By Randy York
From the moment Bo Pelini sat down Monday to dissect a six-point loss in the Rose Bowl, he was calm and collected. Media members knew how discontented Nebraska’s head football coach was with his team’s performance against UCLA, but they respected how comfortable he was in rehashing an experience that even he called “sickening”.
Pelini left no doubt about where he’s coming from after a 36-30 loss that bounced Nebraska out of the AP’s Top 25 and caused a precipitous drop from No. 14 to 24 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
Pelini’s confidence remains, in a word, unshakeable.
The fourth question in his 30-minute press conference in Nebraska’s press box cut to the heart of the matter: Does Bo have enough talent on defense to compete against some of the best teams in the nation?
“Yes,” Pelini said as confidently as a head coach can say yes.
Three questions later, Pelini was asked if his confidence was in any way shaken.
“No,” he said calmly. “I’ve been there before. We’ve had bad games before. I know what I’m doing defensively, and the last thing I would do is shake my confidence.”
Six questions after that, the confidence theme reemerged. What about the confidence in his locker room, Pelini was asked?
“I think the confidence is fine,” Bo said with a certain assurance. “I think the guys are disappointed, but I think this team will respond well. There is a lot of good leadership on this football team.”
And that includes a confident head coach who answered each question so honestly that he admitted later that he’s been “sick to my stomach” since the UCLA loss “because I feel like we should have won that game,” Pelini said. “But we didn’t, so you have to move on and that’s the way it goes. It’s a part of the deal and a part of this profession. It is sickening, but you can’t turn back the clock.”
“Fundamentals” was the first word Pelini emphasized before he was even asked a question. “First and foremost we need to tackle better,” he said. “They (UCLA) had a lot of yards after first contact. We had some ridiculous busts in the beginning of the game and didn’t adjust well to a couple of motions. A lot of it was self-induced, and that is something we cannot do.”
The decline of Nebraska’s defense over the past two seasons became another pursued topic, but Pelini chose not to go there, even though he went to great lengths to explain the difficulty of “jumping back and forth” with defensive personnel to stop spread offenses and then having to “load up on linebackers” once the Big Ten Conference schedule begins.
“You’re going to have games that you have a rough go at it,” Pelini said. “It’s how you come back from those that are going to define you at the end. We have a lot of football to be played, so let’s not jump to conclusions yet.”
Nebraska hosts Arkansas State Saturday at 11 a.m. Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator for 2010 national college football champion Auburn, is in his first season as Arkansas State’s head coach. The Red Wolves are 1-1 after scoring 34 points in their season-opening loss at No. 4 Oregon. Last Saturday, they rallied to beat Memphis, 33-28.
“I think we will be tested,” Pelini said. “I think it will be a good follow-up to the game we just played. We need to get better against that offense. It comes kind of at the right time for us. We need to make a jump and evaluate how far we’re coming.”
Later, instead of dwelling on the negatives that happened at UCLA, Pelini focused on the positives. “We just need to rise to the occasion when there’s a challenge in front of us,” he said. “It won’t be easy this week. They have a good offense and will spread us out like what happened last week. We need to be able to respond, and we will.”
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