Published Friday, November 2, 2012 AT 9:58 AM / Updated at 5:00 PM
Big Red Breakfast: Garrison says NU emphasizing penalties
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

Nebraska’s averaged 7.8 penalties in four Big Ten games, more than any other team in a league full of squads that don’t traditionally draw flags often. And it’s a concern, according to assistant coach John Garrison.

In conference play, only three Big Ten teams have averaged more than six penalties per game.

Sure, the rate that a team commits penalties doesn’t always correlate accurately to its final record (Ohio State’s second-to-last in the league, at 7.2 flags per game, yet it’s undefeated). Some judgment calls are debatable. But there are enough no-brainer infractions that have Nebraska’s coaches emphasizing cleaner play.

When a Husker player commits a penalty in practice, everything comes to a screeching halt, Garrison told a crowd of about 250 Nebraska fans at Friday’s Big Red Breakfast.

“We might be on play 15 of 30, but we’ll stop practice and re-do it, the whole period — and they don’t like doing that,” Garrison said. “Or everybody’s chopping their feet, offense and defense.”

They used to punish the players after practice. Not anymore.

“I think sometimes we train our guys that if you make a mistake, well, practice goes by and then we punish you afterward,” said Garrison, who coaches the NU offensive line. “But we immediately address it.”

Nebraska’s offensive line has seemingly improved in the penalty area this year. But here’s a quick rundown of its errors in league play, according to the officials…

>> Against Wisconsin, the Huskers were called for holding and a false start up front.

>> NU had four false starts and a delay of game at Ohio State.

>> Against Northwestern there was an illegal man downfield and two illegal formations, where an offensive tackle lined up too far back — “Lining up in the backfield is extremely frustrating. Had to explain that to my mother, and that was a lot of fun,” Garrison said.

>> In the win over Michigan, NU’s offensive line was called for an illegal block, plus a holding penalty that off-set a defensive pass interference call on the same play.

But mistakes aside, Garrison was quite complimentary of his unit Friday. More on his comments will appear in Friday’s Metro edition of the World-Herald. For now, some highlights of his hour-long talk are below:

>> Too many missed assignments early against Michigan, Garrison said. Identifying the defensive looks wasn’t the issue. It was communicating the call and then executing it properly, according to Garrison. The offensive line’s inability to be on the same page is “what’s holding us back,” Garrison said.

>> Junior Spencer Long isn’t a natural vocal leader, but he’s stepped out of his comfort zone this year. Said Garrison: “He’s one of the guys that will be one of the first ones to stand up there, address the team, address the offensive line, call guys out if we’re not getting it done.”

>> Junior Cole Pensick, who rotates in behind Seung Hoon Choi at left guard, also practices at center and right guard in practice.

>> On Justin Jackson, Garrison had this to say: “At the center position, that’s more of your savvier, more intelligent, finesse type of positions — that’s not really who he is. He’s a smaller guy that can get places. A rage guy. You actually have to tell him to slow down.”

>> Garrison on the youngsters: Tackle Zach Sterup is a “monster” who’s gotten stronger. … Tackle Givens Price has displayed a commitment to getting better. … Guard Jake Cotton is aggressive, but he needs to find a balance in pass protection.

>> Michigan State’s defense is active and filled with talent, but the scheme isn’t incredibly complex, according to Garrison. He mentioned that Nebraska caught the Spartans trying to anticipate the snap count in last year’s game (MSU was caught jumping offside five times by officials). Said Garrison: “They love to get off on the snap count, get up field and create havoc. That’s what they’re good at.”

About Jon Nyatawa

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008. He and his laptop, cell phone, tape recorder, pen and notebook all live in Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter: @JonNyatawa. Email him here: jon.nyatawa@owh.com. He welcomes feedback.