LINCOLN — In the Nebraska locker room, minutes after the Huskers beat Southern Mississippi, coach Bo Pelini had a message for his team.
We owe them, Pelini said according to several players. “Them” being UCLA, the team that beat NU 36-30 in the Rose Bowl last year with speed, and a spread offense.
“He said ‘they’re coming in our house and we owe them,’” redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Rose said, echoing quarterback Taylor Martinez’s brief comments from after Saturday’s game. “And he’s right. Our only focus right now is getting prepared for UCLA.”
Said defensive end Jason Ankrah: “It was our first loss (last year) and we feel we shouldn’t have lost. It’s one of the losses we took into our offseason program. It adds motivation.”
And cornerback Ciante Evans: “I don’t really believe in payback, but we’ve had it on our minds since the loss. We know what to expect. They did catch us off-guard, especially from a defensive perspective. But now we’re aware.”
Pelini, unsurprisingly, played down the payback factor with the media.
“I don’t use that at all,” Pelini said. “It’s the next team on our schedule. We lost the game to them last year. That’s part of being a competitor: You want to go out and win the football game. This afford us the opportunity.”
More quick hits from Nebraska’s media availability.
>> Big emphasis on tackling this week, considering the Huskers’ defense whiffed a lot in the Rose Bowl last year. Pelini estimated that the Bruins got almost 300 of their 653 yards after first contact.
“We need to improve in that area, because that’s kind of what their offense is built on: Creating space and creating one-on-one opportunities for their guys.”
Pelini said NU tackled “good at times” in its first two games this year, but got “sloppy” on the perimeter against Southern Miss. Pelini doesn’t want his defenders tackling low when they shouldn’t.
“At times I thought we made plays in space the other day that helped us,” Pelini said.
>> Lots of love for UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who torched the Huskers for 358 total yards and four touchdowns. Evans said Hundley’s the second best quarterback he’s ever faced behind Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.
“He’s mobile, he’s a very good passer, he can throw the deep ball, he’s accurate, he can do a lot of great things,” Evans said. “We need to corral him, get some pressure on him.”
>> Nebraska’s using more of a three-man defensive line, Pelini said, because it has the versatile personnel and depth to do so. Further, switching between and three-man and four-man front, he said, forces offenses to change their blocking targets and can slow down an opponent’s no-huddle tempo.
>> The Huskers’ offense said it’s aware of how UCLA uses its front seven to do all kinds of exotic things with blitzes and mass zone coverage plays. We’ll explore this more this week.
>> Pelini said the black alternate uniforms NU’s wearing for Saturday’s game combines a traditional look with enough of a change that pleases fans and recruits. Pelini’s not sure how big of a recruiting weekend Nebraska will have, however, because of the early start.
Running back Ameer Abdullah had the quote of the day regarding the uniforms.
“Each year, Adidas is getting better, I feel like,” he said. “A little more swag. It’s huge for recruiting. Me? I just want to win the game. I don’t care what we wear. We can be in underwear out there, I don’t care. But for recruiting it’s big. You see Oregon and a lot of schools, wearing different unis every day. It must suck for those players breaking in a new helmet every week, but I think it’s necessary, at least one game a year.”
Video: Nebraska’s Monday press conference