CHICAGO – The 2011 season did not end well for the Nebraska football team.
Six months ago, the Huskers closed out their season at 9-4 with a disappointing 30-13 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Nebraska had a chance, trailing just 16-13 going into the fourth quarter, but the Gamecocks put the game away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Those came after a breakdown in the NU secondary allowed South Carolina to score on a Hail Mary touchdown pass to end the opening half.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini wasn’t happy, and the Husker players were equally upset about how the season ended.
That’s why Pelini shook things up a bit, starting not long after that loss to South Carolina.
The offseason was all about developing accountability.
“Everything that we’ve done, everything that we incorporate in our training, we try to up the level of accountability, up the attention to detail,” Pelini said Thursday at the Big Ten Conference Media Days in Chicago. “And that’s been our theme from beginning to end. And I think it’s been good. And I like what it’s done to kind of set us up for the fall.”
Pelini even managed to attach that theme of accountability to doing jumping jacks and burpees — an exercise that works the chest, arms, front deltoids, things, hamstrings and abs all at once.
Pelini didn’t want to talk much about the particular things the Huskers did.
“I don’t want to get into a lot of detail of some of the things we did, but our players did a lot,” Pelini said. “Our players took it upon themselves to teach each other, to do some things on their own that I think has really helped our football team progress with the older guys teaching the younger guys, putting in the extra time when they weren’t required to, weren’t asked to.”
Pelini also wanted to address the efficiency of the Husker offense. Quarterback Taylor Martinez completed 56.2 percent of his passes last year with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Pelini isn’t worried too much about the passing percentage, but he does want more efficiency from the offense.
“I’m not a big statistics guy” Pelini said. “I want them to be efficient. I want them to be good decision-makers. I want them to throw the ball away when the ball needs to be thrown away. To me it’s about efficiency. I don’t think you can put a number on those things.”
That goes for not only Martinez but the entire offensive team. That’s where accountability also comes in.
“I thought as a group, as an offense we weren’t as efficient as we need to be,” Pelini said. “That’s why I talked about the accountability, the attention to details, the things that we would sometimes do to take ourselves out of drives.
“That goes well beyond the quarterback position. I think we made progress in that area this spring big time, but that has to continue. It’s going to be a thing that happens day in and day.”
Pelini said he’s seen the signs of a team coming together. He saw the leadership during spring practice that he wanted to see from some of the older players and that continued on into the summer.
Of course, there is still a long way to go.
“Now we know there’s a lot of hard work ahead of us,” he said. “And I think we’ve done what we’ve needed to do up to this point. The players have been great. The leadership’s been great. But now it’s time to take it to another level. So we’re excited.”
Huskers picked second
The Huskers were picked to finish second in the Legends Division in an unofficial media vote earlier this month.
Pelini certainly isn’t going to worry about what the media thinks of his team.
“I could care less,” Pelini said. “It doesn’t matter to me if they pick us first or not. The championship will be determined on the field. I don’t know who those people are, who is picking them and it doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day we have to line up and play and let the chips fall where they may.”
Three of Nebraska’s four non-conference opponents have new head coaches this season. That will be a concern for the Husker staff as it prepares for the Sept. 1 opener against Southern Miss and new head coach Ellis Johnson. That’s followed by a game against UCLA and new head coach Jim L. Mora.
“I think that is a challenge, but it helps you concentrate on yourself,” Pelini said. “You look at the opener, you don’t know exactly what to expect, what exactly UCLA is going to be. It will be an adjustment.
“We’ll have to be able to adjust during games. At the same time the advantage we have is that they are new staffs. They’ll be going through some growing pains too.”
If Pelini had his choice, the Huskers wouldn’t play teams with new coaches.
“I’d much rather play teams that you have some idea what they’re going to do,” Pelini said. “With Southern Miss in the opener, you can do your homework but there’s going to be a lot of projection involved.”
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