Nebraska currently ranks 110th nationally in turnover margin. The Huskers are -13 in their last five games, and 3-2 in those games. It’s especially notable after a five-turnover game in NU’s 41-28 loss to Michigan State.
At his Monday press conference, coach Bo Pelini said the turnover problem is “unfortunate” but not cause for alarm because NU doesn’t turn the ball over in practice.
“It hasn’t been a huge problem this year,” Pelini said. “I don’t know the exact numbers that we have but where you’d be really concerned if it was happening … you see these things happening in practice a lot, it becomes even more concerning. Do you want it to happen? Heck no.”
Pelini pointed to the fumbled pitch by Terrell Newby on the game’s third play and NU’s final turnover, a botched snap exchange between Tommy Armstrong and Mark Pelini.
“I don’t remember the last time in practice we haven’t got the exchange,” Pelini said. “A fumbled pitch on the option — we do option every day. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen the ball on the ground in option. You just keep coaching it.”
It’s well-documented that the Huskers not only turn the ball over more than most major programs, but win in spite of it at a rate surpassing programs that struggle with turnover margins. Pelini said NU has to keep focusing on “the little things” as it pertains to ball security.
More quick hits from Monday’s press conference:
>>More injury news: Cornerback Daniel Davie is out of the year with a torn ligament in his knee. Defensive tackle Thad Randle, who left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, is “day to day.” Ditto for guard Cole Pensick, who did not practice Sunday. Jeremiah Sirles also didn’t practice Sunday, but he played a half against Michigan State with a strained MCL, and Pelini anticipates Sirles will give it a go again Saturday.
>>Armstrong shouldered most of the blame for the turnover mistakes. He appreciated the support of his teammates, too. Running back Imani Cross sent him a text Sunday that spoke to the Huskers “trust” in Armstrong.
Pelini has the same trust level. Armstrong is still the starter, with Ron Kellogg III getting spot duty during the game if offensive coordinator Tim Beck sees fit.
“Not only for the short-term but the long-term,” Pelini said. “Still believe in Tommy. Still think he’s going to be a really good football player for us. He’s young. He’s a freshman. He’s not going to be perfect.”
Pelini would like Armstrong to be a little less hard on himself. Armstrong agreed that he could work on that, although, he added, competitors often are hard on themselves.
Is the college game moving too fast for Armstrong, who never had such turnover struggles in high school?
“It’s not moving too fast at all,” Armstrong said. “I just need to hold onto the football. I need to put the ball on my receivers.”
Armstrong said the goalline fumble was a result of him getting “too antsy” under center and pulling out before he’d completely held the ball.
>>Pelini said some of Nebraska’s struggles on punt and kick returns Saturday were related to NU’s lack of physicality and execution from blockers. Generally, Pelini said, it’s harder to return punts because punters are using different rugby styles. NU aims to stay “very fake sound” in its structure on returns.
>>Randy Gregory is not yet ready for the NFL, Pelini said. As many strides as he’s made in his short time on NU’s campus, Pelini said, there are plenty left to make. Pelini compared Gregory to former New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest because of his speed and versatility.
“He’s good at certain things — when his athleticism can come into play — but there’s fundamental things, just knowledge of the game, that he needs to continue to work on to become the complete player that he’s capable of being,” Pelini said. “He does struggle with some things. But he plays so hard. He had such a high motor. And he works really hard every single day in practice.”
>>Lots of respect for Penn State and its physical brand of football. NU doesn’t badmouth foes, but it seems to regard the Nittany Lions a little more than most league foes.
“They play hard, they’re well-coached, they’re a bunch of tough guys,” tackle Brent Qvale said.
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Video: Bo Pelini
Video: Brent Qvale
Video: Ameer Abdullah
Video: Tommy Armstrong