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September 6, 2008

Defense: Bend but don't break

In football jargon it sometimes can be the kiss of death for a defense but on Saturday that's exactly what the Nebraska defense did in the second half of a game the Huskers' led just 14-12 in the fourth quarter before pulling out a 35-12 victory over San Jose State.

After a first half that saw the Nebraska defense surrender 221 yards, including nine plays of 10 yards or more, and miss plenty of tackles, the Blackshirts buckled down after halftime to allow just 132 yards and three points.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said his unit showed a lot of heart in the second half after a lackluster first half.

"I thought this was the first time since I've been with these guys they were faced with a little adversity," said Pelini after the game. "There was no complaining and no finger pointing. I think we really came together as a team at halftime. We pinned our ears back and played pretty well in the second half. I was pleased how they responded to the challenge today."

Pelini said the halftime adjustments the Blackshirts made were both mental and physical.

"We went over some different things we saw in the first half we weren't expecting," said Pelini. "Really, we just reiterated the rules on certain things and they came out executed better in the second half. It helped we played better."

After averaging 6.3 yards per play in the first half, the Spartans managed just four yards per play in the second half, gaining just 63 yards on their first three possessions. All game long, the Spartans had little trouble moving the ball between the 20 yard lines but managed just one touchdown, coming on their first possession, and three field goals. San Jose State missed one field goal and one extra point attempt in the game.

"I think what happens when you play a spread team, as long as the field's open, they're going to move the ball a little bit between the 20s," said Pelini. "But we did a great job down in the red zone. When the field shrinks the spread becomes less effective. Did we play perfect between the twenties? No we made a lot of mistakes that gave them some yards. It's just the nature of playing that offense. You have to be great in the red zone because you are going to give up some yards."

The biggest mistake Pelini noticed was his unit's tackling. The Blackshirts appeared in position on most of the Spartans' long gainers before breaking an arm tackle for extra yards.

"We definitely have to become a better tackling team," said Pelini. "We are not pleased at all with that aspect of the game. The guys are playing hard and flying to the football. I'll have to look at the film. I don't know if it was getting their head behind guys or bad angles or what it was - but we definitely need to improve our tackling. And I think we did in the second half."

Linebacker Cody Glenn, who played every defensive snap at weakside linebacker, gave his unit a passing grade.

"I thought we did pretty good," said Glenn. "We gave up some stuff but they didn't really get in the end zone much with just one touchdown and we got a touchdown on defense. I thought we played pretty good. A lot better than last week as far as assignment wise and communication. Obviously there are things we can do a lot better and we can learn from it when we watch the film."

The Blackshirts recorded just two sacks on the day but the defensive line - who played most of the game without starting defensive end Barry Turner after a first quarter leg injury - consistently pressured Spartan starting quarterback Kyle Reed in his first career start. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh picked off a tipped pass and raced 49 yards down the sideline for his first career touchdown. Defensive end Zach Potter also picked off a pass in the second half and back up end Pierre Allen, playing in place of Turner, recorded a career-high 10 tackles and three tackles for loss.

"I'm always pleased with those guys. If they make a mistake its never an effort thing. They're the hardest working crew I've ever coached. I love those guys," said Pelini.

With Turner possibly being out the rest of the season, Allen, a 6-foot-5, 265 pound sophomore, knows he will have to continue to step up.

"I always take practice serious but its time for to things to a another level," Allen said. "Barry was our go to guy. He had the most experience on our defensive line. He's somebody we relied on so I have big shoes to fill. I have a lot of improving to do."


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