LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said he spent most of the last 48 hours “soul-searching” after a 41-21 collapse against UCLA. Unlike last year’s “win out” challenge after the 63-38 loss to Ohio State that essentially dared an experienced team to blaze a trail to the Big Ten Championship, Pelini took a very different tack Monday.
“When I look back on it I think did I — or have I — pushed to the extent where they’re not having fun anymore and they’re playing not to lose?” Pelini asked rhetorically. “Because, trust me, they want to be great. The things that happened in the game weren’t necessarily physical, but at times mental. And at the end of the day, that comes back on me. Am I doing the right things to, No. 1, to make sure — first and foremost — that these young men are enjoying their experience, and No. 2, they’re able to handle the pressure and adversity?
“I push, push push — and believe me, there’s gotta be some of that — but there has to be a fine line. And I want our players to get back to having fun again. I want them to go back to going out and playing to win and not worrying about losing the football game.”
Pelini worked some variation of that theme for ten minutes. Some quotes:
“I saw it in their look. I saw it in their demeanor. I’ve been around long enough to know it starts with the guy in charge. It starts with me. I understand that. And I’m going to do everything in my power to fix that.”
“I’ve grown up a lot as a football coach, but have I let the inherent pressures or my drive to push this program to the next level create a culture among our team to not allow them to have success, or not give them the best chance to have success? I would say, at this point, yes, maybe I did do that. Because you’re crazy to sit there and try to pound a square peg in a round hole.”
“I need to start having fun again. I do. It starts with me. I don’t enjoy my job — if I don’t enjoy what I’m doing — then how are they going to? With me it’s different. I don’t know if it’s the fact of not enjoying your job as it’s being so driven, so task-oriented, you lose sight of other things that need to be part of it.”
“This is a special place. It’s a great place. But it’s a different place. It’s very unique. It can consume you. To a certain extent, is my drive for success, does it consume me? At times. And even if it hasn’t — if I’m able to deal with it — it’s what kind of aura you put out for your football team, and how it affects them.”
“We’re really close. We have a chance to be a very good football team. It has to be a consistent thing. It has to be an every-down thing. It has to be an every-game thing.”
>> Pelini declined to offer many specifics on “plan” he’d use to make football more fun, but Nebraska is switching its day off to Monday. The Huskers will now practice on Sundays.
“I think we can get the same things done on Sunday that we get done on Monday,” Pelini said. “It gives them a day to just get away from the whole thing for the whole day. Be a student who can just go to class.”
>> Nebraska will narrow its focus on offense during the week, Pelini said. NU may not necessarily be less diverse, but what the Huskers practice, he said, won’t be as broad of a scope as it has been.
>> Quarterback Taylor Martinez, Pelini agreed, didn’t play his best game Saturday and was “a little hesitant” running the ball. As far as Pelini knows, he said, Martinez was healthy heading into Saturday’s game.
>> If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen much of wide receivers Taariq Allen and Alonzo Moore, that’s because they’re still a little banged up. Allen is about “80 percent” into his ACL tear recovery, while Moore will start playing more this week.
>> Jordan Westerkamp or Terrell Newby will be Nebraska’s new punt returner. Pelini said Jamal Turner’s confidence is down after botching a few returns in the first couple games.
>> In response to former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier’s comments after Saturday’s game — which can be found here — Pelini was unequivocal.
“We have a staff, players and administration — everybody here — who’s busting their butt to do everything we can to win football games and to do everything we can for student-athletes. Since I came back here, I’ve embraced the former players, and if he feels like that, so be it. We don’t need him. That’s a shame. Until you’ve sat in this seat — until you’ve sat and done it — anybody can have an opinion. Anybody can do that. It’s easy to point fingers and stand outside and throw stones. I take it for what it is.”
Frazier is a frequent part of Nebraska’s Football Friday event, in which he sits on a panel that talks about Husker football in the Haymarket.
Video: Pelini’s Monday press conference
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