Back to Earth
LINCOLN — Two days removed from the most memorable play of the season, the Hail Mary remained the main topic of conversation at Nebraska’s weekly press conference on Monday. So much so that it was tough getting much talk about the Huskers’ upcoming trip to Michigan, where the Wolverines are 19-0 at home under coach Brady Hoke.
But here’s some.
“Me, personally, I’m not a big fan of Michigan,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “We’ve had some rough games against them so far since I’ve been here. Nothing would make me happier than to go up there and shut ‘em up.”
Now, before anyone gets too carried away — though that comment might end up on some bulletin boards in Ann Arbor — know that Nebraska has plenty of respect for the 6-2 Wolverines. Head coach Bo Pelini said he had “tons” of it.
It’s just that Nebraska’s last trip up north didn’t go so well. In 2011, Hoke’s first year at the helm, Michigan capitalized on three Nebraska fumbles to turn a tight game at halftime into a 45-17 laugher. Abdullah, who played sparingly but did have a touchdown in that game, is anxious for a second chance in Michigan Stadium.
“It’s going to be fun, man. The Big House, two years ago, they killed us up there,” Abdullah said. “I was kind of shell-shocked.
“Michigan fans are nasty, man. They’re ruthless. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s Big Ten football. They always sell out. They’ve got the biggest stadium in the country. We’ve got a lot of young guys but we’ve got to bring them down to planet earth.”
A big part of the burden of bringing some young players back to earth after the miracle play last week will fall to Abdullah. The junior surpassed the 1,000-yard mark against Northwestern, becoming the first player to reach that mark in eight games since Ahman Green did it in 1997. Abdullah is also just the eighth player in school history to rush for 1,000-plus yards in back to back seasons. On top of all that, he is, quite clearly, this team’s leader.
“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Pelini said. “I know there are other good backs out there, but, obviously, I believe so much in Ameer that I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the country. Not only as a player but as a person (and) as a leader. To me he embodies what this program and this culture is all about here.”
On to some other notes from the Huskers’ Monday press conference:
–OK, fine, we’ll talk some more about “The Play,” but it needs a name first.
“One of the funny ones on Twitter was the ‘Husky Hail Mary,’” senior quarterback Ron Kellogg III said. “There was a big ordeal with how I looked in my rib protector, how it made me look like I was 280 (pounds).”
Jokes aside, Kellogg and the rest of the Huskers got to experience the good part of social media after the win over Northwestern as opposed to the nastier side that came out after the loss to Minnesota.
“Larry the Cable Guy said I gave him a heart attack,” Kellogg said. “Gabrielle Union said I looked like Byron Leftwich’s long-lost twin. SportsCenter said I was built like a long-snapper but had a rocket for an arm. Just a long list of stuff.”
–As for the player that caught the pass, Jordan Westerkamp was careful to hang on to the game ball in the wild moments after his miracle catch. He’s since had to give it up, however, as NCAA rules preclude him from keeping it so the Nebraska equipment staff will hang on to it for the next three seasons until he’s done playing.
–Redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong has thrown six interceptions in his last two starts. Facing a sophisticated Michigan defense that ranks 28th nationally in yards per game allowed will likely be his stiffest challenge yet but Pelini said he remains the starter this week.
“I still like the things Tommy brings to the table. He’s a young quarterback and he’s going to make some mistakes. I don’t see Tommy any different today than I did before the game on Saturday. I really have a lot of confidence in him,” Pelini said.
He also added that Kellogg will continue to see time.
–As for Taylor Martinez, Pelini said he’s “getting better” but his litany of injuries will likely keep him out. Pelini added that he hasn’t really thought of how he’ll handle the quarterback rotation when, and if, Martinez is fully healthy.
“There’s a lot of maybes (and) ifs in there. It depends on his degree of health and where he is. There’s a lot speculation there but I’ll deal with that down the road when we come to the crossroads.”
–Elsewhere on the injury front, receivers Jamal Turner, Kenny Bell and tight end Jake Long could all be game time decisions this week, but Pelini feels like they’re all close to playing. Offensive lineman Jake Cotton sprained his MCL against Northwestern, and is “doubtful” against Michigan.
–Nebraska will continue to use Michael Rose and Josh Banderas at middle linebacker with David Santos playing weak side linebacker. Jared Afalava is, according to Pelini, “not in the plan right now” for Saturday. When asked if Afalava’s absence the last two weeks was injury-related, Pelini responded “no.”