Low key: ’Huskers play it cool approaching Saturday
MADISON The first Big Ten Conference game in the history of the football program?
A matchup of two top-10 teams?
A possible preview of the first Big Ten title game?
Big Ten newcomer Nebraska (4-0), ranked No. 8 in the country, appears impressed by No. 7 Wisconsin (4-0) but unimpressed by the hype surrounding the matchup with the Badgers, set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
No player embodies the attitude Nebraska coach Bo Pelini wants better than sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez, who was asked about the game.
How do you feel about rolling into Wisconsin?
“It should be a fun game,” Martinez responded.
I know you’re excited when you play road games. Describe how you feel about going there.
“It should be a fun game,” Martinez reiterated.
What are your thoughts about playing in the Big Ten after this long wait and now you finally get a chance?
“It should be exciting,” he said. “Can’t wait to show what we have.”
Do you think people are overlooking Nebraska?
“I’m sure they are,” Martinez said. “But who really cares? We’re Nebraska. They have to play against us.”
Music to Pelini’s ears.
“Like I said, the hoopla is all for you guys,” Pelini told reporters. “It’s just the next game on the schedule for us. It’s the first conference game.
“What we’re concentrating on is getting better as a football team. We’ve got a lot of things we need to improve upon. We’re just working day in and day out to become a better football team.”
Nebraska, coming off a 38-14 victory at Wyoming, is a decided underdog. The range of the spread is 9 to 10 points. That seems excessive considering the three Football Bowl Subdivision teams UW has defeated sport a cumulative record of 3-5. That record does not include the losses to UW.
“We don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Pelini said. “That’s for you guys. You guys write it and approach it any way you want. We don’t talk about whether we’re underdogs or 30-point favorites.
“Our approach doesn’t change.”
The No. 1 issue facing the Cornhuskers is the defense.
Through four games, Nebraska is:
-- Tied for 46th nationally in points allowed (22.0 per game);
-- 56th nationally against the run (133.3 yards per game);
-- 63rd nationally against the pass (216.5 yards per game).
“Everybody expects me to be in a state of panic at this point because we’ve given up a few yards,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini told the Omaha World-Herald. “And my response is always the same. We are definitely a process-driven defense.
“We’re going to be fine defensively.”
To be fair, senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard missed the first three games because of a leg injury. He made his season debut last week at Wyoming and recorded four tackles. Defensive tackle Jared Crick was held out of the Wyoming game because of an unspecified injury but is expected to play against UW. Add weak-side linebacker Lavonte David and the Cornhuskers will have three All-American candidates to throw at UW.
“It will be nice if we play well,” Bo Pelini said when asked about having the three marquee defenders together for the first time this season. “I think we’ve got to keep working to get better. .?.?. We’ve got to keep upping our level of play regardless of who is on the field.”
At least one Nebraska player can’t wait to make the trip to Madison. That player is senior safety Austin Cassidy. The family of his fiancée is from Madison.
“They’re all excited to go back to where they went to school,” said Cassidy, from Lincoln, Neb. “(But) once you step between the lines, all the fans and hoopla surrounding the game goes away. I think it is harder when you’re younger, but we’ve got four games under our belt.”