LINCOLN, Neb. -- Ironic that this week of Nebraska football began with talk from coach Bo Pelini and his players about having more fun.
It’s been anything but fun around Memorial Stadium since the moments after Pelini opened his press conference on Monday with a series of introspective observations and a declaration that he was set to inject more enjoyment into the program. His players were facing too much pressure, Pelini said.
But soon, he fired back at ex-Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, who, after a 41-21 loss to UCLA last Saturday, called for firings on the defensive coaching staff. And later on Monday, Pelini found himself mired in a storm of controversy over two-year-old audio released to Deadspin that caught the coach in a profane moment, complaining about the Husker fan base.
The drama grabbed national headlines, subsiding after two days only when Chancellor Harvey Perlman and former Athletic Director Tom Osborne released statements in an attempt to put the issue to rest.
As the 2-1 Huskers ready for 3-0 South Dakota State of the Football Championship Subdivision level, a key to their success involves, more than ever, a reminder of Pelini’s message way back on Monday morning.
It was apparent that even before the unfortunate events of this week unfolded, Nebraska needed a few more light moments in its routine. The Huskers needed a way to focus not on what would go wrong next; rather how to fix what went wrong.
Just ask them.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Avery Moss said he couldn’t shake the bad vibe after he missed a sack of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in the second quarter last week. Hundley escaped Moss’ grasp on a third-and-12 play, scrambling for 13 yards to preserve a drive that ended with a touchdown for the Bruins. It cut the Nebraska lead to 21-10 at halftime.
Moss said he received encouragement from Pelini, defensive coordinator John Papuchis and others to get over the play.
“I really wanted to get over it,” Moss said, “but I couldn’t help but look at the score when I went out there (for the second half.)”
UCLA scored 28 points in the third quarter.
Moss said he was still thinking about the missed sack on Monday.
“In a sense, it could have affected my play,” he said.
No doubt, the pressure mounted for Nebraska as UCLA began closed the gap and took the lead in that decisive third quarter.
“We had our struggles,” sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory said. “The offense had their struggles. I think they were kind of feeding off each other.”
Gregory, with the Huskers since August as a transfer from Arizona Western Community College, said he’s noticed that some of his new teammates could probably enjoy the game a bit more.
According to Gregory, fun is not always a priority.
“Not as much as what I’ve seen at other schools,” he said. “But with the stage we’re on -- the expectations are so high right now -- in certain situations, you have to take things seriously.”
Fine with the Huskers, according to offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles.
“When it’s time to work, it’s time to work,” Sirles said, “and sometimes work isn’t fun.”
Find that delicate balance, and the Huskers might have something.