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Huskers prepare for a new and improved Minnesota

Last year, Nebraska pounded Minnesota 41-14 in Minneapolis. It was the Huskers’ biggest win in 2011 over an FBS opponent.

A repeat performance might be tough to come by this Saturday, even with the Huskers playing at home. The Golden Gophers are bowl eligible for the first time in three years and have won two of their last three games.

“They’re a pretty good football team over there,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “They’ve won six games now and they are a much better football team than the one we played a year ago.”

A key difference for Minnesota came four weeks ago when coach Jerry Kill inserted true freshman quarterback into Philip Nelson into the lineup. In its two conference game prior to Nelson’s first start, Minnesota was averaging just 4.57 yards per play (11th in the Big Ten). Since taking over, Philips has had a big effect on the Gophers overall efficiency. Minnesota is averaging 5.13 yard per play with him at the helm, good enough for eighth in the conference and just one spot behind last week’s opponent, Penn State.

“He’s tough and he’s athletic,” Papuchis said of Philips. “He runs the offense pretty well for a freshman, and he brings an athletic dimension to what they do. He’s one of those guys that just finds a way to win games.”

While Philips hasn’t played enough games to officially qualify for the statistical leader board, his passer rating of 130.52 would currently rank fourth among Big Ten quarterbacks behind Taylor Martinez, Braxton Miller, and Matt McGloin.

Some other notes from Tuesday’s practice:

–Papuchis spoke a little bit about the 29 seniors who will play their final game in Memorial Stadium on Saturday:

“It started to hit me as the season started winding down that some of these guys aren’t going to be with us anymore. PJ Smith, Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley, Courtney Osborne, Cameron Meredith, Baker Steinkuhler, Eric Martin and all of the seniors are a big part of what we do. It goes beyond football with the relationships that you build. I’m happy that they’re finishing their year with some success, but a part of me is also sad that this is our last home game with those guys. I’m sure Saturday will be a pretty emotional day.”

–Speaking of seniors, Will Compton and P.J. Smith requested an opportunity to speak with the media after Tuesday’s practice. It’s usually the other way around. What prompted the change? They wanted to defend their coach.

Bo Pelini’s sideline demeanor has been in the news since a caller questioned it on a radio show last week. When the ESPN cameras caught a heated discussion between Pelini and Daimion Stafford on the sideline last Saturday, it became more of a national story. Compton wanted to set the record straight.

“I saw some comment where somebody said ‘it seems the players are starting to lose respect for (Pelini),” Compton said. “That’s far from the truth.

“I just wanted to clarify, because you see things, and he’s out there trying to defend himself on the issue. I wanted to get out there and put my two-cents in on what he means to, first of all, me personally and this program. We’re based around what he’s done for us. We’re a product of what he’s about.”

–New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara is back in Lincoln and was at practice as the Giants have a bye this week. He shared his thoughts on the Huskers pass defense so far this season following practice.

“Of the games that I’ve watched, I think the play’s been great,” Amukamara said. “Me and Alfonzo (Dennard) probably set the bar pretty high just because of the aggressive style that we played but the guys are making a lot of plays on defense.”

Nebraska now ranks No. 2 nationally in passing yards allowed per game and No. 7 in pass efficiency defense.