Two weeks after a 59-20 win over South Dakota State, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini doesn’t appear to have definitive answers at the safety spot opposite junior Corey Cooper. Pelini named three players — junior Harvey Jackson, senior Andrew Green and redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander — who could play alongside Cooper, who leads the team with 30 tackles. Jackson is second with 23, but Pelini wasn’t pleased with his play against the Jackrabbits.
Pelini said Jackson and Green — a convert from cornerback who started one game in front of Jackson — have had good weeks of practice. The 6-foot, 190-pound Alexander has three tackles.
Sophomore Charles Jackson — whom Pelini mentioned by name in the press conference after the SDSU game — is “coming along,” he said, but needs to improve communicating with the defense.
“I’m not afraid to put him in the game, but he’s still got a ways to go,” Pelini said.
Santos likely to start in middle
Sophomore David Santos is likely to start at Mike linebacker ahead of true freshman Josh Banderas, Pelini said. Santos was benched after NU’s 37-34 win over Wyoming and demoted to third team. In four weeks, he’s battled back to the starting spot. Banderas is likely to still play. Santos has 22 tackles this year while Banderas has 19.
Pelini praised Santos’ ability to bounce back from the benching.
“There’s two ways you can respond: You can either run and hide or you can fight back. He’s fought back,” Pelini said. “He’s kept a good attitude. He’s just kept working. That doesn’t say anything about where Josh is. I still have a lot of confidence in Josh and like where Josh is as far as what he’s doing. He’ll play in the football game. David should be ahead of where Josh is right now. Josh shows his youth at times.”
Defensive communication impresses Pelini
Nebraska had a poor practice (at least on defense) Wednesday, Pelini, but Thursday’s practice was one of the best since camp started.
“I thought our communication today was probably the best it’s been since we started this camp,” Pelini said. “That in itself -- the focus we brought today, the communication we brought today -- I thought we had a great meeting today. We talked about a lot of things. Now we’ve got to apply it.”
Wullenwaber ‘iffy’ vs. Illinois
Tyler Wullenwaber — who caught a touchdown against South Dakota State — is “iffy” Saturday’s game with a tweaked shoulder, Pelini said. Wullenwaber is Kenny Bell Jr’s backup. His injury coincides with a recovery from injury by redshirt freshman Alonzo Moore, who had a strong week of practice according to wide receivers coach Rich Fisher.
Linebacker Zaire Anderson, who had missed practice earlier this week, is “still a little gimpy,” Pelini said, “but I think he’ll be available.”
Backs big part of passing game
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said Illinois has creative ways to get its running backs involved in the passing game, which Nebraska will have to pay special attention to on Saturday.
It could be a screen play. It could be in the play-action game. Somehow, the Illini will make a point isolate their running backs in space — especially sophomore Josh Ferguson, who has more receiving yards (262) than any back in the nation. He also has a team-high 12 catches.
“They’re good at it,” Papuchis said.
It helps, too, that Ferguson has elite speed. Lots of Illinois pass-catchers do, actually, according to junior safety Corey Cooper.
Nebraska’s defensive backs better be ready.
“They’ve got some speed on the perimeter. They’re not real big guys, but they can fly,” Cooper said. “Us as a secondary, we’ve got to show up and play.”
Linebackers grow together
The inexperienced Husker linebackers are all learning in the heat of battle, and they’re doing their best to help one another along.
No starting job has been locked down. But the competition hasn’t prevented the guys from working through their growing pains together.
“Everyone’s just vocal, just trying to learn each and every day,” junior Zaire Anderson said. “We know we’re young. Everyone’s just trying to learn, and teach each other the best way we can, so everybody can get it and be on the same page.”
The battles for playing time go back and forth. One day, it’s Anderson who makes a jump. Then sophomore David Santos. Redshirt freshman Michael Rose, redshirt freshman Jared Afalava, freshman Josh Banderas and freshman Nate Gerry have all had their moments. And their low points.
“Some people learn in different paces than others,” Anderson said. “(We) just try to figure out a way to help each other.”