Outside of Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday, a city was rushing to ready itself for the Big Ten’s showcase weekend. Plywood stages were being built outside bars, lights strung, team pennants hung, etc., etc. for what my early and very informal head count says could be a majority Nebraska crowd. (In the first three hours in Indianapolis on Friday afternoon I saw scores of Husker fans and three Wisconsin fans. It’s just good science.)
Inside of Lucas Oil Stadium, Bo Pelini and Bret Bielema talked some football.
The two coaches in Saturday’s game met for what seemed like a very genuine half-hand shake, half-hug thing behind the championship trophy. There is real respect here. You get the sense that Pelini and Bielema genuinely like each other and for good reason. They’re cut from the same cloth, one (Bielema) just talks a little more quickly.
On the personnel front, both coaches confirmed much of what we already suspected headed into Saturday’s game. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and linebacker Chris Borland, two of the Badgers three or four best players, will play in the game. So will Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead, who Pelini called “100 percent.” The Huskers will be without two key parts of the interior lines with defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler and center Justin Jackson out, but Pelini still feels confident Nebraska can run its complete schemes on both sides of the ball.
“I thought we had a really good week of practice,” Pelini said. “Now its time to put it to the test. We have our full gamut. Everything we want offensively and defensively is at our disposal.”
The one big difference between the two like-minded coaches on Friday was their approach to the experience angle. Nebraska, with 29 seniors on the roster, is full of players who experienced a pair of heartbreaking losses in the 2009 and 2010 Big 12 title games. The Huskers were underdogs in both of those games, but No. 12 Nebraska (10-2, 7-1) will play the role of the favorite on Saturday.
“The last thing we thought about was Oklahoma or Texas,” Pelini said. “Every game is a challenge. Our team, believe me, they have full respect for this University of Wisconsin football team (and) for their program. It’s going to be a battle and we understood that going in.
“We knew a couple of weeks ago (Wisconsin) was gong to be our opponent if we were able to win out and that gets your full attention.”
Wisconsin(7-5, 4-4), meanwhile, has the benefit of being in Indianapolis last year. Bielema’s drove that point home continually this week.
“I’m excited for us to get back here,” Bielema said. “We are a little bit ‘been here, done that.’ We’ve seen this facility, we’ve seen the layout of the stadium.”
The Badgers took part in a walk-through Friday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. Nebraska, in its usual fashion, completed their pre-game preparations in Lincoln before flying to Indianapolis.
“We stressed to our players all week long about the guys that have been here, the environment,” Bielema said. “It was very important for us to practice here today. I know Nebraska didn’t, but I wanted our guys to experience the stadium itself.”
Wisconsin enters Saturday’s game after losing three of its final four games with all three of the losses coming in overtime. Nebraska, on the other hand, has won six straight coming into the game. Four of those wins featured second half comebacks.
That’s the experience Pelini was willing to lean on.
“One of the keys to our team this year is they’ve shown the type of character I believe you got to have to have a good football team,” Pelini said. “We won games in about every way imaginable here. We’ve had some comebacks, we’ve been behind the eight ball a couple time sin the second half.
“You’re only able to overcome things like that if you have good character, good leadership, a belief in team and a strong-willed group. I believe we have that.”
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