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  1. 2011 Feb 09

    Podcast 2/9: Husker Classroom Standouts


    By HuskerLocker

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    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

    Tags: podcasts, austin cassidy, rickey thenarse, pierre allen, cj zimmerer, sean fisher, mens hoops, womens hoops

  2. 2011 Jan 24

    YEAR IN REVIEW: S Report Card


    By HuskerLocker

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    Our report card for the Nebraska safeties and their position coach, Marvin Sanders. Eric Hagg A Stellar season for the senior Peso, who won Team MVP from his teammates. Terrific, good-natured...

    Tags: year in review, report card, eric hagg, dejon gomes, courtney osborne, austin cassidy, pj smith, rickey thenarse, marvin sanders

  3. 2011 Jan 14

    Husker Heartbeat 1/14: Niles, Rickey, Bowl TV Ratings, and Big Ten Big Boys


    By HuskerLocker

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    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    *Niles Paul has to polish his game to play in the NFL - but once he gets there - he can play anywhere, says position coach Ted Gilmore.

    *How good are offensive linemen in the Big Ten? Try on Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi for size. Husker fans take close note: Line play is what defines teams in the Great Lakes league. NU had better buckle its chin strap.

    *Milt Tenopir - the real author of one of Nebraska's best plays in 2010 - has a few more ideas for the Husker coaching staff - if they want to listen. We suspect they will.

    *The Novak Trophy is the final jewel in an impressive careerfrom Rickey Thenarse.

    *Ex-Iowa running back Brandon Wegher will walk on at Oklahoma.

    *Michigan won't be losing Denard Robinson.

    Bowl Ratings drop 9 percent from last year - thanks, in large part, to the BCS move to ESPN. For example: The Outback Bowl - televised on ABC - had better ratings than the Orange and Fiesta Bowls.

    The Holiday Bowl did pretty well - a 3.48 rating, just behind the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl - considering it was a rematch of a blowout, and the game was so poorly played by Nebraska. The Insight Bowl received a paltry 2.24 rating, although it had the biggest jump in ratings because the NFL Network previously televised it. The Alamo Bowl received a 2.84. Both bowl games technically moved ahead of the Holiday this year in terms of Big 12 slotting.

    Look at that lovely rating for the Gator Bowl - a Jan. 1 Michigan/Mississippi State game on ESPN2: 1.71.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, niles paul, alex henery, rickey thenarse, milt tenopir, big ten

  4. 2011 Jan 10

    YEAR IN REVIEW: Defensive Report Card


    By HuskerLocker

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    Here's our season report card for Nebraska's offense. Stay tuned for position-specific report cards, available via a 30-day free trial with Husker Locker Pass!

    Two key things to remember about the report card:

    *Grades take into account all players at a given position.

    *Greater weight was given to “big games” and the performances in them.

    Defensive Line: B

    Final combined stats: 20 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, 38 QB hurries, three forced fumbles

    NU's front four – Pierre Allen, Jared Crick, Baker Steinkuhler and Cameron Meredith – was still among the best in college football, and arguably the finest group in the Big 12. The quartet generated decent heat on the quarterback during certain points of the season. At other times, they disappeared, or needed help from Bo Pelini's blitzes Against the run, they missed Ndamukong Suh's ability to shuck offensive linemen and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. A solid year – but not 2009.

    Crick heated up toward the end of the season, having his best game in the Big 12 Championship vs. Oklahoma. But he struggled in the Holiday Bowl. He still needs to improve as a run stuffer. As a pass rusher, the Brothers Pelini need to cut him loose more often to make big plays, instead of insisting on collapsing the pocket methodically.

    Allen played hard all year, anchored against the run, and did a fine job of collapsing the pocket from his end position. He was perhaps Carl Pelini's favorite player on the line because he executed his job so well and played through one painful injury after another. Nevertheless, Allen wasn't an elite pass rusher off the edge. It's been awhile since NU had one.

    Steinkuhler shot out of a cannon to start the year, then wore down as the season progressed, becoming less and less effective. He'll be back and more seasoned in 2011. A DUI arrest in December shouldn't be an ongoing issue.

    Meredith became a versatile chess piece for the Brothers Pelini, playing some “spinner” outside linebacker in some rush formations. A better pass rusher than Allen, Meredith will more of an impact next season. His best days are still ahead of him.

    Terrence Moore spelled Steinkuhler more often in late 2010 and started for him in the Holiday Bowl. The light finally seems to have blinked on Moore, a very good interior pass rusher. Thad Randle played inside for Crick on occasion; he held his own, but buckled a bit against the run. Josh Williams and Jason Ankrah need to get better this offseason; one of them will likely have a starting job next season.

    Linebacker: A

    Final combined stats: 17 tackles for loss, six sacks, 10 pass breakups, 7 QB hurries

    Is there another grade to give Lavonte David, the man responsible for most of that stats, plus a school-record 152 tackles? The kid had four weeks to learn one of the most complex defenses in college football, surpassed Will Compton on the depth chart before Compton's injury, then had to play practically every snap, all year, against a bevy of no-huddle, speedy offense. And do it with a smile.

    David is some kid, really. He saved NU's bacon against the run, improved in his pass coverage, and was unquestionably the Huskers' best blitzer. Along with being our defensive MVP, he earns his position an A grade. He played arguably his finest games in two losses – Texas A&M and the Big 12 Championship – when he strafed and chased and hit all over the place. The odds-on favorite for the Butkus next year still has weight to gain and room to grow, too. Part Terrell Farley, part Barrett Ruud, David was a thrilling player to watch in 2010.

    After suffering a broken foot, Compton starting playing midway through the season, and while he's good – he's no David. Compton thinks when David reacts. If Compton can ever stay healthy and turn the corner on trusting his instincts, he'll be a key cog in the wheel next year, as playing in the Big Ten will require NU to use more than one linebacker.

    Alonzo Whaley played in goal-line situations as a run stopper. He needs another spring learning the defense. The physically and “want-to” is there, though.

    Eric Martin flew around for half the season before moving to defensive end. He has all the ability David has – plus size – but he often put himself in bad spots to make tackles. He's a bit like Rickey Thenarse in that way.

    Sean Fisher got hurt before the year. Where will he play in 2011? Hard to say.

    Secondary: A-

    Combined stats: 19 interceptions, 4 defensive TDs 36 pass breakups, four sacks, 7 tackles for loss

    We grade on a curve around here, but NU's stellar pass defense still gets an A- from us. Simply spectacular for most of the season against the pass, the Huskers' safeties struggled at times making tackles – Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, Part 2 – on the second level, which led to big plays. But that was more than offset by the slew of big plays from the country's most talented secondary.

    Prince Amukamara enjoyed a Darrelle Revis-type season, rebuffing almost every challenge that came his way except a few plays against Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. He's the nation's best corner.

    Alfonzo Dennard – cocky, physical, competitive – is pretty darn close. Dennard was nails at the beginning of the year, like glue on receivers. He was outplaying Amukamara, in fact. He slowed down a bit during the middle of the season, suffered a concussion in the Missouri game, missed the Iowa State contest – and immediately came back with a big play in the Kansas game. He was our MVP for the Holiday Bowl, too.

    Eric Hagg was valuable in all kinds of ways – as a linebacker, as a safety, as a corner – and his absence next year will be sorely felt. His athleticism allowed him to matchup with all kinds of players.

    Our favorite player, Houdini Gomes, wore down a bit as the season closed, but he's still one of NU's best pure playmakers in recent memory. Smart in coverage, ahead of the game, tough for his size – Gomes has a place in the NFL.

    At safety, P.J. Smith and Rickey Thenarse played the first half of the season, while Courtney Osborne and Austin Cassidy essentially played the second half. NU sacrificed pass coverage for better tackling, and while that worked well in wins over Missouri and Colorado, it hurt in the Big 12 Championship. We'd like to see Smith back in the lineup to start 2011; his hook and benching seemed a little premature.

    Ciante Evans spelled Dennard for a game or two and filled in well. He reminds us of Ralph Brown. He'll be just fine next year.

    More Year In Review Features
    The Best in Pictures, Part 1, Highlights and Lowlights, Ten Best Defensive Plays, Ten Best Offensive Plays, Offensive Report Card

    Tags: year in review, prince amukamara, alfonzo dennard, eric hagg, dejon gomes, courtney osborne, pj smith, rickey thenarse, austin cassidy, ciante evans

  5. 2010 Dec 26

    HOLIDAY BOWL: NU Starts Practice in San Diego


    By HuskerLocker

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    Sign up Bo Pelini for another round of trips to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.

    “I do them all...I was at em, and I'm going again,” the Nebraska head coach said when asked which of the Holiday Bowl pregame events he'd attend for a second year in a row. A history and military buff, Bo will hit the tour of San Diego's impressive Naval fleet, too.

    “It'll be a different aircraft carrier,” he said. “We enjoy it. I'm glad we're back.”

    Nebraska's football team began on-site prep for the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl with a Sunday morning workout at UC San Diego. Pelini prefers the morning workout “during a bowl trip” so players can “enjoy the city” and maybe get to bed at a decent hour.

    “I've always operated like this,” Pelini said. “The schedule sets up good.”

    After a two-hour practice inside the Hawks Championship Center on Christmas, the Huskers landed in San Diego Saturday night and hit the soft, muddy turf at UCSD Sunday for a light 90-minute workout in shoulder pads and new adidas shorts. Rains pummeled Southern California late last week, briefly flooding Qualcomm Stadium and leaving the area practice fields waterlogged.

    “It got a little sloppy at the end,” Pelini said. “But we've been on worse. It'll only get better. It's dried out a lot. It's helps that we've got a lot of room out here.”

    Wide receiver Niles Paul, who suffered a broken foot two days before Thanksgiving, was “in and out” of practice Sunday and appears ready to contribute – if not start – when NU plays Washington Thursday.

    Also practicing: Safety Rickey Thenarse and tackle Baker Steinkuhler, both of whom are suspended for the game after getting arrested for alleged DUI offenses in December.

    “They're still part of the football team,” Pelini said. “They're just not part of the game.”

    NU returns to practice at UCSD Monday.

    Tags: holiday bowl, bo pelini, niles paul, baker steinkuhler, rickey thenarse

  6. 2010 Dec 20

    Husker Monday Takes: Recruiting, Big Ten and Dinger's Departure


    By HuskerLocker

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    Six quick takes while Santa kicks the tires on the sleigh:

    ***Recruitniks may have noticed that Nebraska coaches are still putting on the full-court press for signing another defensive end for the 2011 class – whether that's JUCO prospect and current Arizona commit Joseph Carter or Hawaii flyer Lake Koa-Ka'ai – even though Orrville Ohio's Max Pirman committed last month, Eric Martin switched to the position and the Huskers signed four defensive ends in the 2010 class.

    It tells me the Huskers are bullish on creating a dynamic pass rush for the Big Ten, and changing the versatility of the end position. Remember Cameron Meredith's “spinner” role during the last half of the year?

    The Brothers Pelini never stand still. They're creative yet solvent, and they evolve, year to year, based on opponents and personnel. The Big Ten has better offensive tackles and offensive lines than the Big 12. Straight bull rushes won't be as effective against the aircraft carriers protecting the quarterback's blind side in a snowy November.

    ***If freshman wide receiver Kenny Bell turned heads as an offensive scout-teamer, freshman safety Corey Cooper did it on the defensive side.

    “When we're competing against each other, he just has that look in his eyes,” safety Rickey Thenarse said. “Like he's not going to lose that battle.”

    Secondary coach Marvin Sanders, a Chicago native who recruited the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cooper out of the Windy City, called the kid “all business.”

    “He's from Chicago,” Sanders joked. “He's a man out there on the football field. He doesn't care if he's the fifth guy for the first guy, he's going to give you all he's got. If you're playing against him, you better be ready.”

    Husker players say Cooper can hit, he runs well and he's smart. Nebraska's depth at safety afforded Cooper the luxury of redshirting in 2010. He'll quickly be in the mix this spring.

    ***Nebraska will miss linebackers' coach Mike Ekeler's palpable energy on the practice field and sharp wit on the recruiting trail. Resembling – in stature and features – actor Tom Cruise just a little bit, you could imagine Ekeler just about anywhere in the wilderness, living off the land, dressing caribou. Indiana hired him as a co-defensive coordinator and needs that positive spirit badly. He'll become a quick Hoosier fave for his rapport with players and fans.

    But I think his coaching star at NU dimmed just a little after 2008, when he coached up Tyler Wortman and Colton Koehler – two walk-ons – into passable Division I linebackers. And it was through no real fault of his own.

    Phillip Dillard got hurt and fell into the doghouse, only to truly emerge halfway through the 2009 season. Ekeler developed and cultivated Mathew May and Blake Lawrence as replacements; they got hurt. Ditto Will Compton and Sean Fisher. Meanwhile, the Peso Eric Hagg took one linebacker off the field, and hybrid safety DeJon Gomes took another. Halfway through the 2010 season, the Brothers Pelini moved him away from the field to the press box despite having two excellent pairs of eyes – Marvin Sanders and John Papuchis – already up there.

    The presumed list of candidates to replace Ekeler is excellent. And since Bo is well-connected in defensive coaching circles, there be a name we don't know about, too.

    ***Whatever Bo's imperfections are with the media, I doubt you'll ever see him caught in the public relations mess that ensnared Iowa's football program last week. With seemingly half of the Hawkeye brass watching, athletic director Bob Barta and head coach Kirk Ferentz had to explain how they didn't know record-setting wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was running a drug house that may or may not have been frequented by Iowa football players, who may or may not have successfully circumvented UI's drug tests. This after years and years (and years) of Hawkeye run-ins with the law.

    That's not because Nebraska players are uniformly angels. They screw up. That's because, in an alternate universe, Bo probably would have been one whale of a trial attorney or probation officer. One advantage of worrying about too much is that you don't miss anything.

    ***The 2007 season has grown in the minds of some Nebraska fans to Keyser Soze status. I see that year lurking around message boards and news stories as if it's precise, all-encompassing rebuttal to any complaint or concern raised about NU's inconsistent play in 2009 and 2010.

    It's a little like the last handful of Husker hoops fans who find it useful to drag Barry Collier's beaten carcass into any conversation about Doc Sadler.

    If we must revisit the Callahan era even again, I'll continue to point to the truly most damning season: 2004.

    That's when Billy C willfully turned a 7-4 team into a 5-6 bunch by refusing to budge from the idea that Nebraska - come hell or high - had to execute his version of the West Coast Offense even though NU lacked a quarterback good enough to do it.

    Hence, the Huskers lost to Southern Mississippi and Iowa State – two inferior squads – because Joe Dailey threw 42 passes in both games. Out of those 84 throws, Dailey completed just 41. Those two games cost NU a bowl berth – and probably, in the long run, cost Callahan his job. Arrogance, ego, defeat.

    Forget the collapse, folks. Remember the stubbornness.

    ***I rarely wonder why players leave the Nebraska men's basketball program. I often wonder why Doc Sadler recruited them in the first place – and what Sadler said that convinced them to sign.

    Christian Standhardinger, talented as he may have been, was as bad of a fit for NU as I can imagine. Everything about his game – the herky-jerky shooting style, the dramatics when he got fouled, the traveling violations, the turnovers, the way he'd get frustrated after he missed a few shots – clashed with the kind of smooth, polished, unflappable leader Sadler wants in a player.

    Standhardinger was like the anti-Ade Dagunduro, who just took a beating amongst the trees of the Big 12, but did it with quiet calm on offense and a killer's instinct on defense. Standhardinger reversed the equation – he shot first and asked questions later on offense, and remained too passive and uncertain on defense.

    I liked Christian – he was smart, funny, friendly and relentless – but his focus and mental toughness was that of a gunner, a guy more suited for Conference USA or the Ohio Valley Conference. He had that devil of inconsistency on one shoulder, the angel of explosiveness on the other. Whether or not he would had flourished playing 30 minutes a game at Nebraska is immaterial. I don't think Doc could have stomached it night after night. Which again prompts the question: Why was he here?

    Tags: husker monday takes, bo pelini, carl pelini, cameron meredith, rickey thenarse, corey cooper, keyser soze, bill callahan

  7. 2010 Dec 20

    Husker Heartbeat 12/20: DUI Sidelines Rickey T for Holiday


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    *NU safety Rickey Thenarse gets suspended for the Holiday Bowl after picking up a DUI ticket - among others - after he graduated Saturday.

    Sayeth Bo: "It saddens me to announce that Rickey Thenarse will be suspended for the Holiday Bowl due to a violation of team rules. Rickey is a young man who has faced and overcome as much adversity and tragedy in his life as any person I've known. But he also understands that he's accountable for his actions. Rickey made an unfortunate decision the same night that he reached one of his greatest personal goals by earning his college degree."

    *Mavin Sanders says Courtney Osborne can do more than just tackle and hit. You're kiddin? Slow month at the LJS, apparently.

    *3,900 tickets remain for the Holiday Bowl, so NU is trying a military bowl blitzcampaign. Patriotic guilt. Clever move. I mean, if a terrific promotion, but it ought to be a first resort, not a last one - and the university should gladly send soldiers to the game without asking its fans to do it. Right?

    *LJS Steve Sipple tells you to go see Doc Sadler's crew during the holiday break. Thus far, fans aren't really listening.

    *Former Nebraska wrestler Rulon Gardner will be on NBC's Biggest Loser.

    *Former Nebraska gymnast Burkett Powell died at 38 over the weekend.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, rickey thenarse, courtney osborne, marvin sanders, bo pelini, harvey perlman, ljs sipple, rulon gardner

  8. 2010 Oct 18

    Practice Report 10/18: Tackle, Tackle, Tackle


    By HuskerLocker

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    Rickey Thenarse knew he wasn't going to like what he saw when Nebraska's football team flipped on the film of its 20-13 loss to Texas. Thenarse missed crucial tackles on two UT touchdown drives, wildly throwing his shoulder into the ballcarrier instead of wrapping up with his arms.

    “It was embarrassing,” Thenarse said. “It's hard to watch. I'll learn from it. I took it like a man. Took the criticism. I'm responsible for everything I did out there.”

    The senior safety from Los Angeles had plenty of company, head coach Bo Pelini said. The Huskers – usually a strong tackling bunch – strayed from their fundamentals, Pelini said, which led to more than 100 yards after contact for the Longhorns.

    “If you want them to go down, you've got to bring it and wrap up,” Pelini said.

    Said sophomore safety P.J. Smith: “We just didn't wrap up and run our feet when we hit them...and that's not like us.”

    Thenarse has always been more of a big-hit artist than a tackling tutorial, but his first torpedo bounced off the hull of quarterback Garrett Gilbert in the first quarter as Gilbert extended the drive with a third-down scramble. Had Thenarse made the tackle, Texas would have been forced to settle for a field goal.

    “I was trying to knock the ball out Trying to make a play,” Thenarse said. “I kinda was surprised. Then again, he's the quarterback. starting for Texas. He can take a hit.”

    Later, Thenarse tried the same thing after UT running back Fozzy Whitaker burned NU linebacker on a circle route. Same result: Whitaker bounced away, going for a 41-yard gain instead of a 15-yard play.

    Smith estimated that more than 100 of UT's 271 total yards came after initial contact.

    Monday's practice – though conducted in half pads – contained plenty of tackling work, Smith said. It was a competitive day, Thenarse added, with jobs again on the line.

    “We had some good-on-good,” Pelini said. “We got a good jump on Oklahoma State.”

    The undefeated Cowboys have the nation's No. 2 passing offense. But OSU hasn't played a pass defense with a national rank above 100 in six game. NU is No. 1.

    “I love our secondary,” Pelini said. “We didn't tackle well the other day. I didn't like that aspect of it. But I think we match up well on the outside.”

    Particulars: Nebraska worked out for two hours inside and outside the Hawks Championship Center, starting a little earlier Monday to account for fall break.

    What’s New: There was a more competitive edge and resolve in Monday's practice, players said. Adversity always tends to help these Huskers.

    Player Quote: “If we could play all of our games on the road, we probably would play all of our games on the road. Don't get me wrong: It's wonderful playing in our stadium with all of our fans and all that, but there's something about playing on the road.” P.J Smith, on road games

    Player Quote II: “I don't think we played with passion at all. Not one play was I out there hyped. Not one. So I don't think that I went out there and played as hard as I can play.” Safety Rickey Thenarse on NU's play vs. Texas

    Coach Quote: “It's important to him. He knows, hey, if I want to be the player I'm capable of being and make the plays, I need to come through.” Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore on NU receiver Niles Paul


    *Special teams coordinator John Papuchis said Texas added a twist to its two rugby-style punts that went for 55 and 67 yards against the wind Saturday: Punter John Gold, a right-footer, rolled to his right and kicked them back across the field.

    “In two years of gameplanning for it, they had never punted back across the field,” Papuchis said. “That was an adjustment they made in their gameplanning and they executed it well.”

    Of course, it happened twice. Papuchis said the second successful kick was “our fault.”

    *Alex Henery hadn't attempted an onside kick since the 2008 Virginia Tech game. He wasn't successful there and he wasn't on Saturday, either.

    “We didn't get a great bounce on it,” Papuchis said. “It kind of popped up in the air into their hands.”

    Next Practice: Tuesday

    Tags: oklahoma state game, rickey thenarse, bo pelini, john papuchis, pj smith

  9. 2010 Oct 18



    By HuskerLocker

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    Related photos

    Cover photo for the NU-UT Photos album
    NU-UT Photos
    29 photos
    Trophies: 0
    It's a dramatic visual, Rex Burkhead's second-quarter drop of a sure touchdown, after which he plunged face first into the pylon during Nebraska's 20-13 loss to Texas.

    The kid who never seems to screw up, and always squeezes the maximum out of each play, just had a split-second lapse of hand-eye coordination. He was running full speed. Taylor Martinez threw a lovely pass that caught a bit of that north wind and zoomed toward Burkhead's hands. He couldn't clutch it.

    For however many years Husker fans choose to remember this painful setback, the prevailing memory will be all those drops. Yeah, they hurt.

    But that's not the whole story from Saturday. I suspect it might be spun that way, but patterns emerged, both in the UT game and over several games, that deserve mention. And scrutiny in the future.

    Here's two:

    *During the Bo Pelini era, Nebraska has played ten home games against foes from BCS-autobid conferences (nine Big 12 teams + Virginia Tech). In those games, NU has been outscored 88-52 in the first quarter. In 7 of the 10 games, the opponent scored first, and it would have been 8 if Oklahoma had not missed two field goals in the 2009 game.

    The Huskers are 5-5 in those games, and have been outscored 240-221 overall. And get this: Out of those 52 points NU has scored, 42 of them were in 2008. So, in the last five home games vs. BCS conference teams, Nebraska is 2-3 and has been outscored 30-10 in the first quarter.

    That's the very definition of taking a crowd out of the game.

    Are the Huskers' struggles at home a reflection of their head coach? Bo Pelini prefers road games for the lack of distraction and clarified sense of purpose. His players seem to follow suit. And hey – who doesn't like to travel?

    But if hyperbole and expectations of the Husker fishbowl make Bo a little uneasy, that can't necessarily trickle down to the players. They're not middle-aged guys holed up in an office preparing 14 hours a day for the game, then heading home to a family. Players can't create a fortress of solitude like coaches do; they're students by day and young kids by night. It's a fine line to walk embracing the pressure, yet shrugging it off. The best programs excel at it.

    *On 24 first down plays Saturday - 19 runs, five passes - Nebraska gained just 67 yards. Taylor Martinez-led drives averaged 1.57 yards on first down. Zac Lee-led drives averaged 4.5 yards. In our five keys piece, I pointed out “manageable downs” and how NU needed to stay away from negative and no gain plays. Except that one-third of the Huskers' first-down plays were just that.

    Martinez has earned his reputation as a runner, and he remains unproven as a passer. But it was his lack of a running game – not his so-so passing – that likely landed him on the bench on the third quarter. Out of his 14 first-down plays, six went for no gain or negative yards. His two longest runs were scrambles on third and long. It just can't happen. NU repeatedly faced second-and-long.

    On with the review:

    Five Players We Loved

    Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: The junior made a pass breakup the East sideline – he jostled for inside position, jumped with both feet and smacked the ball away from a Longhorn receiver running a hard go route – that's just about as good as any play he's ever made. Dennard is one of the great early recruits of the Pelini era. What a pickup. You just hope he stays for another year.

    Kicker Alex Henery: The guy's still money. The most consistent player on the team, any position, and his two made field goals and bevy of quality punts proved it. And Henery will be needed over this last half of the season – perhaps to win a ball game or two.

    Quarterback Zac Lee: He hadn't played for a month, yet definitely lived up to a difficult moment. Nebraska's offense is never going to have that dynamic, explosive running threat while Lee's in the game, but he did have a calming influence over the team. Where was he for a month? That's a legitimate question.

    Safety P.J. Smith: He tackled much better than his counterpart Rickey Thenarse, and had a nice pass breakup in man-to-man coverage downfield. He's looking like another gem NU picked up in that 2008 recruiting class.

    Peso Eric Hagg: Now you know why the kid never leaves the field.

    Three Concerns

    Special Teams Issues: From Dejon Gomes failing to down a punt at the 1 because he stepped in the end zone to Niles Paul's not fielding the ugliest rugby punts you've ever seen in the third quarter to porous punt coverage, NU isn't the dominant unit it was in 2009. Alex Henery is largely exempt, of course, but he can't play every position.

    Absence of Ball Security: Fumbles have been the norm for Nebraska throughout the season. Now NU drops eight passes – four of which could have been touchdowns on different drives. The problem with this concern is that it's not that easy to solve – you either do or don't protect the ball – and it can be contagious. It was in 1999, when the Huskers, despite being a great team, lead the free world in fumbles.

    A Lack of True Defensive Depth: The Blackshirts – that starting 11 – are a pretty enviable bunch. On any given day – especially against a passing team - you'd put them up against any defense in the country. But they rarely got a play break Saturday, and when Thenarse was clearly struggling as a tackler, the Brothers Pelini apparently lacked confidence that any other safety could take over. Or that a linebacker could be subbed in for Dejon Gomes, who could then move back to safety. Depending on the formation, Nebraska ran a Peso/nickel/dime look, shifting Gomes around where necessary.

    Gomes is one of the best players on the team, smart, tough and athletic. But he's listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds. That's pretty darn small to be playing in the box, trying to work against offensive linemen and tackle UT's running backs.

    Will Compton can't get back to 100 percent health soon enough.

    Three Questions

    This is the Big 12, right? Missouri playing defense? Oklahoma State not throwing away a winnable game on the road. The Tigers and Cowboys are two of the biggest surprises of the 2010 season – and both are playing better overall than Texas. When NU hit a skid last year, it got well with a road game at beaten-up Baylor. No such luck as October comes to a close.

    How testy does Bo get this week around the media? Pelini handled the post-game presser Saturday well. But the press will relive all those Saturday questions again on Tuesday, with the added dimension of wondering which Taylor Martinez will arrive and play in Stillwater. So Bo will have to hold up under another, longer round of queries. It's not too late for Martinez to reverse course, talk to the media during the week, and answer some of those questions himself.

    Does the staff rework the plan for the stretch run? You didn't think it'd be necessary in 2010. But relatively major adjustments occurred right around this time in 2008 and 2009; it wouldn't be shocking to Nebraska look in the mirror and do it again.

    Tags: texas game, husker monday review, taylor martinez, alfonzo dennard, zac lee, pj smith, alex henery, will compton, rickey thenarse, bo pelini, shawn watson

  10. 2010 Sep 30

    Non-Conference Report Card - DB


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    The Huskers' finest unit gets sparkling grades from HL's Samuel McKewon. Who's the standout? Find with a 30-day free trial from Husker Locker Pass!

    Tags: report card, prince amukamara, alfonzo dennard, dejon gomes, rickey thenarse, eric hagg, pj smith, anthony west, austin cassidy, andrew green, courtney osborne

  11. 2010 Sep 29

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Practice Report 9/29


    By HuskerLocker

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    Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini almost brought his football team back one day early to correct the wealth of mistakes made vs. South Dakota State and begin preparing to play at Kansas State.

    He held off, preferring instead to give the Huskers “a mental and physical break” until Wednesday afternoon. With eight straight weeks of Big 12 football - and four of those games on the road - on the docket, “I just thought it was the right time.”

    Pelini’s hunch paid dividends.

    “That was a good, hard practice,” he said Wednesday night. “Much like we do in (fall) camp. It was a good day.”

    Said senior wide receiver Niles Paul: “We got after it today. Much needed break.”

    NU pitted the first team offense against the first team defense and stressed fundamentals. In the prior 48 hours, Pelini said, several Husker assistants were able to recruit on the road, while others reviewed the first four games of the non-conference campaign - with a special emphasis on the sluggish performance vs. the Jackrabbits.

    “Our guys are prideful guys,” Pelini said. “They didn’t play the way they wanted to play.”

    Paul and sophomore linebacker Eric Martin said NU conducted a team meeting to examine the SDSU struggles. Some of it was being leg-weary after a fierce fall camp waged in 100-degree temps, followed by four straight non-conference game. And part of it, they said, was wavering focus.

    “It didn’t seem we wanted to play,” Paul said. “That frustrated me.”

    Said Martin: “We took a break when we shouldn’t have.”

    But Martin said the Huskers put the game in the rear-view mirror after the meeting. They look now to a final season in the Big 12, and a difficult first assignment: Stopping KSU running back Daniel Thomas in his own backyard.

    “We want to go out with a bang,” Martin said.

    On with the report:

    Particulars: Nebraska practiced for two hours outside the Hawks Championship Center after a two-day break from practices. NU went in full pads.

    What’s New: Big 12 season. The Huskers cannot afford a letdown week from here on out.

    Coach Quote: “You’ve got to look at the whole body of work. It gave us the chance to self-scout ourselves and make some decisions on where we want to go going forward. Scheme-wise, personnel-wise, everything. ” Head coach Bo Pelini on reviewing the non-conference season

    Player Quote: “Everybody talked about Jake Locker and how he passed the ball, these great quarterbacks and how they passed the ball. It’s time to step up to a running back and show him what we‘re all about. We ain’t backing down. I’m not backing down. I’m looking forward to it.” Nebraska safety Rickey Thenarse on facing Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas


    *Scouts from several NFL teams were on hand Wednesday. It’s easier for those teams to gauge college players during a bye week because gameplan installation wasn’t necessarily occurring.

    ***Husker starting defenders weren’t in the mood to talk about getting their Blackshirts after Saturday’s game, so the topic naturally came up Wednesday. Twelve players in all received them; Martin was one.

    “My body went numb,” Martin said. “It made me feel like I accomplished something. That I came here for a reason. It was just a different kind of feeling.”

    Thenarse received his first Blackshirt after five up-and-down seasons of play. He admitted Wednesday to getting “teary-eyed” upon seeing it.

    “I’ve been here longer than most guys,” he said.

    Thenarse endorsed Pelini’s method of awarding the Blackshirts during the season, rather than handing them out before the year. Bill Callahan and his defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove played “politics,” Thenarse said, in how they handed out them. Thenarse said that former Husker Zackary Bowman, who handed in his Blackshirt after a poor game and saw limited playing time the rest of the season was “ahead of the curve” for believing they should be earned.

    “Zack was a standup guy,” Thenarse said.

    Next Practice: Thursday. There is media access, and both coordinators will speak.

    Tags: practice report, rickey thenarse, eric martin, niles paul, bo pelini

  12. 2010 Sep 11

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Defense Sparkles, Offense Sloppy in 38-17 Win


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Taylor Martinez pulled the ball out of Rex Burkhead’s belly, sprinted hard to his right, and looked to be heading toward an easy 20-yard touchdown. Then he fumbled, the ball bounding dangerously toward the end zone. Martinez pounced on it, bobbled it, rolled over and landed beyond the goal line for his second touchdown of the day.

    Just how he drew it up, right?

    The play summed up Nebraska’s dominant-yet-sloppy 38-17 win over Idaho as well as any. NU (2-0) moved the ball at will against the Vandals’ defense - 471 yards in just 59 plays - and its secondary intercepted Nathan Enderle - in as bad of a homecoming as the North Platte native could have imagined - five times. Yet the Big Red hurt itself with four turnovers and 123 yards in penalties, several of them personal fouls.

    It was an impressive - but uneven - performance for the Huskers, as they beat a 2009 bowl team and now prepare for their only test of the non-conference season at Washington. Not precisely the error-free showing that head coach Bo Pelini might have been hoping for in preparation for Seattle.

    “Offensively, they just got a good you-know-what chewing,” Pelini said.

    “It falls on us,” Martinez said.

    Pelini had called his defense “an absolute embarrassment” after a 49-10 win over Western Kentucky. His words weren’t as strong for the offense this week, but his facial expressions and voice suggested more agitation.

    “We play with a high standard,” Pelini said. “You have to live up to the standard if you walk out on the field and you’re one of 11. If you’re not, it’s time to go find a different program.”

    Later: “We’ll get that fixed this week. We’ll be fully ready as a football team to go to Seattle. I can promise you that.”

    Said Martinez: “We’ll see how good we really are.”

    The defense hit on all cylinders, forcing six turnovers, notching seven sacks and putting Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle deep into the hurt locker. On five consecutive drives, the Huskers either sacked Enderle or picked him off, two of which went for Dejon Gomes and Rickey Thenarse touchdowns in the decisive second quarter.

    After Enderle threw his final interception in the fourth quarter - a duck thrown directly to NU safety Anthony West, the only player within 20 yards - Idaho coach Robb Akey replaced him.

    “That kid is as frustrated as can be,” Akey said.

    NU’s shotgun spread running game did a number on the Vandals. A big one. Try 360 yards and 8.8 yards per carry with jaunts of 67, 58, 34, 28 and 21 yards. Martinez had 157 on just 14 carries. Roy Helu had 107 on eight carries. Rex Burkhead rushed for 77 on nine totes. Martinez also threw for 106 yards - mostly short passes - and an interception.

    Martinez kicked off the Huskers’ second-quarter scoring frenzy with another trademark zone read. Right after converting a 3rd-and-2 with a short pass to Niles Paul, Martinez faked the ball to Roy Helu diving into the line. Memorial Stadium murmured at what appeared to be a short gain.

    But Martinez still had the ball, and had run 10 yards downfield - untouched - before Idaho defenders realized he had the ball. By then, Martinez had cut back across the field, away from the safeties, whom he outran to the short corner of the North end zone. NU led 10-0. It was the longest run by a freshman quarterback in Husker history.

    “He made a great read,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.

    Said Akey: “I think that guy is pretty damn good.”

    Idaho drove into NU territory following the kickoff, but Prince Amukamara deflected a pass to safety P.J. Smith, who intercepted the pass and returned it to the Huskers’ 42-yard line. On Nebraska’s first play, Helu took a handoff from Cody Green, sprinted around left end, broke a tackle and hugged the sideline for a 58-yard score and a 17-0 lead.

    Then Nebraska’s defense took a double dip in the end zone.

    Under pressure, Enderle, who completed just 15-of-31 passes for 141 yards, tried to locate his tight end on a short pass over the middle. Gomes lurked behind, stepped in front just as the ball arrived, and sprinted to the end zone for an easy 40-yard touchdown.

    “This week in film was probably the most prepared we’d been,” Gomes said. “On top of that, (Enderle) just eyed down his targets a lot and we took advantage of it.”

    On the ensuing drive Enderle again rolled out of the pocket under pressure, uncorking a risky throw toward the sideline. Thenarse, sprinting to get there, dramatically jumped in front and used his momentum to outrun Idaho’s offensive linemen to the goal line. Thenarse later left with a cramp.

    A sleepy-to-rocking crowd of 85,732 moaned a little in the first quarter as the Huskers gained 137 total yards but only netted 3 points. A personal foul penalty against tight end Ben Cotton slowed one drive that resulted in an Alex Henery field goal. On the ensuing drive, Shawn Watson’s conservative playcalling in red zone forced a third-and-medium for Martinez, who failed to see a blind side blitz and fumbled the ball after being hit. The Vandals recovered.

    “We had a lot of momentum at first,” Martinez said. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. It just wasn’t very good.”

    Two bad turnovers marred the third quarter for the Huskers. Paul lined up at quarterback and fumbled on an exchange with Burkhead. Idaho recovered.

    “Rex almost took my head off with his shoulder,” Paul joked. “I don’t know how Taylor does it.”

    Later Martinez tossed an interception as two defenders clung to his legs. Idaho was set up at the Huskers’ 12-yard line and scored its first touchdown of the game three plays later.

    “That was totally my fault,” Martinez said. “I should have thrown it away…I tried to make a big play out of it. Obviously it didn’t work very well.”

    Martinez quickly spearheaded a 9-play, 73-yard drive right back down the field capped by his adventuresome touchdown run.

    The Huskers had a chance to tack on two more touchdowns, but got stopped on downs inside Idaho’s 15-yard line - Pelini decided to eschew the chip-shot field goal - and fumbled at the Vandals’ 1-yard line on their ensuing drive. Idaho drove 98 yards for the game’s final points against NU’s second-and-third teamers.

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    Tags: idaho game, taylor martinez, jared crick, dejon gomes, rickey thenarse, pierre allen, roy helu, niles paul, rex burkhead

  13. 2010 Sep 08

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Anatomy of Two Starters


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Helpless. As he stood over a teammate, all Nebraska linebacker Alonzo Whaley could think was that he didn’t want to be there. Not on a Thursday, not in the training room, not watching frustration set in on the face of Will Compton, who’d just hurt his foot badly enough - just two stinking days before the season opener - that he’d miss the next several weeks of the game he’d practiced all winter and summer to play.

    Compton was Whaley’s roommate. And more.

    “To me Will is like a brother,” Whaley said.

    Whaley didn’t want to watch this. And, in the moment, he didn’t damn well care what it meant for his own career. It would take a brother to make him realize that.


    Helpless. As a teammate hovered above him, all Rickey Thenarse could think was that he didn’t want to be there. Not two weeks after shredding his ACL, not in the training room, not feeling the blood drain from his face as he undertook the long, arduous task that is knee rehabilitation. It was fall 2009 and NU defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was attempting to cheer Thenarse up.

    Suh had also torn his ACL and after two weeks - because he’s a limber giant and all-around freak of nature - he had extension back in his knee. Thenarse was two weeks to a month away from that. And even when that extension came back, it hurt like hell. Four months, and it still ached and throbbed like a piece of pounded meat.

    It was tough. Even for Thenarse, who’s seen it and lived it in Los Angeles - it was tough.

    “I thought I was never going to get back,” he said. “I told myself if this ever happened again I am quitting football. I almost gave up everything.”


    Whaley in the car, driving Compton home. Compton, blunt and rugged, doesn’t dress it up.

    You don’t have time to feel emotions, Compton tells Whaley. Will could talk like this. It’s just not important. Step up. Next guy in line. That’s you.

    “Will was like a coach,” Whaley recalled.

    The sophomore from Madisonville, Texas didn’t know what to think. He’d been backing up Compton in practice, but it wasn’t like anybody had told him he’d replace Compton now. Nebraska’s coaching staff was so plugged into competition, it could be mercurial like that. Bo Pelini was mercurial like that, able to adjust and reassemble schemes, plans and assignments so quickly, safety Matt O’Hanlon once said, that defenders sometimes didn’t bother for an explanation. They just listened to the guy.

    Compton kept working on Whaley, who didn’t sleep much that night. Anxious. Excited. He woke up at 6:30 the next morning.

    Normally, Whaley was scheduled to show up on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. for meeting. But linebackers coach Mike Ekeler called him. Make sure you come in at 10. Whaley had just been handed what Ekeler calls the keys to a 1968 Corvette Stingray. Nebraska’s defense.

    “They never came out and told me I was starting the next day,” Whaley said.


    Car crash. That’s how Thenarse would make a tackle. Smash-up, takedown, blammo, goodnight. See if you can take that. Off the field, Thenarse talks slowly, methodically, like a snake coiling in desert sun, the better to strike in those three hours between the lines. His high school reels are something to behold, a kid on fire, a torpedo with malicious intent. His hits crushed atoms.

    “Just get on the field and make a play,” he said of those days. “It was never a team defense or a system defense.”

    He rolled the dice on that style at NU. For every spectacular play, there was a missed assignment or a shoulder that got jacked up because college running backs are built by strength gurus into compressed pieces of stone. It worked on special teams, the kamikaze act. But safety requires strategic tackling, angles and deft movements. You won’t often get a blow-up shot. But you might grab hold of an ankle that saves a touchdown.

    And so Thenarse, laid up with an injury anyway, began to watch O’Hanlon and Larry Asante play the position. He watched Dejon Gomes, team Houdini, make plays with flick of his wrist. He watched the Huskers, seek, separate and destroy with skill and precision, the way Pelini drew it up.

    And he bought it.

    “I wanted to play team defense and be that guy who is consistent and not that guy who just wants to make that play and have a big hit,” Thenarse said. “Because that doesn't get you anywhere, and it doesn't get you on the field.”


    Friday night, and Whaley is jammed into a hotel room with Compton, LaVonte David and Mathew May. Poring over calls. Schemes. Whaley doesn’t linger for too long. He wants to sleep. He doesn’t much. But he’s calmer than he was 24 hours ago. It’s sinking in. After playing little as a freshman, two injuries have opened the door to Whaley starting his first game well ahead of schedule, in front of 86,000.


    Friday night, and Thenarse wonders if he’s the starter or still under the radar as the “other guy” at safety, still clinging to a bad rap that he can’t play well within the scheme. He goes relatively unnoticed by the sportswriter hacks, who instead focus on Gomes, P.J. Smith and Anthony West.

    “He committed himself to learning the system and the light bulb really went on for him this camp,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “It didn’t surprise any of us. We knew he’d be right there going in.”

    Said Thenarse: "I was kind of the underdog. I felt like the underdog.”

    But Thenarse has been working with the ones, and he has a hunch he’ll get the nod. Again, nary a coach tells him.

    Then he sees his name on the HuskerVision screen before the game. He knows he won’t have to call anybody back home in LA. They’ve ordered the game. They’ll see what he experiences.

    A ton of chop blocks.

    Western Kentucky goes right after his knees. Over and over. You don’t get them in fall camp. What offensive linemen wants to be responsible for ruining a defensive player’s career?

    “Probably more than I've ever gotten chop-blocked in a game,” he said.

    Eight times in the first half. Zero in the second. The learning curve has accelerated.


    Whaley will laugh one day about that first start.

    “The game played a lot slower than I expected,” he said.

    But the defensive calls from the sidelines came in, perhaps, a little faster. He struggled at times to get his team aligned correctly. The Brothers Pelini believe in matching up defensive personnel to offensive sets, which means making a defensive call often just seconds before the snap. Gotta have that last chess move.

    A couple times, Whaley said, he got too locked in on his assignment. Others, he failed to see the whole call from the sideline. The latter problem created WKU’s 47-yard run. The modern game is as much logistics as playmaking. In a few years, it’ll be resolved with headsets inside a player’s helmet, like NFL teams employ. For now, Whaley must catch relayed signals the first time, without errors.

    But he saw everything. He stuck his nose in on several hard tackles. He got caught in the wake of a good playaction fake. He pursued sideline-to-sideline and downfield. All in a relatively risk-free environment that comes with Steve Pederson’s parting gift of a weak home non-conference schedule.

    Afterward, Compton met him riding a scooter. Ekeler grabbed him. There’s nothing like experience.


    When Thenarse laughs, it is measured into a small chuckle. Of the safeties who played in Saturday’s game, he arguably made the fewest mistakes and even got to turn back into Torpedo Ricky for a jet sweep or two. He sits in front of the media on Tuesday - one of the few times he’s been invited in front of the whole press, and reflects on his return from a point where he considered quitting.

    He squints a little. Pauses. The snake, enjoying the cool of the moment.

    "It feels good,” he says. “It just feels good."

    Tags: wku game, rickey thenarse, alonzo whaley

  14. 2010 Aug 04

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: 7 'Prove It' Players on Defense


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    The Blackshirts don’t have many questions, and thus fewer players have less to prove. But we still pinpointed a few, with an emphasis on a certain position in between the defensive line and secondary.

    Cornerback Anthony Blue: He’s more than two years removed from a serious knee injury. It’s time for Blue, as fast as any corner on the team, to trust his knee and get more aggressive in Bo Pelini’s scheme.

    Linebacker Sean Fisher: He’s more athletic than fans realize and plenty sharp about his assignments, but Fisher needs to sit in the hole better, take on blockers, get lower and attack the ball carriers. He’s better sideline-to-sideline right now than he is in the box.

    Linebacker Eric Martin: This exciting, physical player is deadly in an isolated spot, but to play consistently he’ll have to refine his technique and better read his keys at the position.

    Defensive tackle Terrence Moore: This tank of a nose tackle needs to produce, big time, in 2010. He’s a better fit for that nose role than lanky Baker Steinkuhler, and if Moore is healthy - and ready to do some damage against the run, Nebraska’s defensive line actually can be better than last year’s bunch. Because Moore is a good pass rusher.

    Strong safety P.J. Smith: By all accounts, Smith is expected to roll right into Larry Asante’s old role without much of a hiccup. But Smith also had to bring that “enforcer” aspect that Asante was known for in 2009. The secondary needs a thumper; Smith is the biggest, best candidate.

    Free safety Rickey Thenarse: Count on him to make his share of big plays for the Blackshirts. Now he needs to eliminate the mental errors that open the door for the opponent. Last time around for this senior.

    Linebacker Alonzo Whaley: The sophomore made a big move in spring and is poised to challenge Fisher for playing time. Whaley arguably has the most athleticism of any Husker ‘backer; it’s about nailing down the finer points of the defense and staying in position.

    See also: 8 Prove It Players on Offense

    Check Out Our Full Big 12 Preview: Big 12 Coaches, Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Lines, Defensive Lines, Linebackers, Defensive Backs, Commentary, 12 Best Players, Ten Overrated Players, Ten Underrated Players

    Tags: football, fall camp, sean fisher, anthony blue, eric martin, terrence moore, pj smith, rickey thenarse, alonzo whaley

  15. 2010 Apr 17

    SPRING GAME: Six White Team Standouts


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Six players on the White team who made an impact Saturday:

    Wide receiver Niles Paul: The best player on the field Saturday. Against an All Big 12 cornerback in Prince Amukamara, Paul consistently got open and made two highlight reel catches. He certainly bailed out Cody Green and Mike McNeill on balloon-like throws.

    Linebacker Alonzo Whaley: He was a touch out of control, but Whaley played downhill all afternoon, spiking hard into the offensive backfield. He probably won’t eclipse Will Compton, who also made his share of plays, but Whaley has shaken off a so-so redshirt freshman campaign.

    Safety Rickey Thenarse: He still knows how to stick his nose in there, doesn’t he? Thenarse was all over the field - and sometimes not in the right spot - but he brings the wood, plays with passion, and has a nose for the football - hence his interception.

    Wide receiver KC Hyland: Three catches for 57 yards as one of the scrubs. Give this walk-on, now a sophomore, another year. He may play a role for these Huskers in 2011. Good hands.

    Defensive back Dejon Gomes: Aside from a play in which he got trucked by Austin Jones, Gomes attacked the line of scrimmage and made good coverage decisions.

    Defensive end Pierre Allen: Quietly excelled at holding down his gap, finishing with six tackles. Allen was explosive and showed off a strong first step. He’s back - with an interesting 2010 to come.

    SPRING GAME COVERAGE: Game Story, QB Commentary, Red Team Standouts, White Team Standouts, Photos

    Tags: spring game 2010, springtime with bo 2010, alonzo whaley, rickey thenarse, dejon gomes, niles paul, kc hyland, pierre allen

  16. 2010 Apr 17

    SPRING GAME: T-Mart's Grand Opening a Success as Red Nips White


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Even without a Nebraska uniform, Ndamukong Suh found a way to dominate Saturday’s Red/White Spring Game with his $2.6 million gift to NU - which included a cool $2 million for the strength and conditioning program.

    “I specifically asked that this gift be used to help other future Huskers as they train in the strength and conditioning center,” said Suh, soon to be picked in the top five of the 2010 NFL Draft. “This incredible facility helped me earn all the honors I was so privileged to receive this past season, and I believe this gift can help make this facility the very best in the country.”

    The game itself? Oh, it was on, with the Red (pants!) nipping the White 21-16 in front of 77,936 fans at a sun-splashed Memorial Stadium. Unveiling a retooled, shotgun-based power running game - mixed with a deep playaction passing attack - the offenses chugged up and down the field, racking up 677 total yards.

    “We’re pleased with how we’ve come along,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “We’ve been constantly evolving. That’s my job. That’s our job as an offensive staff.”

    The Red and White defenses, trapped in a vanilla base for much of the game, suffered at times but often bowed its back at the right moments, forcing two 52-yard field goals - both missed by Adi Kunalic - and two turnovers during the game. The White standouts appeared to be Alonzo Whaley (nine tackles) and Rickey Thenarse (seven and an interception) while the Red got three tackles and a sack from reserve defensive end Josh Williams.

    Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez semi-delivered on the considerable media hype entering the game by throwing two touchdowns to give the Red a 14-3 lead. He passed for 79 yards and rushed for 60, working a deft, quick zone read with backfield mate Rex Burkhead, who rushed for 36 yards on the game’s first two drives. Martinez forced two passes, one of which was tipped by Alfonzo Dennard and intercepted by Brandon Kinnie.

    But the White, aided by a 72-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Cody Green to senior Will Henry, scored the next 13 points. Green was hot-and-cold as a passer, finishing 7-of-15 for 155 yards and the touchdown. While Green hit Niles Paul for a 48-yard gain, he badly overthrew tight end Mychael McClure for a sure touchdown and threw behind two other receivers. Green rushed for 12 yards.

    “We got to go out there and basically executed the things that Coach Watson and the offensive coaches wanted to be executed,” Green said.

    The plan, Watson said, was only to play Martinez and Green one half. They did, with Green holding the slight edge in total yards - thanks to two long passes - while Martinez appeared to be the better, more comfortable runner. Neither were able to move the ball in two-minute drills.

    Pelini and Watson wouldn’t even consider declaring a leader between the two for the Spring Game or spring camp in general; that would go against, Watson said, “fair competition.” Incumbent starter Zac Lee joins the fray next fall after spending the spring recovering from elbow surgery.

    “Everything gets earned,” Watson said. “It’ll be clear who the starter is whenever it reveals itself. I have no timetable on it.”

    Said Pelini: “Everyone is in the race for the starting job. There are no starting jobs locked down right now. Competition is on; this is just a small part of the evaluation.”

    In the fourth quarter, sophomore reserve Kody Spano, limited to handoffs and basic passing plays, nevertheless led a 13-play, 69-yard touchdown that culminated with his one-yard pass to Ryan Hill, accounting for the final score. With a running clock for much of the second half, Husker fans were out of the stadium in time for four o’clock high tea.

    Paul was the game’s offensive standout; he caught five passes for 103 yards, including a leaping, one-handed grab on a trick “bouncearooski” play in which Green threw a backwards pass to tight end Mike McNeill, who heaved the ball to Paul, drifting behind corner Prince Amukamara. Paul and Amukamara were matched up most of the day; No. 24 beat No. 21 several times.

    “Prince came up to me after the game and was like, ‘You may have won the battle, but you didn’t win the war,’” Paul said. “I told him that was the war for spring ball, so the battle’s over.”

    As is spring camp, which to a Husker, should be marked as progress and growth for the 2010 season.

    “I like the things that we were able to get done,” Pelini said.

    Said Green: “We had a heck of a spring. We went out there and basically had 15 games because we went out there and just got after it. That’s the only thing you can ask for an entire team.”

    Said defensive tackle Jared Crick: “We’re wanting to come out with a product better than where we ended last year going into fall camp. I think we’re there so far.”

    What awaits them - and fans - is a long summer of working out and waiting, as Nebraska continues to collect accolades, high preseason rankings and media-based hype, with one question still hanging in the air: Who is this team’s starting quarterback?

    SPRING GAME COVERAGE: Game Story, QB Commentary, Red Team Standouts, White Team Standouts, Photos

    Tags: spring game 2010, springtime with bo 2010, cody green, taylor martinez, ndamukong suh, rex burkhead, brandon kinnie, kody spano, ryan hill, shawn watson, bo pelini, rickey thenarse, alonzo whaley

  17. 2010 Mar 31

    SPRING FB: Carl Pelini Talks The Peso


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Much ado about nothing, according to Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini.

    “Not one call is being changed,” he said Wednesday.

    Just the name of the NU base defense - now called the “peso.” The personnel, too.

    Leaning against metal bleachers in the Hawks Championship Center after the Cornhuskers’ fifth spring practice, Pelini laid out the new-but-really-old wrinkles in Nebraska’s updated alignment.

    The strong side - or Buck - linebacker is out of NU’s 4-3 scheme, replaced by senior nickel back Eric Hagg. When opponents employ “heavy sets” of multiple tight ends and running backs, Hagg and his backup - junior Austin Cassidy - will function as linebackers. When the offense flexes out into one-back, multiple-receiver formations, Hagg assumes his typical nickel back duties.

    “It all fits the same,” Pelini said.

    The peso simply allows NU to keep the same personnel on the field for heavy or open sets. Most offenses - including Nebraska’s - have resorted to using tight ends in wide receiver roles to create mismatches on passing plays. Husker Mike McNeill could line up next to the tackle on first down, and turn into a slot receiver on the next.

    “Which gives you a disadvantage if you have three big linebackers in the game,” Pelini said.

    NU hadn’t given it a name at the time, but the peso is essentially “a carryover,” Pelini said, of the defense Nebraska used in the Big 12 Championship vs. Texas and the Holiday Bowl vs. Arizona. The Blackshirts held those prolific offenses to 311 yards and 12 points - combined.

    It doesn’t sound like it will be one-year fad, either. Pelini noted that Nebraska will “have to adjust the way (we) evaluate high school talent” to recruit players for what now becomes a demanding hybrid role: Big enough to stuff the run inside the box, and fast enough to blanket receivers.

    Radical? Not precisely; Nebraska’s best defenses under Charlie McBride often used safety-sized players like Terrell Farley at linebacker. The peso simply flips the script, using linebacker-sized safeties who can cover.

    Pelini said Hagg, at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, and Cassidy - 6-1, 210 - fit the bill.

    “Size-wise, they’re not much different from most linebackers we play against,” Pelini said. “They’re certainly physical enough to handle that…it’s an easy transition to make.”

    Hagg, heading into his third year as the starting nickel, is a known quantity. Cassidy is not.

    The son of former NU Director of Football Operations Tim Cassidy - who now holds the same position at Texas A&M - Austin Cassidy, a Lincoln Southwest product, starred on special teams last year. After Rickey Thenarse went down with a torn ACL, Cassidy was the No. 2 free safety, where starter Matt O’Hanlon was a friend and mentor.

    By the Holiday Bowl, Pelini said, Cassidy had earned the staff’s total confidence.

    “So coming out of the season he was very much in our thoughts,” Pelini said. “Then he had a great winter conditioning.”

    Naturally Hagg - a skilled blitzer who often draws Pelini’s raves - will be difficult to supplant. But Cassidy, Pelini said, is giving a good push.

    At free safety, Dejon Gomes and Anthony West are getting work, along with Thenarse, who was granted a fifth year of eligibility. Gomes could revert back his usual dime position, Pelini said, when NU faces “10” personnel - the one-back, four-receiver set favored by spread offenses like Missouri, Texas and Texas Tech.

    It was Pelini’s first chat with the media this spring. During his 12 minutes, he applauded the work of his defense overall.

    “We’re deep,” he said. “There’s not a big difference now when our 2s on the field and our 1s are on the field. It’s hard to tell who the 2s are and who the 1s are right now. They’re both playing well.”

    One prized line pupil, defensive tackle Jared Crick, agreed.

    “You’ll hear coach saying he likes the tempo a lot better and I see it in the group, both offensively and defensively,” Crick said. “We’re getting after it. The speed of the game is a lot faster.”

    The depth and speed, Crick said, is the root behind the “five times better” line head coach Bo Pelini used in the offseason.

    “We gotta take those necessary steps,” Crick said. “If we take a day off, our progress stalls and we don’t become the group we want to become. But sure - I think we can be a better group.”

    With a new name.

    And its origins? He arrived at “peso” - the preferred currency in many parts of Central and South America - because he thought it was synonymous with the number five. Like the nickel.

    “I think it means ‘five,’” joked Pelini, an Ivy League grad. “I took Latin.”


    *Sophomore tight end Ben Cotton and junior linebacker Mathew May were still not practicing in pads Wednesday. NU practices again Friday.

    What are your thoughts on the Peso?

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    Tags: springtime with bo 2010, carl pelini, austin cassidy, eric hagg, jared crick, dejon gomes, anthony west, rickey thenarse, bo pelini

  18. 2010 Mar 08

    50 Huskers to Know: No. 25


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    FS/ST Rickey Thenarse 6-0, 205, Sr.

    It’s a nice surprise, getting this athletic, well-liked playmaker back for a medical red shirt fifth season. Thenarse may lock down that free safety job, or Bo Pelini and Marvin Sanders may choose to use him in different ways. Thenarse can blitz, tackle and support the run like a devil; he’s struggled throughout his career in pass coverage, which has limited his playing time, although it appeared to be clicking last season when he got hurt.

    Thenarse is NU’s biggest special teams weapon, too, and it’s his ability on punt block and punt coverage that gives him a real shot at the NFL. Plus - players have a healthy respect for Thenarse’s life accomplishments. He took himself out a violent madhouse in Los Angeles that claimed his two older brothers, and his sincere intensity is a breath of fresh air in the locker room. Thenarse is one of the best stories on the team. He had a chance to become one of its best defensive players, too.

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    Tags: 50 huskers to know 2010, rickey thenarse

  19. 2010 Jan 13

    50 Huskers in Review: Nos. 25-21


    By HuskerLocker

    In the summer and fall, Husker Locker created its “50 Huskers to Know” list for the 2009 season. We now review our list by examining production, injuries and depth chart position.

    We’ll present these in five-player increments. Here we go!

    No. 25 Anthony West: Started at field cornerback to begin the year, then was replaced by Alfonzo Dennard. Since Dennard struggled with a shoulder injury, though, West was counted upon throughout the year - and rarely let NU down. He earned a Blackshirt, covered Kansas State’s Brandon Banks on some key pass patterns, and filled in where necessary. Quiet guy who’s quietly had a fine career at NU.

    No. 24 Rickey Thenarse: Got hurt just in time, so to speak, to earn a fifth year of eligibility. Thenarse tore his ACL in the Lafayette game on a special teams play, but should be back for action in 2010. He was always encouraging of his teammates for the rest of the year, and is one of those players who, given his background, feels fairly blessed to be in Lincoln. Now that NU’s secondary is so good, Bo Pelini can have some fun with an athlete like Thenarse and put him situations that allow for success. He’ll fight for the free safety job, as well.

    No. 23 Pierre Allen: A steady, solid year - 51 tackles, 5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss - played through more pain than Allen - who didn’t talk to the media but once during the year - obviously let on. He was a key member of NU’s front four for a second consecutive year, and one of Carl Pelini’s favorite players for picking up defensive concepts so quickly. Played brilliantly vs. Virginia Tech in containing Tyrod Taylor and did the same in the Big 12 Championship game vs. Texas. Allen will get a long look at Big 12 Conference honors in 2010.

    No. 22 Ricky Henry: He had his dumb penalties - a key holding call at Virginia Tech, a personal foul vs. Texas Tech, a couple cut block penalties throughout the year - but Henry exceeded expectations in other ways, rarely missing the play and often serving as NU’s most dominant run blocker on pulling plays. Intense as the day is long - but not out of control as some thought he’d be - Henry is one of the anchors of the 2010 line.

    No. 21 LaTravis Washington: What were we thinking here? Who knows. Well, we thought Shawn Watson might use Washington as a Wildcat quarterback - still think he should have - but Washington was nothing more than a mop-up late in a handful of games.

    Tags: 50 huskers in review, anthony west, rickey thenarse, ricky henry, pierre allen, latravis washington

  20. 2009 Jul 14

    10 "Prove It" Huskers for 2009


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    A couple of them will have a chip on their shoulder. A couple more are being thrown into the fire. Others see the sands of time running out on their NU career.

    The ten Husker football players who arguably have the most to prove in 2009 are on the list for various reasons. And each one of them could have standout seasons. Here's our take on the guys NU fans will be watching come fall:

    Senior wide receiver Menelik Holt: You can’t create a more prototypically sized receiver – 6-foot-4, 220 pounds – but Holt hasn’t been the heir apparent to Maurice Purify that many expected him to be. At least not yet. His hands haven’t been the problem – sans a fumble at Iowa State – but Holt doesn’t easily get open, and hasn’t much been sent on those deep routes that were previously reserved for Nate Swift. Holt had an average spring camp, and needs to turn up the voltage in the fall.

    Senior wide receiver Chris Brooks: Does “Brooksie,” as some call him, finally make good on his lauded high school potential? Time to find out. He had a solid spring, but receivers coach Ted Gilmore has typically been reluctant to play him. He won’t have much choice in 2009; Brooks should be the team’s No. 3 or No. 4 option, at worst. He’s well-liked, and seems to have the right attitude, and no lingering frustration over his lack of playing time.

    Senior linebacker Phillip Dillard: Just two years ago, Dillard was seen as the answer to Nebraska’s flailing, failing linebacking corps, specifically the suddenly-average Corey McKeon. Today, Dillard tries to fight out of the doghouse after plummeting to the bottom of the depth chart in spring practice. If healthy, and at the proper weight, Dillard is probably an upgrade over Colton Koehler, who started over the last half of 2008. But he’s got to earn the trust of position coach Mike Ekeler and head coach Bo Pelini, and that should take the balance of fall camp.

    Senior defensive end Barry Turner: We’re not questioning Turner’s previous production; he’s been a solid rush end at Nebraska. But he does have to fully recover from a nasty break in 2008 in order to give the Huskers that speed rusher they were lacking last year. With Ndamukong Suh attracting more double teams this year, Turner will have his shots at the quarterback. As the spring game showed, his first step is still there. But can he get around the Big 12’s best tackles? That remains to be seen.

    Junior cornerback Prince Amukamara: He’s fast, he’s got huge hands and, by every account, dude can practically jump out of the gym. Now it’s time for Amukamara, a “hot one play, cold the next” cover corner last year, to make the leap that position coach Marvin Sanders knows he can. Sanders revamped his coaching installation this spring, beginning with basics and core principles, in an effort to get all of his defensive backs on the same page. When the light goes all the way on for Amukamara, he could be one of the Big 12’s best. Question is: Does it happen?

    Junior quarterback Zac Lee: For it’s worth, we think Lee’s up to the considerable challenge in front of him, which is to sustain the success of 2008 with a tougher schedule, new receivers and a talented true freshman (Cody Green) waiting in the wings. Joe Ganz got to spend the first month in the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium; Lee gets no such luxury, with two vicious road games at Virginia Tech and Missouri on an ESPN Thursday night. The kid’s got to be sharp, fast. And the final exam – games at Kansas and Colorado – will determine the Big 12 North title. Lee has a lot of pressure to bear on that No. 5 jersey.

    Redshirt freshman linebacker Sean Fisher: Really, all of the linebackers have something to prove, but Fisher is a perfect microcosm of the position in the fall of 2009: Lots of talent, little experience. Fisher has been the best of the young studs so far, settling into a BUCK linebacker spot nicely in spring camp and looking decent, in the spring game. The first month of the football season, he’ll face all kinds of different offenses - pro-style, spread, whatever Virginia Tech decides to trot out – and he’ll have to keep head above water in all instances. Fisher has earned the spotlight thus far. But his mistakes, should he make them, will be the most quickly exposed, too.

    Sophomore cornerback Anthony Blue: He had the ugliest of ugly knee injuries – the dreaded MCL tear – and he’s just now rounding back into game shape and trusting his leg to do what it once did so easily. Before his injury, Blue was slated as a starting cornerback. Now, he might be the No. 5 guy on the board. Another talent, Willie Amos, never really came back from his devastating tear. Neither did wingback/cornerback Isaiah Fluellen. Husker fans don’t want to go down this road again.

    Junior guard Ricky Henry: Nearly every Nebraska offensive and defensive lineman have professed an admiration for this kid. Mostly because his motor is on Autobahn speed most of the time, and he loves battling in the trenches with a zeal some haven’t seen since the Milt Tenopir days. That’s fine with us, of course, but, to paraphrase position coach Barney Cotton, it might be good if Henry turned it down a notch every so often, and realized there is such a thing as a holding penalty. If Henry can learn the offense, and be more than a toughman, Nebraska’s running game may be in even better shape.

    Senior safety Rickey Thenarse: It would help if Thenarse would get a break on the health front, but he’s still a guy who was healthy enough last year in the Gator Bowl, only to get outplayed and replaced by Matt O’Hanlon. Thenarse is a special teams dynamo, and he’s pretty good in run coverage. But he still tends to get turned around in pass coverage. Does that finally end in 2009?

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    Tags: zac lee, phillip dillard, menelik holt, chris brooks, barry turner, prince amukamara, sean fisher, anthony blue, ricky henry, rickey thenarse

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