LINCOLN, Neb. — Prior to last Saturday, senior safety Nathan Gerry had played in every game of his Nebraska career, 39 straight including 26 starts.
He had to watch from the sidelines last week while serving a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. How was it?
“Awful,” Gerry said. “It was tough. But we’ve got a new week, I’m finally back and ready to get going.”
His return is well timed for Nebraska as the Huskers could use the hard-hitting Gerry against a Wyoming offense that likes to play physical.
“They play a very disciplined and sound game,” defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. “This is going to be a lunch bucket game with a quarterback that can not only deliver the ball, but he also will beat you on his feet.”
Josh Allen, Wyoming’s sophomore quarterback, was named the Mountain West Conference offensive player of the week after completing 65.5 percent of his passes and throwing for 245 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys’ upset of Northern Illinois. Allen, 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, also rushed for 70 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
“The D-linemen got to know their rush lanes,” senior linebacker Josh Banderas said of dealing with Allen’s ability to scramble. “They can’t open it up because this guy’s got kind of some speed to him. He gets going, he’s tall, he’s got those long strides.”
And there’s more than just Allen to worry about. Straight-ahead, power football is the Cowboys’ preferred style under Coach Craig Bohl. Wyoming ran the ball 56 times against Northern Illinois.
It will be a different approach than what the Huskers faced in week one against Fresno State. The Bulldogs spread the Huskers out, occasionally looked to up the tempo, and generally tried to make the Blackshirts defend the entire spread.
Wyoming’s attack will be a little more straightforward, which is fine by Banderas.
“I love that way better than Fresno [State] who is throwing it sideline to sideline,” he said, adding that running 30 yards to cover a receiver in the flat only to have the ball go elsewhere isn’t his favorite way to spend a Saturday. Thirty yards that way with no tackle to show for it makes the 30 yards back to his middle linebacker spot feel a lot longer.
But Saturday should be different.
“This game is going to be fun, you know get some scratches on the helmet and kind of see what we can do against a Big Ten-type team,” Banderas said.
It will be a good test of what Banker thinks is the key element of his defense — making plays and out-toughing opponents as much as outthinking them.
“You do not have to know a thing about our defense, it’s always effort and effort is pursuit to get to the ball,” he said. “If you can’t run and you don’t run to the ball on every play then you can’t play for us.”
It might be the perfect sort of game for a player like Gerry, who led Nebraska in tackles last season, to work his way back into game shape.
Banker noted that, due to targeting penalties in the Huskers’ last two games of 2015, Gerry hasn’t played a full game since Nebraska beat Rutgers in November last year.
But Gerry will have a little extra motivation this Saturday. A native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Gerry, according to 247Sports, had offers from Big Ten schools like Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan State as well as more local offers from South Dakota, South Dakota State and North Dakota.
Not on that list? North Dakota State, which was coached by Bohl at the time.
“I was talking to Bank[er] in meetings today, but [Bohl] was the only one who didn’t recruit me,” Gerry said. “I’m going to have to say something to him.”