For the historically minded, Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game between Nebraska and Wisconsin provides a couple of intriguing backstories.
1) The Huskers and Badgers have already played once this season with Nebraska rallying for a 30-27 win in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Huskers held Wisconsin’s usually prolific rushing game to just 56 yards.
2) With 29 seniors on the team, the bulk of this year’s contributors either played in or were on the sidelines for Nebraska’s Big 12 title game losses in 2009 and 2010. Surely that serves as extra motivation.
Bo Pelini isn’t buying it.
“I don’t get into dissecting the psychology and all the other b.s. that gets talked about,” Nebraska’s coach said at his Monday press conference. “We’re either going to make enough plays to win or we’re not.”
But there must be something unique about playing a team for the second time in a season, right? That doesn’t happen very often in college football.
“You can sit there and dissect it all day – how are they going to approach it, how are we going to approach it? – at the end of the day it’s going to come down to blocking and tackling,” Pelini said.
What Pelini was willing to talk about was how much better Wisconsin has gotten since Nebraska beat the Badgers back in September. Nebraska put up 440 yards against Wisconsin but since that game the Badgers have held six of seven opponents under 300 yards of total offense.
Wisconsin has also made strides offensively. After Nebraska held the Badgers to 295 total yards, Wisconsin went on to average 431.29 yards per game over its final seven games.
“Their offensive line has gotten better,” Pelini said of the difference between the Badgers then and now. “You know those backs are going to run hard and run well. They game plan well, there are a couple of new wrinkles. They’re going to do what they do and do it very well.
“As the season has gone on you just see that they’ve executed at a higher level. That’s a sign of a good and well-coached football team.”
As for the championship game angle, Wisconsin has some history of its own, playing in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game last year. It’s the same city, same stadium, same schedule this time around.
For the Huskers’ seniors, they won’t have to try too hard to pull up the memories of their previous attempts at taking home a conference crown. Senior linebacker Will Compton said Nebraska hasn’t just played in a pair of championship games recently, they’ve actually tasted what it was like to win one, running onto the field against Texas in 2009 before one second was added to the clock, allowing the Longhorns to kick a game-winning field goal. That was followed up by the 2010 game against Oklahoma where the Huskers raced to a 17-0 lead only to be outscored 23-3 over the game’s final 42 minutes.
“I know those feelings,” Compton said. ”I know our guys still know those feelings…We have to get it done this year.”
A few other notes from Nebraska’s Monday press conference:
–Pelini said he anticipates that senior running back Rex Burkhead will get the start on Saturday, but added that sophomore Ameer Abdullah will still see plenty of time.
Burkhead rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown in the second half against Iowa last week, his first game action since injuring his knee against Northwestern in October. The senior said he had no soreness or swelling in the knee after the game and is nearly 100 percent headed into this one.
–Based on yards per game, Nebraska now has the top pass defense in the country and is also allowing the lowest completion percentage (45.5-percent) nationally. Bo Pelini isn’t surprised.
“One thing we’ve always done in the defenses I’ve coached is we’ve always been up there in pass defense. I get criticized a lot for how we play defense and our style, but I believe in it and how it works. We do what we do.”
–A big part of that pass defense is junior nickel back Ciante Evans. Pelini had some serious praise for Evans on Monday, regardless of whether he gets all-conference honors at the end of the season.
“You watch the film, there’s probably not a better defensive back in the league. I promise you. Is he going to get picked? Maybe not because he doesn’t get a lot of publicity.”
–Nebraska will be without starting center Justin Jackson on Saturday. Pelini said Nebraska has yet to decide whether Cole Pensick or Mark Pelini will start on Saturday but senior tight end Ben Cotton doesn’t think it will make a big difference in the game.
“I don’t think we drop off much at all,” Cotton said. ” We’re just as confident with Pensick or Pelini at center for us.”