On a macro level, all the pieces are in place for a big game atmosphere on Saturday. It’s the Big Ten opener under the lights on homecoming weekend. It’s an adidas showcase game with both teams wearing alternate uniforms. The conference itself is totally up for grabs with many viewing Nebraska as one of the favorites and, if the Huskers are one of the favorites, this is the time to serve notice.
On a micro level — the day-to-day preparation, avoiding distractions and other things a head coach has to think about — it’s only the next game.
“It’s business as usual as far as we’re concerned,” coach Bo Pelini said at Monday’s press conference.
But what about revenge? It was Wisconsin, after all, that so rudely welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten last year, beating the Huskers 48-17. Surely that must crank the volume on this game a bit?
“Different time, different place, different football teams,” Pelini said. “I don’t really care what happened last year. That’s in the past and it’s time to move on.”
A win on Saturday would go a long way towards erasing those memories from last year. Wisconsin came into the season as the presumed favorite to win its division, but has struggled offensively. The Badgers are last in the Big Ten in both passing and total offense. Most shockingly, Wisconsin is 11th in the conference in rushing and could be without star running back Monteee Ball after the senior suffered a possible concussion last week though coach Bret Bielema said today that Ball could practice as early as Tuesday.
Nebraska, on the other hand, enters the game with the best total offense (541.8 yards per game) and scoring offense (48.5 points per game) in the league. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is also the Big Ten’s top rated passer. Based on that success offensively and some high-profile losses elsewhere in the Big Ten, expectations for Nebraska are back to where they were prior to the UCLA loss: Win a conference championship and end a title drought that dates back to 1999.
For Pelini, of course, that doesn’t really factor into this game either.
“My expectation is to win the conference championship each and every year. Period, end of story,” he said. “That’s my expectation. I assume that would be the fan’s expectation.”
It might be the baseline fan expectation at this point, but Nebraska looks to be as well-placed as ever to turn expectations into a trophy for the first time in more than a decade.
No matter what approach you take — business or big game — that much appears to be true. For now.
A few other notes from Monday’s press conference:
–Pelini said he expects to play more base defense featuring three linebackers this week. That raises an interesting question about what to do with Ciante Evans, arguably Nebraska’s best defender through four games. The answer, according to Pelini, is that Evans will likely work at cornerback on Saturday. “When they get into their three-wide sets and such he’ll still be in there at the nickel spot,” Pelini said.
Evans leads the team with five pass breakups, has one interception return for a touchdown and is sixth on the team in tackles.
–There’s going to be a lot of talk about the uniforms Nebraska will wear this Saturday, but it won’t be coming from Pelini.
“I haven’t really thought much about it,” Pelini said of the new look. “I’m concerned about how the guys in those uniforms play, not what they line up in.”
–Nebraska has a huge recruiting weekend on tap, perhaps the biggest since Pelini has been here, with around 20 recruits scheduled for official visits. Drake Martinez, Taylor’s younger brother, could be one of those recruits in attendance. Drake projects as an athlete at the next level but Taylor said he’s playing free safety and running back this season. According to Rivals, Drake runs a 4.4 40-yard dash but Taylor says he still had the upper hand when the two raced this summer.
“I beat him but by the time he gets to college it’s going to be a good race,” Taylor said.
Nebraska is one of two schools to have offered a scholarship along with San Diego State according to Rivals with California, Oregon, Boise State, Kansas State, Tennessee, and UCLA showing interest.
–Rex Burkhead remains hopeful that he’ll be able to play on Saturday without the knee brace he said hampered his mobility last week, but the ultimate decision is up to the trainers.
–A pair of Huskers picked up conference honors on Monday. Ameer Abdullah was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week on the strength of his 81-yard punt return for a touchdown against Idaho State. Imani Cross was also named the conference’s Freshman Player of the Week after cracking the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career last Saturday. Cross had 100-yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.