Something Old, Something New
Given the months long build-up to football season, it’s easy to forget how little these teams know about each other in week one.
Easy to forget unless you’re a coach or player tasked with trying to anticipate what that first opponent will do after an eight-month layoff.
“Honestly I don’t know what to expect,” coach Bo Pelini said at Monday’s press conference at Memorial Stadium. “They could come out and throw us a curveball and we’ll be ready to adjust.”
The Wyoming team Pelini expects to see on Saturday will be more of an “exclusively spread” team, using more four wide receiver sets than what the Huskers faced in Laramie in 2011. Defensively, Wyoming has also made some changes under second-year defensive coordinator Chris Tormey in hopes of shoring up what was one of the nation’s worst rush defenses in 2012.
“They were more exclusively a four-man front last year,” Pelini said. “Now it sounds like they’ve gone to at least mixing in a (three-man) front.”
One thing that won’t be new is the man behind center for the Cowboys. Junior quarterback Brett Smith enters 2013 after ranking 11th nationally in passer rating last season and throwing 27 touchdowns to just six interceptions against FBS opponents in 2012. As a true freshman in 2011, Smith was 17-for-33 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns against Nebraska.
“I came out of that game thinking he’s far along for a true freshman,” Pelini said. “He’s very poised and he has excellent feet. I don’t know what he runs or anything like that, but he’s very elusive in the pocket, he buys time. I think he’s a really good player.”
Nebraska will offer a little newness of its own on Saturday. While the Huskers offense returns most of its major parts in 2013, prepare to see a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball in week one.
“You’re going to see some old faces, you’re going to see some new faces. It’s going to be a good mix. I think a lot of guys have come a long way and earned playing time. It’s going to be fun to watch,” Pelini said, mentioning defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice, defensive end Randy Gregory, and linebacker Nathan Gerry as newcomers who will likely see the field on Saturday.
Pelini also expects at least a pair of freshmen on offense, tight end Cethan Carter and running back Terrell Newby, to make their Nebraska debuts this week. That’s just fine with junior Ameer Abdullah, the Huskers’ first-string running back and leading rusher last season.
“I was in the same situation that (Newby) was, kind of thrown into the fire a little bit,” Abdullah said. “We were kind of thin at the running back spot. We didn’t know who was going to step up and Newby and (freshman I-back Adam) Taylor have both been doing outstanding jobs on the field and off the field.”
A few additional notes from Monday’s press conference:
–Pelini said that Wyoming could present a challenge for senior quarterback Taylor Martinez given that Nebraska’s not exactly sure what the Cowboys will do defensively. Martinez sees it differently.
“We’ve faced so many defenses in the past three years and going up against our defense in fall camp, we’ve seen so many different fronts and coverages, I think we’re really well-prepared for anything they bring at us,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. Our offense can adjust to anything.”
–Martinez took a moment to praise senior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, the least flashy of the Huskers three returning starters at the position.
“A lot of people are going to be shocked by how good Quincy is going to be this season. He’s taken huge strides this offseason. He’s big and physical. I never seen just one person take him down,” Martinez said.
Enunwa, who is now listed in the media guide at 6-2, 225, had 42 catches for 470 yards last season.
–Abdullah, who is pushing 200-pounds now and has had a noticeably tougher demeanor this fall camp, showed up for the press conference wearing a Muhammad Ali t-shirt. Is he a fan?
“He’s the greatest fighter,” Abdullah said. “Who’s not a fan?”
–On the injury front, Pelini said that starting tight end Jake Long is “good to go” this weekend after missing most of fall camp. Redshirt freshman tight end Sam Cotton, however, is doubtful.
Martinez also mentioned that his brother Drake, a true freshman safety, has been hobbled by an ankle injury through must of fall camp and just began practicing in earnest last week.