Callahan Says Huskers Still A Good Team

Monday, October 8th 2007, 3:30 pm
By: News On 6

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Nebraska coach Bill Callahan was more upbeat than his team's fans Monday, saying the Cornhuskers won't allow themselves to get mired in the doom and gloom that surrounds the program after another poor defensive performance.

``We're 4-2 and we're still in this hunt, but I'm just not pleased where we're at defensively. That's for certain,'' Callahan said on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. ``I think we have a good football team. We haven't had the ability to put it together for a variety of reasons.''

Fan unrest is growing as the Huskers' defense continues to struggle. Internet postings and radio call-in shows have been, predictably, flooded with vitriol since Saturday's 41-6 loss at Missouri.

The main targets are Callahan, defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove and the man who hired Callahan, athletic director Steve Pederson.

Nebraska (1-1 Big 12) goes into this Saturday's home game against Oklahoma State (3-3, 1-1) having allowed 600 yards in two of the last three games. The Huskers also have given up 40 points in three games for the first time since 1943.

Callahan pooh-poohed the notion that his 96th-ranked defensive players lack chemistry.

``They're well-connected,'' he said. ``There is a lot of communication and dialogue. When you're going through struggling times, it bonds you together and you work together to break through. I think times like this make you stronger.''

Callahan also disputed claims that his players have exhibited a lack of emotion.

``During the week we practice hard and are intense, and our guys have spirit and want to play,'' he said. ``I was sitting in the locker room the other night, and they were ready to break down the door. They were ready to play. It doesn't transpire to that in their performance at times.''

The defensive problems are most evident on third downs. The Huskers are last in the Big 12 in third-down defense, with opponents making first downs 45 percent of the time. Missouri converted 10 of 15.

The biggest hole is on the line, where all four starters from a year ago are gone. Tackles Ndamukong Suh, Ty Steinkuhler and Kevin Dixon have been unable to consistently keep offensive linemen off the linebackers.

Ends Zach Potter and Barry Turner have combined for 4.5 sacks _ more than NFL draft picks Adam Carriker and Jay Moore at this point a year ago _ but the Huskers have a league-low six in all.

``I have a lot of confidence in our front four,'' Callahan said. ``They are continuing to develop and improve. They understand the challenges ahead, and I think they're up for it.''

The linebackers have been caught out of position, and poor tackling has been a season-long bugaboo.

On the offensive side, concerns were raised when Nebraska failed to score a touchdown against a Missouri defense that entered the game ranked 93rd in the nation.

The Huskers, who rushed for just 74 yards against Missouri, have had difficulty establishing a dependable ground attack.

What's encouraging, Callahan said, is that the players know they have underachieved and are willing to do something about it. A number of them, he said, expressed their concerns during a team meeting Sunday.

``They were really sincere yesterday,'' he said. ``Having the willingness to improve is very important. When they vocalize it, that's key.''