Nov. 1, 2013
The emotional Northwestern victory over Nebraska in 2011 is still fresh in the minds of several Wildcats who will be in Memorial Stadium Saturday, and Skip Myslenski's Friday preview addresses that and other factors to be on the lookout for.
THE PARALLELS ARE NOT EXACT. But they are (befitting this Halloween season) eerily alike. Two years ago the `Cats traveled to Lincoln with a 3-5 record. On Saturday they will face Nebraska with a 4-4 record. Two years ago the `Cats traveled to Lincoln a week after a win over Indiana snapped a five-game losing streak. On Saturday they will face Nebraska saddled with a four-game losing streak. Two years ago the `Cats traveled to Lincoln as double-digit underdogs. On Saturday they will face Nebraska as seven-point underdogs.
Two years ago the `Cats traveled to Lincoln, upset Nebraska, resurrected their season and went on to a spot in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. "We were able to get the job done," says quarterback Kain Colter, thinking back two years. "Hopefully we can duplicate it this weekend. With that game we were able to get our season back on track and win a few of the final games. We're hoping to do the same."
"I wouldn't necessarily say it saved our season, but it definitely put us in the right direction," echoes linebacker Damien Proby
. "We knew we had an uphill battle at that point and we're in a very similar scenario going into this game this week. So we have to fight it."
THE 'CATS' upset win was not the only unexpected occurrence on that Saturday two years ago. So was the reaction of the Cornhusker fans, who lauded the `Cats for their performance. "That was of the more neat experiences I've ever been a part of," recalls Pat Fitzgerald. "To see the sportsmanship of their fan base was pretty amazing. They were high-fiving our guys, congratulating them on our win. That was a first in Big Ten road wins for us. It was pretty neat."
"Their fans respect the game a lot, which doesn't happen all the time," adds Proby. "They respect the game, they understand it is a game, it is a sport us young men are out there playing. It's nice to see in an opposing stadium (fans) just actually respecting the fundamentals of the game, winning or losing."
"They have a great fan base, a real class act," concludes Colter. "They love the competition. They just want to see a good game. They commended us for how hard we played. It was a cool thing, something I haven't seen in any other stadium."
COLTER IS GOOD TO GO against the Huskers even though he admits he has lingering issues with his tweaked ankle. "You've just got to fight your way through it," he says.
Is he limited by those issues?
"Of course, nobody's 100 percent right now," he says. "I'm probably not able to do things I'd be able to do at 100 percent. But nobody's 100 percent at this point in the season. Everybody's fighting through some kind of injury, bumps and bruises. That's the game of football. You've got to suck it up and go out there and play."
Venric Mark has not been idle as he recovers from a lower-body injury of his own. He has instead taken to tutoring Stephen Buckley, the redshirt freshman who rushed for 99 yards last Saturday against Iowa. "He's definitely a good coach," he says with a smile. "He's been a big part of my growth as a running back. I didn't play running back in high school (where he was a quarterback), so Venric's taught me a lot."
"Patience. Patience with my footwork and patience on waiting for the scene to develop. That's definitely one of the biggest things he's taught."
THE HUSKERS themselves are certainly fortified when it comes to a running game, which features the oft-underrated Ameer Abdullah. The junior I-back has rushed for better than 100 yards in six of his team's seven games this season; has piled up 981 yards on 133 carries (7.4 ypc); is averaging 140.1 rushing yards per-game, which is second best in the Big Ten and sixth best nationally; and is averaging 160.3 all-purpose yards per-game, which is tops in the conference. He has yet to return a kickoff this year. But last year he returned one for 83 yards against Wisconsin and so it is also notable that he has recently started lining up with that unit as well.
"He's good," Proby says of him. "Luckily, we've played against him in the past, but he's a very talented athlete. We know that as a defense. But as a defense we like to have the opportunity to shut down an opposing running back."
The Huskers are coming off a loss at Minnesota, where the Gophers gouged their young defense for 430 total offensive yards. Their coach, Bo Pelini, was so upset by their performance in that game that he had them practice in pads on Sunday instead of just helmets. "I think they felt the need to put us in pads just (to) get our mindset back to being physical," defensive end Randy Gregory later said. "We didn't show it in the game."
The Huskers also have issues at quarterback, where regular starter Taylor Martinez is hobbled by a shoulder injury, an injury to two of his toes and a hip pointer. He picked up the last against the Gophers, which marked his first appearance since his team's season opener, and sat out practices early this week.
If Martinez is a no-go, look for Nebraska to turn to redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, who started the three games he missed. For the season he is 26-of-46 (56.5 percent) for 347 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Also in the wings is senior Ron Kellogg III, a better thrower who is 25-of-33 (75.8 percent) for 352 yards with two touchdown and no interceptions.
Asked about the Husker quarterback situation, Fitzgerald said: "Obviously Taylor's a really, really special athlete. We've seen him now for a couple of years and you hate to see anyone get injured or hurt. We know what that's like around here right now. He's a great player, but the other guys, it's not like they changed a whole lot schematically. They do a lot of similar things in the quarterback run game that we saw with Taylor."
Notable stats: The Huskers have 18 sacks, second most in the conference. The `Cats have been sacked 28 times, more than any other team in the conference. The Huskers have been sacked just seven times, again second best in the conference. The 'Cats have defensive end Tyler Scott, whose eight sacks are as many as any other defender in the conference has accumulated.
'Cats place kicker Jeff Budzien is a conference-best 13-of-15 on his field goal attempts and a perfect 27-of-27 on his PATs. Husker place kicker Pat Smith is a perfect six-of-six on his field goal attempts, but has missed two of his 29 PATs.
AND FINALLY, Fitzgerald, on the general state of his program: "You're the ones that think the sky's falling, not us. You watch the tape. We're 13 points away from having three wins in the Big Ten. We didn't play well enough to win at Wisconsin, that was obvious. But the other three games, we had every opportunity to win the game."
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