LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska has had a habit of losing a game it shouldn’t at least once a year under Bo Pelini, usually before November.
It hasn’t happened so far this season, and Pelini is doing all he can to make sure it doesn’t.
He shortened practices with the idea of keeping the team fresh for the stretch run and started Sunday yoga sessions for the players.
He also hasn’t allowed a sense of contentment to creep in.
That’s why after an 18-point win against Rutgers last week he nitpicked his team’s performance so much that he sounded like a coach who had just lost by 18. The players parroted Pelini in their postgame comments.
— Bo Pelini
And now comes November, the most pivotal month of the season. The 17th-ranked Cornhuskers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) go into Saturday’s home game against Purdue (3-5, 1-3) tied with Minnesota for first in the Big Ten West. Four of the six teams in the division have one conference loss.
“You’ve got to put your foot on the gas pedal at this time of year,” Pelini said Monday. “It’s the only way it works. Those are the teams that are going to be standing at the end.”
Nebraska has stumbled at the worst times since joining the Big Ten in 2011. That first season included a blowout loss at Wisconsin in the Huskers’ inaugural Big Ten game and was followed a month later by a loss at home to Northwestern. In 2012, the Huskers were blistered by 25 points at Ohio State and embarrassed by 39 against Wisconsin in the conference championship game. Last year, they lost at Minnesota and at home against Iowa.
With Nebraska in control of its destiny at the halfway point of the conference schedule, and with the biggest games still to play, Pelini is doing what he can to minimize the chance of underperforming.
“You have to play this game on edge. You have to prepare on edge,” he said. “You have to have respect for this game because you’ve got to realize how quickly a game can turn.”
Pelini increased the tempo at practices and shortened them from two hours to 90 minutes. The plan generally doesn’t allow for do-overs if mistakes are made. After all, there are no do-overs in games.
“It’s definitely a more intense practice than it used to be because we’re not out there as long,” linebacker Trevor Roach said. “It gives you an opportunity to save your legs. It also makes you lock in more on the field and in the film room.”
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said Monday that, physically, he didn’t feel as if he had played a game two days earlier, largely because of the new practice routine.
Now, he said, it’s a matter of keeping the mind fresh and focused for the games that will determine who goes to Big Ten championship game.
“We’re good, but we can get better,” Armstrong said. “We’re a dangerous team when we actually are all in and giving 100 percent and mentally strong.”