LINCOLN — Ron Brown kept coming back to the same word.
The NU running backs coach couldn't help it. The kind of week his team had just gone through was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“It was special. It was a special week,” Brown said. “Probably the most special week I've been associated with since I've been at Nebraska.”
After a two-year-old tape surfaced Monday of Husker head coach Bo Pelini cursing about fans, the heat came down squarely on Pelini's shoulders.
Brown, a spiritual leader in his 23rd year with the program, said Pelini handled it as well as he possibly could have. It started with a public apology and continued through Saturday's 59-20 win over South Dakota State.
“I love that Bo did that publicly, with our football team, in front of this state, and I think it set a tremendous trajectory for our football team,” Brown said. “It helped us play the way we did today.
“I saw him be a big man this week, and it was the greatest thing our team could have seen. It's the starting point for everything.”
Brown said he saw “strong vulnerability” throughout the week from Pelini that he hadn't seen before.
“I think at the end of the day, his loyalty to our football team was clearly demonstrated,” Brown said. “I think they realized he was authentic and he was sorry. “
The two talked, Brown said, but probably not more than most weeks.
“I just let him know that I had his back,” Brown said. “He's always had mine. I believe in him.”
Senior offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said he thought the team handled the week's distractions well, too.
“We knew that no matter what happened the game was still going to come on Saturday,” Sirles said, “so we had to prepare for it, and I think we had a great week of practice.”
Sirles said he came out from the locker room at halftime just behind Pelini and heard nothing but support for the head Husker.
“That's what I'll remember from this game, is our fans how they came out and really supported us,” he said.
Those feelings are echoed within the program, too, Sirles added.
“One of the whole reasons I came here was because of Coach Bo,” he said. “He's like my father figure, and I know that he would do anything to help me become the best person that I could be, the best football player that I could be.
“It wouldn't matter if the sky was falling, I think every player in that locker room has that man's back because we all know he has ours no matter what.”
Gregory called his pick
As Nebraska's defense prepared for South Dakota State, coordinator John Papuchis joked with defensive end Randy Gregory that he might grab an interception if the Jackrabbits ran a certain play. When Gregory dropped into coverage in practice, he indeed had his chance at a pick. He dropped it.
“I'm going to catch it in the game,” Gregory recalled telling coaches during the week.
He made good on the promise Saturday, stepping in front of a pass from SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner and returning it 33 yards for a touchdown. As he ran to the sideline, he found Pelini and gave him a smile.
“I told you,” Gregory said.
On the play, Gregory served as a linebacker, waiting for an SDSU receiver to cross in front of him. He then watched Sumner go through his progressions.
“As soon as he locked in,” Gregory said, “I just broke on the ball and made a play on it.”
Initially, Gregory said, defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski thought Gregory had made a mistake. Kaczenski hadn't heard the defensive call Pelini made.
“He was happy, but you could tell he was a little confused as to why I was dropping back in coverage,” Gregory said. “After he talked to Pelini, he kinda figured out what the play was. He was ready to go off on me, but it was all good.”
Fisher happy for Wullenwaber
Nebraska assistant coach Rich Fisher said Friday at the Big Red Breakfast that receiver Tyler Wullenwaber was distraught over a third-down drop against UCLA, and beat himself up over not making a catch that could have kept alive a Husker drive after the Bruins had taken a 24-21 lead last weekend.
So Fisher felt good Saturday when the junior hauled in a crossing route in the second quarter and turned it into a 23-yard touchdown pass from Ron Kellogg.
Wullenwaber finished with two receptions for 47 yards.
“I believe in those guys,” Fisher said. “Guys are going to make mistakes, and if you play the game long enough you're going to drop a ball, but I have a short memory. I'm glad he got an opportunity.”
Eight receivers (and 11 Huskers overall) caught passes Saturday, including Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly, who both caught the first of their careers. Fisher said the receivers reacted well to working with Kellogg and Tommy Armstrong.
“These guys have been catching balls from both of those quarterbacks all through fall camp,” Fisher said. “Obviously it's a little bit different in a game situation, but I thought both those quarterbacks handled the offense very well and threw some great balls.”
Starting receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa both got banged up but returned Saturday. Fisher said Bell “tweaked” a shoulder on his fall in the end zone.
Gerry: Just another game
Nebraska linebacker Nathan Gerry comes from Sioux Falls, S.D., which is just down Interstate 29 from the South Dakota State campus in Brookings.
But he said playing against a team from his home state in his fourth game as a Husker didn't come with any different emotions.
“I never had really been like a Jacks fan or anything,” he said. “I just treated it like another game. I went out and played my best.”
Alexander gets shot at safety
Redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander earned a considerable amount of playing time with the top defense in the second half Saturday as the NU coaching staff continued to search for consistency at safety.
Junior safety Corey Cooper is “playing pretty well,” Pelini said. But Pelini indicated that junior Harvey Jackson and senior Andrew Green are a bit too tentative at this point.
So the coaches gave Alexander, the 6-foot, 190-pounder out of Toledo, Ohio, a chance to play next to Cooper. Said Papuchis: “LeRoy deserved an opportunity and got one.”
Alexander finished with three tackles.
— Nick Rubek, Sam McKewon, Rich Kaipust and Jon Nyatawa