LINCOLN — Though both talked at Nebraska's Monday press conference, Blackshirts Will Compton and P.J. Smith asked to address the media again Tuesday to refute what they saw as media attacks on coach Bo Pelini's sideline demeanor.
During Nebraska's 32-23 Saturday win over Penn State, ABC/ESPN cameras spotted Pelini and safety Daimion Stafford having an argument about a Nittany Lion touchdown. Pelini and Stafford downplayed the conversation Monday. Compton and Smith doubled down in their defense Tuesday.
“He's a player in a coach's body,” Compton said. “He wants to be out there as bad as we do. People get it mixed up at times on what he does on the sideline and how he acts. Sometimes it's disturbing seeing that and I just want to clarify that. That's not him.
“This culture and everything we're built upon, and the reason you get to write the way you do about certain players of ours, the good things and Rex (Burkhead), all that good stuff — it's because of him. I can't talk enough on what he's about to me personally and us as a team.”
Smith said he read a newspaper article — he wouldn't specify which one — that talked about Pelini's sideline demeanor. Smith called the report “100-percent wrong.”
“That made me upset, as well as Will,” Smith said. “He's our leader. Things go wrong in a game, people get upset, emotions fly, stuff like that, but at the end of the day, he's got control of this team. We respect the hell out of him ... we're a family. We're competitors. We want to win. But he's our leader.”
Compton and Smith agreed that TV cameras don't capture the full context of a conversation Pelini might have with any player or assistant coach. Compton referenced a caller who pressed Pelini on the coach's monthly call-in radio show last week.
“I heard the phone call last week with the fan calling about, talking about how he wouldn't want his kid to come here,” Compton said. “It makes you shake your head. It doesn't faze me when people say it because they don't understand, but he really gets pressed by the issue and I just kind of want to clarify things.
“I don't want people to keep assuming these things and then it just keeps rolling and rolling, and more and more.”
Huskers ease up during practice
Nebraska lightened the practice load a little Tuesday, going in half pads as another way to combat the demanding stretch since the Huskers' bye week in mid-October.
“When you look at Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern ... each week's been a physical game,” NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “Penn State was probably, in my opinion, one of the most physical teams we've played since I've been here.
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“We've got to be smart with our guys and make sure that they still have something left in the tank for this last stretch run.”
Papuchis said the Husker defense is in good shape for the 2:30 p.m. home game with Minnesota on Saturday.
Stafford looking for more turnovers
The hand that Stafford had in two turnovers against Penn State was something the senior safety envisioned doing more of this season.
Especially after his junior year, when he was not credited with an interception or fumble recovery despite being a full-time starter who finished 2011 as the Huskers' third-leading tackler.
“I went a whole season without any turnovers,” Stafford said Tuesday, “and I promised myself this year that I'd be more aggressive on the ball.”
Stafford intercepted a Matt McGloin pass in the third quarter and recovered the controversial Matt Lehman fumble in the end zone in the fourth. Stafford now has two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles for the season, going along with his 72 total tackles.
Amukamara spending bye week with Huskers
Since it's his week off from the NFL, former Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara said he was trying lay low in a Lincoln hotel and work out at his alma mater.
But at NU's practice Tuesday, he was a little hard to miss wearing a New York Giants stocking cap.
Amukamara, who's playing extensive minutes for the Giants in his second NFL season, has had a whirlwind month. First, New York won a wild, back-and-forth game over the Cowboys in Dallas.
“I was trying to compare that game to the Texas game in the Big 12 championship,” Amukamara said of the Giants' 29-24 win. “It was in the same stadium, too.”
Then Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast and threw into question whether the Giants could host the Steelers just days after Sandy's landfall.
Amukamara said he only “lost power for couple a hours” during the storm because the area around MetLife Stadium wasn't affected much, but the team took a visit to the New Jersey Shore to survey the wreckage.
“It looked like a movie out there,” Amukamara said. “Everything was washed away.”
Giants fans still packed MetLife Stadium for the Steelers game. New York lost 24-20, and lost again this week to Cincinnati to head into its bye week with a two-game losing streak.
“We didn't finish the last couple games the way we wanted to,” Amukamara said.
Amukamara didn't get a chance to talk to any of the Husker corners during practice, but he planned on eating with a few defensive backs afterward. Amukamara also showed up to pick the brain of NU undergraduate assistant Eric Warfield, a former NFL cornerback himself.
The NFL's tougher rules on pass defense, Amukamara said, meant he had to change the most aggressive elements of his pass defense style at Nebraska.
“Just the five-yard rule — not getting your hands on receivers after five yards — but it's kinda hard not to do when you see guys like (New York Jets corner) Darrelle Revis and other top corners, and I'm trying to be like them so I can have that leeway,” Amukamara said.
Minnesota center Mottla out for season
Injuries may force Minnesota to use its third option at center against Nebraska on Saturday.
Gopher coach Jerry Kill has announced that junior backup Zach Mottla is out for the season. And Kill said Tuesday that redshirt freshman starter Jon Christenson (high ankle sprain) is “questionable” for Saturday's game.
So at this point, starting left guard Zac Epping could be snapping the football Saturday, Kill said. Epping, a sophomore, finished Minnesota's 17-3 win over Illinois at the center spot.
“If we were playing today, Zac would step in,” Kill said Tuesday. “Then we've got to fill that (guard position). We'll just see how practice goes.”
One-time starting guard Tommy Olson has been “banged up,” but he'll be full-go this week, Kill said.
— Rich Kaipust, Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa
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