backup last week and ran 15 times for 77 yards in his most extensive action.

“Our offensive line played a good game this past week, and — I don’t want to put too much pressure on ’Tray — but ’Tray had a good game. We liked what he did. We’ll take a look at doing some things around that,” Watson said.

The quarterback situation also remains unclear. Pelini said last week that he didn’t like the idea of rotating Zac Lee and Cody Green because it prevents one from establishing a rhythm. But on Tuesday he didn’t rule out the possibility of playing both against Baylor.

“I’m considering a lot of things,” he said. “We’ll see how practice plays out.”

Asked if he and Watson are in agreement on the quarterback situation, Pelini paused a long second and said, “Yes, we are on the same page.”

Nebraska (4-3, 1-2 Big 12) heads into Saturday’s game at Baylor (3-4, 0-3) having scored a total of 17 points the past two weeks. The Huskers followed a flat performance in a 31-10 loss to Texas Tech on Oct. 17 with a 9-7 defeat to Iowa State that was marred by a school record-tying eight turnovers.

Pelini said Tuesday that he and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson are conducting auditions at almost every position and that there would be some new faces in different places. He wouldn’t offer details.

“As you move along, you can sit there and continue to try to pound a square peg into a round hole,” Pelini said. “At times, you have to think outside the box and look at what your personnel is and what they’ve been able to execute.”

The most visible sign of change so far has been at receiver. Two of the top four, Curenski Gilleylen and Menelik Holt, were practicing with the scout unit Monday and Tuesday. That doesn’t mean they won’t be on the field Saturday, but it does show the level of frustration among the coaches.

Pelini said the receivers need to block better on the perimeter and catch — and hold onto — the ball. There were at least four drops against Iowa State, including one by Gilleylen that resulted in an interception.

“They need to play cleaner,” Pelini said. “We need to make plays. We need attitude out there.”

Watson said freshman Khiry Cooper has earned the start at one of the receiver spots, and red-shirt freshmen Steven Osborne and Tim Marlowe are getting long looks at practice.

Pelini also admonished I-back Roy Helu Jr. for playing tentatively. Helu fumbled on two of his five carries against ISU. Helu has been playing with a sore shoulder, but Pelini said if Helu is on the field, he has no excuse for underperforming.

“I expect him to play like he’s OK if he puts himself in the football game. Period, end of story,” Pelini said. “If you’re hurt, you’re hurt. If you’re not and you walk out there on the field, I expect you to give it up and to play the way we expect you to play.”

Freshman Dontrayevous Robinson emerged as Helu’s top backup last week and ran 15 times for 77 yards in his most extensive action.

“Our offensive line played a good game this past week, and — I don’t want to put too much pressure on ’Tray — but ’Tray had a good game. We liked what he did. We’ll take a look at doing some things around that,” Watson said.

The quarterback situation also remains unclear. Pelini said last week that he didn’t like the idea of rotating Zac Lee and Cody Green because it prevents one from establishing a rhythm. But on Tuesday he didn’t rule out the possibility of playing both against Baylor.

“I’m considering a lot of things,” he said. “We’ll see how practice plays out.”

Asked if he and Watson are in agreement on the quarterback situation, Pelini paused a long second and said, “Yes, we are on the same page.”

Suh at fullback for Huskers?

Nebraska star defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh says he has not practiced with the offense this season and that he doesn’t believe he’s needed on that side of the ball.

Suh lined up at fullback on occasion the second half of the 2008 season, even catching a short touchdown pass against Kansas.

Suh said Tuesday that he would be “more than happy” to dabble in offense again, but only if asked by the coaching staff.

Suh said he’s not asking offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to get him some plays at fullback.

As it is, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior is getting plenty of work on defense. He leads the Huskers with 44 tackles, four sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and seven pass breakups.

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