Second-year Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini hasn't awarded his defensive starters their Blackshirts this season. He waits for the defense to do something during the season to earn the honor. Nebraska has given up just 28 points in its first four games. No team in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) is giving up fewer points per game than Nebraska.
“I don’t pay attention to that,” Pelini said. “We have a long way to go as a defense yet. I don’t get caught up in statistics and all those things. I go off what I see on the film.”
The Blackshirts, black practice jerseys worn by the defensive starters in Nebraska's practices, have come to be associated with Nebraska's defensive tradition. In the past, players received them by earning a starting job in preseason camp. But Pelini has adopted a new system of waiting until the defense is performing up to its potential in games.
Speaking to Lincoln-area media in person and out-of-town media by phone Monday, Pelini said he hasn’t thought much about when he will award the Blackshirts. He’s also left open the possibility he won’t pass them out at all this season.
“I’m not disrespecting the tradition of it or anything like that,” he said. “Just, I think it’ll become obvious to me when that time is.”
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said the defense has room for improvement.
“Obviously, what holds us back is small mistakes that let certain things out, certain runs out, certain passes out, and if we can eliminate those things, we’ll get to where we want to get," Suh said.
Suh said he doesn’t mind that the defensive starters have yet to get the Blackshirts, saying they haven’t consistently played at a worthy level.
“I think we’ve done it to a certain point,” Suh said. “But I don’t think we’ve done it outright every single game, every single play.”
Pelini said he has placed more value on the Blackshirts by waiting to reward them.
“It’s something you’ve got to earn,” Pelini said. “You’ve got to earn things over time.”
Suh agreed the jersey has more value now that it isn’t a given before the first game.
“It would mean a lot to me, a Blackshirt,” Suh said. “I believe I’ve had three to this point. I would like to definitely get that fourth one, being that it’s my fourth season.”
The next challenge for the Nebraska defense is Missouri. The teams play at 8 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Stadium. Missouri won last season’s game 52-17. Pelini said Missouri still has a high-powered offense even though Blaine Gabbert has replaced Chase Daniel as quarterback.
“They run basically the same offense,” Pelini said. “They can both run and throw. They’re both good players and very well-coached.”
Suh said he isn’t thinking about the result of last year’s game.
“We haven’t spoken about it,” Suh said. “That’s last year and we’re going to keep it there.”