LINCOLN — When coach Bo Pelini is passionately arguing with officials over borderline pass interference calls on behalf of his secondary, you should probably assume Nebraska's defensive backs are effectively doing their job.
There may not be a better indicator of success.
Sure, Pelini doesn't want his team penalized 15 yards because his defensive backs are playing too physically — the group was flagged four times (three pass interference penalties and a high hit) in a 73-7 blowout against Idaho State on Saturday.
But Pelini prefers aggression over hesitancy in the secondary. Get hands on receivers. Knock them off their preferred path. Jump routes. Hit hard. His defensive scheme, when executed properly, requires that.
So if Pelini's interpretation of the rules in pass coverage differs from the officials', he's not going to blame his guys. It's the style he wants.
“That's how we play,” Pelini said. “I'm not one who likes to see your guys playing off and not aggressive in the back end, because you're going to give up a lot of (passing) yards if you play that way.”
It's what defined the lockdown secondaries of 2009 and 2010, when the Huskers bullied opponents for four quarters — tugging or grabbing and bumping or shoving, whatever they could get away with in an effort to disrupt the timing of a play and pierce a receiver's confidence.
Occasionally, it goes too far, at least according to the officials. Like on Saturday, when Andrew Green apparently didn't get his head turned in time on a pass down the sideline. Or when Ciante Evans got stuck in one-on-one coverage over the middle and apparently made contact too early.
In the third quarter, Stanley Jean-Baptiste went too high when he laid out receiver Cam Richmond. And Antonio Bell had his left hand draped on a receiver's back once, too.
“You could see my reaction and how I felt about a couple of those calls,” Pelini said.
|BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.|
He'll never tell his guys to dial it back. The players wouldn't want him to, either.
“Our secondary, we're trying to strike fear in our opponents,” sophomore Corey Cooper said. “We try to be the tone-setters. We're always trying to be the ones that make the first big hit and get the team fired up. We take pride in that.”
Different demeanor than last year.
Nebraska spent the 2011 season with defensive backs who were inexperienced and uncomfortable, so potentially vulnerable at times that the NU staff couldn't utilize its entire playbook.
But on Saturday against Idaho State's pass-oriented offense, the Huskers used multiple looks.
“We were playing cover 2, cover 4. Lots of man,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “We try to mix it up.”
Cooper guessed after the game that they called more than a dozen coverages in the first half.
The results: Nebraska forced 22 incompletions, intercepting two of those and breaking up seven more.
And it wasn't just the first-teamers, either. Coaches have raved about the group's depth since preseason camp, and they took advantage of the chance to showcase it Saturday.
Four players — Harvey Jackson, Courtney Osborne, Justin Blatchford and Wil Richards — saw time at safety behind starters P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford. Evans played the first half at nickel, but was replaced by Charles Jackson and Jase Dean after halftime. Cooper played in the dime spot. Green, Jean-Baptiste, Josh Mitchell and Mo Seisay have already been rotating in at cornerback with the first-team defense, but NU also used Bell and Daniel Davie at that spot.
All of those players collectively kept the Bengals' receivers from gaining separation Saturday, preventing Idaho State's offense from ever finding its rhythm.
“Nebraska did a good job squatting on our routes and driving on our slant passes, and slant passes are a big thing for us,” Idaho State coach Mike Kramer said. “When they're able to play over the top of our shoulders like that and collide as the ball arrives, it's tough to complete any slant passes.”
Contact the writer:
402-473-9585, email@example.com, twitter.com/JonNyatawa
* * *
>> Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Rex Burkhead at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Eric Martin at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Ron Kellogg III at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU-Idaho State postgame analysis:
>> Video: Nebraska students stampede for seats at the NU-Idaho State game: