LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Bo Pelini didn't waste any time to find out exactly why Wyoming managed to pick apart his defense for four quarters Saturday night.
Pelini said he “wouldn't have been able to sleep” had he not watched game film in the “wee hours of (Sunday) morning.” Defensive coordinator John Papuchis did the same thing.
They had to analyze it immediately — because standing on the sideline while your unit allows 602 yards of offense and nearly blows a 16-point lead tends to momentarily alarm even the most confident of coaches. Especially after an offseason full of scheming to prevent performances like that.
Their findings were encouraging, though.
Yes, encouraging — so much so that Pelini said Monday that the season opener hasn't changed his expectations for a young group of promising defenders.
He's not panicking. Not after one game.
“The things that hurt us the other day are very fixable,” he said.
Pelini stopped there, never really identifying what exactly caused Nebraska to surrender the most first downs (35) in school history and choosing not to share his specific methods for correcting the mistakes that led to the Huskers allowing more plays of 10-plus yards (28) than any other Division I team in Week 1.
So we're all left to wonder and critique, while Pelini and his defensive coaches grind away behind the scenes with the expectation that they'll soon disprove the skeptics.
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Just wait and see, the Husker coaches say. They pointed out to their team Monday that 11 of the 74 snaps resulted in half of Wyoming's yards — and that better play calls, improved tackling technique and effective presnap communication could have limited the damage.
They got “caught in bad defenses” too often, Pelini said Monday before specifically mentioning Brett Smith's 47-yard run on a quarterback draw in the first half, when NU had just five players in the box.
Wyoming's other 47-yard play was a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Corey Cooper missed a tackle to clear a path to the end zone, but Nebraska's blitz didn't reach the quarterback and its man-to-man defense with no safety help over the top got exploited.
Give credit to Wyoming's offense for some of that, the Husker coaches say. The Cowboys presented some schematic challenges that they didn't prepare for, and because of Nebraska's inexperience, its defenders couldn't adapt. Pelini tried to simplify things for his players between drives, but those changes actually ended up adding to the confusion, instead of eradicating it.
After a defensive series ended and coaches started to explain their plans to counter Wyoming's strategies, senior Ciante Evans remembers hearing questions from his teammates on the sideline. Too many questions, Evans said.
“Usually when guys are asking a lot of questions, that means they're over-thinking,” Evans said. “They should just be playing.”
That will decrease over time, the Husker coaches say. Five defensive linemen and two linebackers played meaningful minutes in their debuts Saturday. And that's not including two other players up front, Avery Moss and Aaron Curry, who didn't get many snaps of significance last year. None of Nebraska's three safeties had played much at that position before Saturday, either.
How to handle those guys is probably what Pelini learned the most. They didn't show their full capability — but they soon will.
“There was a lot of positives that came out of it that I think got masked because some of the things that happened, in my opinion, shouldn't have happened,” Pelini said. “I think we will grow exponentially.”
But without an invitation to Nebraska's meeting room and practice field, it's difficult to decipher how that transformation takes place.
All us outsiders know is this: For the fourth time in a year, an NU opponent has claimed a spot in the program's top 10 list of the best all-time yardage totals in a single game against Nebraska. A Wyoming offense that averaged 3.4 yards per carry last year ran for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt Saturday. And Smith, the elusive junior quarterback, had more completions (29) than he's ever had, and six of those went for more than 20 yards (the Cowboys averaged 3.3 last season).
Yet Pelini's sleeping soundly this week. He must know something we don't.