LINCOLN — Nebraska's normally stingy pass defense has been exploited at times through three games this season, and Bo Pelini says the reason is veteran players doing more than they should.
NU's defense, one of the toughest units to throw against in recent years, is surrendering 299.7 passing yards per game this season. Only nine teams are worse. The Huskers are giving up 8.5 yards per pass attempt (tied for 102nd nationally) and they're allowing opponents to complete 62.3 percent of their passes (81st).
But correcting the players' mental approach should help limit the damage, Pelini said.
“At times we had guys trying to do too much,” Pelini said of Saturday's 41-21 loss to UCLA. “Guys trying to do other people's jobs. And when that happens you break down defensively. You don't play great team defense.”
The players haven't reacted well to in-game adversity and their focus has suffered, Pelini said.
And that even includes the most experienced guys — seniors Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans mentioned Saturday that they didn't come through in the clutch.
Jean-Baptiste and Evans have combined for six interceptions this year. But Jean-Baptiste missed an open-field tackle that led to a 33-yard play Saturday. Evans missed key tackles on two plays of 30-plus yards as well.
“When you leak yardage like that, it's hard to play great defense,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.
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A lack of a pass rush in the second half clearly didn't help the NU secondary as Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley found a rhythm. He averaged 18.4 yards per completion.
UCLA did have success a couple of times Saturday when it used an outside receiver to sprint straight downfield and draw the safety's attention, while a slot receiver hesitated momentarily at the line of scrimmage before running a route into the space left free by his teammate's route.
NU has adjusted to that tactic, Papuchis said.
Given Nebraska's recent track record, it would appear that the Huskers have the potential to correct their mistakes.
They have ranked fourth nationally in passing yards allowed per game the past four years (172.9). They're second in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.8) and first in opponent completion percentage (49.0).
“We've always played good pass defense around here,” Pelini said.
He indicated the slow start can be fixed. Nebraska's already given up 41 pass plays of 10 yards or more, the most nationally. Last year, the Huskers allowed 83 of those.
Big plays happen, though. That's what Pelini has tried to convey to his players this week. The key is staying locked into your assignment one snap later.
“That's the mental part of it, and being about to keep your focus in the right direction,” Pelini said. “Just do your job. Do your part. And usually things work out a lot better than they did the other day.”
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