Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said it's now the time of year when college coaches look at their recruiting classes and start to wonder.
The profession is so competitive that a coach can't help but overanalyze, Kaczenski said, which usually leaves coaches stressed from all of the second-guessing and unnecessary projecting.
Some days there's concern about signing too many guys. Other times, there's concern about landing too few.
And after Friday, it'll be about a month before any scouting reports or game plans help distract Kaczenski and the rest of the Nebraska coaches, whose 2014 class of prospects is roughly two-thirds of the way completed. So they'll be consumed with the highs and lows of the unpredictable final stretch of recruiting season.
“I've never been part of a program with a coaching staff that isn't panicking right now,” Kaczenski said. “That's just how coaches are.”
Kaczenski spoke to about 250 Husker fans Wednesday morning at the Big Red Breakfast, hosted at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Convention Center.
He provided a preview of the Iowa matchup, gave a progress report for most of the young defensive linemen and spoke highly of several seniors who'll be honored before Friday's season finale against Iowa.
Kaczenski insisted, too, that the game against the Hawkeyes will be decided up front at the point of attack. And he should know. He spent seven seasons on the Hawkeyes' staff, as a graduate assistant and a defensive line coach.
“Expect a big, physical game,” Kaczenski said. “It'll come down to how both teams play in the trenches.”
Kaczenski is confident that his defensive linemen will be ready for the challenge. It's a group that has improved considerably over the course of the season.
Actually, Kaczenski hinted, that'll be one way to keep from going nuts as he's traveling across the country looking for the next stud. He'll look back at the guys in the NU program now and realize that sometimes great players fall into your lap.
He remembers turning on the film of Randy Gregory last year and wondering why the name sounded so familiar. Then it clicked: Kaczenski, while at Iowa, had tried to persuade Gregory to visit two years earlier.
Nebraska's coaches found out about Kevin Maurice while at their bowl site in Orlando. Very few schools were interested in Maurice, so naturally, Kaczenski said he “spent more time trying to find something wrong with Kevin Maurice than looking at the things that are right.”
He said NU's staff soon came to its senses, though, noticing all of his positives.
It wasn't until October last year when Kaczenski saw Maliek Collins for the first time. He initially thought the recruit, visiting at the Michigan game last year, was old enough to be a stadium staff member.
“The guy looks like a man,” Kaczenski said.
It'll be up to the coaches to find more gems late in the process this time around. They're expected to have several key prospects on campus this weekend. NU has 15 known pledges in its 2014 recruiting class.
“You've got to keep digging,” Kaczenski said. “There's great football players out there still.”
Other notes from Kaczenski's speaking appearance:
Ľ During the question-and-answer portion Wednesday, an audience member brought up holding penalties in college football. Kaczenski smiled. A defensive line coach can be a little biased on these types of things, he said. Kaczenski then said he thinks the game now features more holding than it ever has, but those penalties aren't being called unless they directly impact the play. Offensive line coaches probably disagree, Kaczenski said before laughing. Ultimately, though, he tells his players to focus on their technique. “If you give them an opportunity to hold, that's our fault,” Kaczenski said.
Ľ Kaczenski said the NU staff has made it a priority to keep sophomore defensive tackle Kevin Williams involved. Williams has suffered two season-ending knee injuries already in his short time at Nebraska. The experiences of teaching mechanics to young players or dissecting film with them in the meeting room will be beneficial, according to Kaczenski. “All of a sudden, I think, the light comes on,” Kaczenski said. “When you're away from it, you start seeing things in a little bit different manner.”
Ľ Nebraska devoted plenty of practice time to defending those play-action rollouts and bootlegs that Penn State found success with last weekend, Kaczenski said. What caused much of the confusion for NU was a different blocking strategy from the Nittany Lions' tight ends, according to Kaczenski. The Huskers have solved the issues this week, he said. “It's obviously something that we need to correct, especially against a team like Iowa — because we're going to see a ton of that,” Kaczenski said.
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Video: Bo Pelini after practice, Nov. 27:
Video: The Big Red Today Show, Nov. 26: