LINCOLN, Neb. – There's no pleasing Bo Pelini.
So when Alonzo Whaley was reminded Tuesday about the Nebraska coach's lambasting of the defense a few minutes after a 39-point victory — "an absolute embarrassment," Pelini called it — Whaley just shrugged.
"I wouldn't say it hurt because it's the truth," Whaley said. "We have a lot to fix. They had almost 300 total yards. Think about the defense last year. We rarely gave up that many yards. He's trying to get a point across: 'Don't think you've arrived, don't think you're a good defense.'"
The sixth-ranked Cornhuskers (1-0), who host Idaho (1-0) on Saturday, were breaking in four new starters during the 49-10 win over Western Kentucky over the weekend. Among them were Whaley and Lavonte David, who took over for injured linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher.
Whaley was pressed into calling the defensive signals after Compton went down with a foot injury Thursday. David called the signals when the Huskers took Whaley off the field in exchange for an extra defensive back in their dime package.
There were clearly communication problems. There were times players weren't lined up properly and the secondary and front seven were confused about their assignments.
"Linebackers are the leaders of the defense, and you have to know everybody's assignment," David said. "It's a big responsibility."
With Compton out two days before the opener, Pelini said, problems were predictable. Plus, Pelini said he probably overloaded his charges with contingencies because he didn't know what Western Kentucky's new coaching staff would throw at the Huskers offensively.
But, "it doesn't change our expectations going in and it doesn't change our standards," Pelini said.
The Huskers allowed WKU's Bobby Rainey to rush for a career-high 155 yards, including a 46-yard burst, and the Hilltoppers finished with 299 total yards. WKU generated 219 yards in the second half.
"Those 10 points came off our mistakes, and if we didn't make them, we could have had a shutout," tackle Jared Crick said. "If we play perfection snap to snap we can blank any team."
In last year's opener, Florida Atlantic generated 358 yards, and that was with Ndamukong Suh leading what would become one of the nation's top defenses.
"If you look at my history, our style of defense, you get better as you go on and have more time together," Pelini said. "I've been here before. I'm not real concerned. I'll be concerned if I'm saying this four or five weeks from now, but I don't think that'll be the case."
And so the Huskers' pursuit of perfection continues.
The coaching legend John Wooden once said, "Perfection is an impossibility but striving for perfection is not." Pelini offered his take on the matter when he met with his linebackers before Saturday's game.
"They say you shouldn't coach perfection because it's a road to failure, because nobody is perfect. The people who say that are losers," Pelini said, according to Whaley.
No one is asked to do more in the Nebraska defense than Whaley and David. They not only must take care of their own responsibilities, they must make sure the secondary and front seven are working in sync.
And they also must master nuances that the casual observer wouldn't notice.
"We're in a pro-style defense," Whaley said. "I watch other linebackers on Saturdays, and their footwork is horrible, and they don't get off blocks. I wonder what coach Pelini would do with them. It's a lot harder to play here than at other schools, I would guess.
"He's an old linebackers coach. He coaches perfection every single play. There's no play that he won't be on you critiquing something. There's nothing you can't do too well."