LINCOLN — Stepping away from the daily demands of football for two weeks has apparently paid off for a now-recharged Nebraska team.
It was exactly what the Huskers needed, coach Bo Pelini said.
The Jan. 1 rematch with Georgia is quickly approaching, but Pelini, it seems, never entertained an alternate structure to this month's set of practices — especially considering the emotional and physical toll the NU players endured during an up-and-down season full of injuries, crushing losses and outside scrutiny.
“It was a long, tough year,” Pelini said.
So, to Pelini, it made sense to keep the Huskers off the practice field until Saturday, well after the regular season ended with a 38-17 loss to Iowa on Nov. 29. Nebraska's coaches were traveling all over the country on recruiting trips during that same stretch, anyway.
Georgia's Mark Richt, managing the recovery of his own injury-plagued squad, told Pelini in Jacksonville, Fla., last week that the Bulldogs have followed a similar schedule this month. Pelini's convinced that most teams are approaching their bowl preparations this way, even though rules allow bowl teams to keep practicing as often as they did during the regular season.
It used to be that coaches could sprinkle in a few spring-like workouts in December, briefly shifting their emphasis to developing inexperienced players and working in as many young guys as possible. Not so much this year, Pelini said.
Practice reps are being distributed as if it were a normal game week. Nebraska has had more scrimmage-like portions of practice — when the top offensive and defensive units match up against one another. But the team will have four days off to begin next week.
“I think we were a little bit rusty, obviously, when we started last Saturday,” Pelini said. “We've picked it up. We've had good tempo, and some good practices.”
The players have maintained their focus well, too, Pelini said. Nebraska's final exam week began Monday.
“You need a little bit of a mental break,” Pelini said.
Nebraska was the only team in the Big Ten's Legends Division to play its final six regular season games without a bye week. And there was plenty of energy-draining drama each weekend.
Consider the Huskers' three wins: A buzzer-beating Hail Mary, a go-ahead score at the Big House and an overtime win in the Pennsylvania cold. And they had plenty of chances to pull out thrilling comeback victories in their three losses, too, though they ended up collapsing late.
Injuries made that stretch run even more challenging to navigate.
Said Pelini: “Bottom-line, our team needed some time to heal.”
But the Huskers seemed to have returned back to full strength now. They'll break again Saturday before reconvening on Christmas night. First practice in Jacksonville is set for next Friday.
“I thought we needed to get our legs back. I think that happened,” Pelini said. “I think we've gotten some good work this week.”
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after practice Thursday