Husker defensive end Randy Gregory (44) is expected to return to action.
By Randy York
By now, you know The N-Sider drill: Watch Bo Pelini’s third weekly press conference and select my Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes to equip those who don’t have time to be a Husker sponge, but want to stay aligned with our seventh-year head coach in every possible way. As always, we start in reverse order:
5) On Bo’s timetable published one week ago in this exact same position related to junior defensive end Randy Gregory: “He ran yesterday. He looked great, and he looked great today. I expect him to practice, probably tomorrow. I’d say Wednesday at the very latest, but he’ll be ready to go this weekend.” For some, that’s worth a few cartwheels. For others, that’s what Bo predicted last week – Gregory being ready to put the pads back on so he can dig his cleats into Bulldog Stadium’s turf in Fresno, Calif., Saturday night. Third-year coach Tim DeRuyter has won back-to-back Mountain West Conference Championships and led Fresno to a 12-0 record at home. Randy Gregory isn’t exactly Willie Harper or Grant Wistrom yet, but his presence would be similarly welcomed with his return. The Huskers need Gregory back in the lineup. A first-team All-Big Ten choice and Nebraska’s 2013 Team Defensive MVP, Gregory was limited to a few snaps in the season opener before he was sidelined with a minor knee injury. He had a procedure on the knee on Aug. 31 and the Fresno State game has been his targeted return. In his sophomore season, the 6-foot-6 defensive end led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks for 69 yards in losses. Last Saturday, Gregory was one of the last to return to the locker room because fans kept asking for post-game photos. An All-America candidate across college football’s prime media outlets, Gregory is accommodating off the field and a true destructive force on it. He alters offensive schemes and is a migraine headache for any offensive coordinator.
4) On something important that gets buried in Coach Bo’s candor about last Saturday’s defensive and offensive breakdowns: “Going forward, like I told our football team, I don’t feel any different as far as what this football team is capable of today as I did a week ago.” That’s a very important statement that comes straight from the heart, the mind and the soul of a head coach who pointed the finger at himself when Nebraska’s sequel to the best offensive explosion in modern Big Ten Conference history one week morphed into a game that wasn’t decided until the last 20 seconds the next week. No wonder Bo said “thank God for Ameer Abdullah” whose rather miraculous catch-and-run touchdown enabled the Huskers to escape with a 31-24 win.
Ameer Abdullah (8) accelerates on his way to his decisive touchdown run.
3) On Nebraska Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah deserving more and better opportunities touching the football from this day forward: “We have to make sure to get the ball in his hands. I mean, he’s our best football player. We better make sure we get the ball in his hands.” ESPN SportsCenter’s top play of the day for two consecutive Saturdays has been a Husker. Jordan Westerkamp’s behind-the-back catch was first, and Abdullah’s magic carpet ride to the South end zone was second. Yes, McNeese State was crowding the box, daring the Huskers to throw the football. “We had multiple opportunities in the passing game, and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Pelini said. “There are other ways to get Ameer the ball, and we should get him the ball.”
2) On something that connected with Bo Monday and elevated his trust: “We can talk about what’s necessary – the type of mindset, the type of preparation, the type of discipline, and the type of focus you have to have to play great, which we didn’t have on Saturday. That starts right here. There’s one thing to talk about it, and there’s another to feel it, and believe me, on Saturday, they felt it.” This quote has a direct connect with quote 4 when Bo purified his heart and cleansed his mind about Nebraska’s team getting off-track. Bottom line, Bo spent an hour earlier Monday at a Nebraska Athletics’ kickoff meeting for staff and coaches. Best-selling author Jon Gordon addressed the group for the last 12 minutes and included an anecdote about what Mike Krzyzewski did for basketball’s Team USA to understand why it’s so important to play for your country. “Obviously, that isn’t our situation,” Pelini said, “but he brought up that, at one point, they got to talk to some West Point people who lost family members and died for their country.” It was an important strategic point for Pelini, who related the story to compare the difference between talking about something and actually feeling it. However the team huddled up and whatever players and coaches said to each other behind closed doors must have cleared the air. That’s why Pelini wasn’t asking: “Can you feel it?” He went to great depths to communicate that he definitely feels it; the coaching staff feels it; and the players feel it, too.
1) On maintaining his faith in sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who had his share of struggles, even though the blame should not all fall on his shoulders: “Trust me, when I tell you the problems in that passing game went well beyond that quarterback position. Our lack of detail in some of the other positions put our quarterback in bad positions.” Let the record show that Tommy Armstrong Jr. rushed 11 times for 131 net yards and scored a touchdown. He also completed 16 of 31 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns. A 373-yard, three-touchdown total offense day is a unique target for disappointment, but Armstrong insisted on taking a lion’s share of the blame. “It starts with me. I’m the quarterback,” he told the media. “I wear this shirt loud and proud. If I’m not playing my heart out in the game, we can’t get wins. I didn’t have my offense prepared well, and I take blame for it because it all starts with me, and it’s something I can’t let happen. Ameer has told us a bunch of times that you have to respect the game. We can’t take any team lightly. We have to prepare every week as if we’re playing the No. 1 team in the nation.” The road to redemption begins in Fresno. Some might remember Nebraska’s only other game against the Bulldogs in Lincoln three years ago when the Huskers won, 42-29. Abdullah was just a freshman. He had a 100-yard kickoff return in that game and set a Nebraska record with 211 kickoff return yards in the contest. Abdullah, a captain and a leader, not only is in prime position to get the ball more, but ready to do whatever it takes to help his quarterback, coaches, teammates and others, including fans, to “feel” what he felt last Saturday. Abdullah and Armstrong are counting on everyone learning a powerful lesson that can still take the Huskers to Indianapolis and, perhaps, beyond.
Send a comment to email@example.com (Include city, state)
Follow Randy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RandyYorkNsider