Welcome to this week’s A-to-Z guide to the match-up against Arkansas State. Whatever you know about the Red Wolves, I personally guarantee there’s at least one thing you can learn below. (Probably the bit about the Refrigerator Bowl.)
39-YARDS – The number of rushing yards Taylor Martinez needs on Saturday to become the second Husker, and just the 25th player in NCAA history, to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 2,000 in a career.
ANDERSON, ZAIRE – Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said the junior college transfer linebacker will likely start at WILL linebacker in place of senior Alonzo Whaley. Anderson, who has also practiced at the dime back position, gives the Huskers a little more speed without getting significantly smaller. It’s a tough spot for a transfer to make his debut. Arkansas State’s offense is designed to create and then capitalize on mistakes. (See Also: SEISAY, MOHAMMED)
APLIN, RYAN – The Red Wolves’ quarterback could be the key for Arkansas State on Saturday. He needs just two more touchdown passes to become the career leader at ASU and has thrown a touchdown in 12 straight games. The Arkansas State media guide lists him as a “Heisman candidate” which might be ambitious but he is very good. If Aplin can simply manage Malzahn’s offense and avoid turnovers – he threw 16 last year – the Red Wolves could be able to move the ball effectively.
BURKHEAD, REX – The senior running back is doubtful for Saturday which is probably the smart decision. Even with Arkansas State’s dangerous offense, Nebraska should be able to handle the next two games without its star.
COLORS – While ASU’s nickname history is a long and winding road, the school has only played under two colors: scarlet and black. (See Also: RED WOLVES)
FIGHT SONG – Officially, it’s known as the “ASU Loyalty Song,” but most Arkansas State fans just call it the fight song. For good reason, loyalty is much less intimidating. The mascot and name change in 2008 required fans to get creative with spelling, but they held on to the same song and for that they should be commended. (See Also: RED WOLVES, SOUND OF THE NATURAL STATE)
MALZAHN, GUS – The Arkansas State coach could have had his pick of BCS conference jobs the past two seasons. Vanderbilt and Maryland were interested two years ago. North Carolina and Kansas called last year. Instead, Malzahn chose Arkansas State. Why? He wants to build the “Boise State of the South” he told Sports Illustrated.
He has the offensive chops to do it. Malzahn was one of the leaders of the up-tempo football trend, writing the book “The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An offensive philosophy” back when he was still a high school coach nearly 10 years ago.
NATIONAL CHAMPS – ASU has one national title to its name, winning the NCAA Division II championship in 1970. The Red Wolves have played at just about every level over the years. Since 1937, ASU has played in the National Junior College Athletic Association, NCAA Divisions I-A, I-AA, II, and, finally, in 2005, FBS.
OKU, DAVID – Recruitniks will remember Arkansas State’s starting running back. Oku was the No. 1 ranked high school running back in the country in 2009. Nebraska was hot on his trail and Oku actually moved to Lincoln, attending Lincoln East high school for a time, leading many to believe he would sign with the Huskers. He didn’t, opting for Tennessee before transferring to ASU. He’s rushed for 211 yards and one touchdown in two games this season.
RED WOLVES – In 2008 a Mascot Selection Steering Committee – my dream job – steered then chancellor Robert L. Potts to the nickname Wolves. Known as the Indians from 1931 through 2008, ASU had to make the change to comply with new NCAA regulations. Potts added the Red.
There was a time, from 1911 to 1925 where the teams were known alternately as the Aggies or Farmers. In 1925 they became the Gorillas for the next five years, then the Warriors for a year, and then the Indians for the next 77 years. Personally, I favor either the Farmers of the Gorillas. Nobody needs more Wolves, red or otherwise.
REFRIGERATOR BOWL, THE – Had Nebraska never paid ASU $1 million to visit Lincoln this Saturday I probably never would have known that there was once a Refrigerator Bowl. It was played in Evansville, Ind., which had a Whirlpool factory and was known as the “refrigerator capital of the U.S.” ASU won its first bowl game in school history there, beating Camp Breckenridge in 1952.
SACKS – Nebraska is 22nd nationally with six sacks through two games, but Arkansas State is one of 13 teams who have yet to give up a sack this season. That’s largely by design. The Red Wolves passing game relies on quick passes meaning the Huskers pass rush, whatever you think of it, likely won’t be a huge factor on Saturday.
SEISAY, MOHAMMED – The junior college transfer cornerback is finally back to 100 percent after an ankle injury slowed him during fall camp and kept him out of Nebraska’s first two games. The secondary, particularly the cornerbacks, played pretty well in coverage against UCLA and they’ll be asked to do the same against the multiple attack of ASU. Seisay was expected to contribute immediately coming into the season. He’ll get the chance on Saturday. (See Also: ANDERSON, ZAIRE)
SERIES HISTORY – This is only the second time Arkansas State and Nebraska have met. The Huskers won the first match-up 38-9 in Lincoln in 2009. Nebraska is 9-0 all-time versus teams from the Sun Belt Conference.
SOUND OF THE NATURAL STATE – That’s the official name of the Arkansas State marching band and there may not be a finer one in the country. Name, that is. (I’m sure the band is good, but I’ll leave that to the professionals.) When everything in the world is right — the birds are chirping and it’s fall and everything smells like freshly cut grass – the sound you hear is the ASU band. At least that’s what their name – sometimes shortened to just “The Sound” – makes me think of. Well done, there.
WESTERKAMP, JORDAN – Will the true freshman wide receiver make his Huskers debut on Saturday? Bo Pelini said he’s “ready to go” but declined to go any further. Nebraska has a spot open after Tyler Wullenwaber, the No. 2 receiver behind Kenny Bell, suffered an ACL injury and was lost for the season this week. The Huskers have relied on the deep receiving corps to fuel the no-huddle offense and Westerkamp owns just about every high school receiving record in the state of Illinois. It could be his time.