October 12, 2010

Tuesday notebook: Business as usual for NU

All the talk coming out of Nebraska's camp this week has been about treating Saturday's much anticipated showdown with Texas as just another game and going about the week's preparations as business as usual.

The idea behind that approach, head coach Bo Pelini said, is to prevent the Huskers from potentially getting too excited about taking on the Longhorns and losing focus of what they need to do in order to pull off the win.

"You're going to have adrenaline no matter what, but you have to play within yourself so you execute," Pelini said. "It's about technique and fundamentals and executing your game. The whole fired up thing, I hope our guys are fired up every week. You have to play within yourself. The key to being a good football player is keeping your focus to where it needs to be focused on, and channeling your adrenaline and excitement into the right direction. If you don't channel it in the right direction it's not a good thing."

Since before the season even began, Pelini has insisted that Saturday's game carries no more significance than any other game on Nebraska's schedule.

However, many outside the program are finding that thinking hard to believe considering the recent history between the two teams.

When asked about whether it's been difficult to get his players to take on the same nonchalance about the game despite what happened in last year's controversial loss to UT in the Big 12 Championship, Pelini sternly insisted that that game would have absolutely no impact on what happens on the field on Saturday.

"Last year's game has nothing to do with this Saturday. Nothing," he said. "That has nothing to do with it. It's different players, different teams, different time, and nothing that happened last year is going to impact what happens on Saturday. Nothing. It's going to be won in-between the lines on Saturday."

For as much as fans and media want to glorify Saturday's game as the final battle between bitter conference rivals that will somehow give the winning fan base bragging rights for years to come, Pelini, his staff and his team simply don't see it that way.

In their eyes, Texas is merely the next opponent on the schedule, even if everyone else views it as something much bigger.

"It's going to be won Saturday," Pelini said. "Whatever happened in the past, be it last year's game or the last 10 years, they have nothing to do with what's going to happen Saturday. None of those people that played in those games are playing this week. It's a different time and place. The team that earns it is going to win. One of the things I wanted to say is I know our fans are going to be great this Saturday and it's going to be loud, but with all the hype, especially you guys are giving this football game, I trust that our fans are going to treat Texas with tremendous respect.

"Throw everything else aside and all the things outside that people putting this on the game and that on the game. The last time we play Texas, I trust that our fans are going to treat Texas with tremendous respect and show these players and coaches and their program the respect they deserve, because I think they've earned that over a long period of time. I know our fans are great fans and I know that will happen."

- Robin Washut

Tuesday practice takes
Green staying put: With the emergence of redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez as the clear cut starting quarterback and the future of Nebraska's offense, some have speculated that sophomore QB Cody Green may look elsewhere to find a school with a better chance at earning a starting job. Green put those rumors to rest on Tuesday. "Those rumors are false," Green said. "I'm very happy here. I love it here. People always say when players aren't playing, they're angry, they want to leave to go play. What's the point in it? I've always grown up where if you start something, finish it, no matter what happens. So yeah, all those rumors out there - false. I'm not going anywhere."

Another streak to snap: Nebraska was already going to be stacked up against some tough history on Saturday, as Texas will come into the game never having lost three straight regular season games nor losing the week following the Oklahoma rivalry game in its 13 years under head coach Mack Brown. It turns out the Huskers have a streak of their own to erase as well. After winning its first 12 Big 12 Conference home openers, NU has lost its past two under head coach Bo Pelini. The first came in a blowout loss to Missouri in 2008 and then last year's 31-10 loss to Texas Tech. The Missouri loss snapped a 30-game winning streak in conference home openers for the Huskers.

Injury report: There were no new significant injuries to report following Tuesday's practice, and Pelini said the Huskers continue to be very fortunate lately on the injury front. "Obviously, you're a better football team when your guys are out there playing for you and not on the sideline watching," Pelini said. "That's always a good thing."

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced in full pads inside the Hawks Championship Center and the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. The Huskers will return for another full-padded session on Wednesday.

Compton ready to make an impact

Riding a scooter and watching from the Memorial Stadium press box with a giant boot on his foot was definitely not how sophomore linebacker Will Compton envisioned he would spend Nebraska's season opener.

After suffering a foot injury just days before the Huskers kicked off the year against Western Kentucky, Compton's season took a major step backwards. Five games later, he's ready to make up for all that lost time.

With the help of countless intense rehab sessions and conditioning work, the Bonne Terre, Mo., native was able to return to practice on Monday and has a chance to play in his first game of the year against Texas on Saturday.

"Oh man, it feels awesome," Compton said. "I mean, you go down right before the first game, you're anxious to get out there and then you see Lavonte (David) doing what he's doing, and man, you just want to get out there and do it with him."

Expected to the be the leader of the defense as the starting Mike linebacker coming into the season, Compton's injury forced Nebraska to throw sophomores Alonzo Whaley and Eric Martin into the starting lineup despite neither of them having any previous starting experience.

With him back in the rotation, the Huskers just got a lot deeper at linebacker going forward the rest of the season.

"Just having that kind of experience in your pocket always helps," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "I love the kid. He's a good leader for us, and it's just great to have back in the mix."

Compton said having to sit and watch as his teammates picked up the slack in his absence was one of the most difficult football experiences he's ever had to go through, but that feeling also served as great motivation during his rehab process.

"That first day - that was a rough first day," Compton said. "That was a rough 24 hours. But you've just got to forget about it. You can't just keep being down on yourself, you've got to move forward and think positive things. With me, I was always wanting to help the team any way I could, and Coach (Mike) Ekeler wanted me to be up in the box and stuff like that and try to see things so I could also help out in that area. I was all for doing whatever they wanted. It got more positive as the days went on, but man, it was a rough five, six weeks."

Compton said he's been told he'll be a game time decision as to whether he plays on Saturday, but he said he feels ready to go whenever the coaches finally call his name.

"I want to get out there bad, but I have no idea," he said.

- Robin Washut

Receivers find glory in their blocking

Through five games, Nebraska has thrown the ball just 80 times. For most wide receivers, that number would usually be a major concern as far as individual stats are concerned.

For the Huskers' wide outs, however, there are other stats they can rack up that don't involve receptions, yards or touchdown catches. In one of college football's most electric rushing offenses, blocking has become a source of pride for NU's receiving corps.

"It was funny, we were talking yesterday in practice, and I said 'Niles (Paul), we're just glorified offensive linemen on the perimeter,'" junior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie said. "It's funny to know that we're running back to the line talking about cut blocks instead of saying 'You see that catch?' It's kind of weird, because who would ever talk like that? But it's fun. It's different, and different is always good."

Kinnie said it took a while for the receivers to embrace their role as blockers in the running game the same way they felt about being factors in the passing game. After seeing what their impact has done to Nebraska's offense - especially this season - making a key block downfield to spring a big run is just as gratifying catching a pass for a first down.

"Somebody is blocking for Taylor (Martinez) to be running for 250 yards and Roy (Helu) and Rex (Burkhead) to be running how they're running," Kinnie said. "Somebody's got to be blocking on the second level, and it's showing. It's showing in our big runs and our big plays… It's a good feeling. Even if we're not catching the ball, we're competing about getting knockdowns. Even though we're not catching the ball, we're running back to each other like, 'I got one, you got one.'"

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the blocking ability of his receivers has been one of the biggest reasons the Huskers have had so many huge plays in the running game this season.

"Everybody points to the obvious, the offensive line, the tight ends, the job that the quarterback is doing, the job that the backs are doing," Watson said. "What isn't so obvious is the job that the receivers are doing. The receivers are doing a spectacular job. They've been unbelievable and they've taken a lot of pride. Ted (Gilmore) has done a great job of coaching that physical nature. Any time you have the breakout runs like we've had this past game, somebody downfield has done a great job. Our receivers did about as good a job as I've seen in 30 some years of coaching this past weekend."

While most receivers only compare receiving stats with one another, Nebraska's wide outs have started up a new competition within the unit. Kinnie said the X and Z receiver groups have started charting the number of knockdown blocks they get each game.

Currently the Z's hold a 9-8 advantage, Kinnie said, though that total apparently varies upon which receiver you ask.

Because of the way NU's receivers have taken to blocking, Kinnie said opposing defensive backs have ended up feeling the brunt of the unit's physical and aggressive approach in the run game.

"DBs don't like that at all," he said. "DBs don't like that. They like to stay up and be pretty and stuff like that… To cut cornerbacks in the second level, it's very intimidating, because who likes to be cut all the time and get knocked on the ground? Like I said, corners like to be pretty and sit up and wear all their wristbands and not get dirty. So to put them on the ground, it's a good feeling."

As a result, Kinnie said some secondaries have actually thrown in the towel late in games because they don't want to get hit anymore.

"There were a couple of Washington DBs, we didn't see the play and they were like 'All right, the play's over! The play's over!'" Kinnie said. "And we were still running at them, because they were tired, they were done. It was cool just to know that you're opponent is quitting, like 'I'm done. Stop. Stop doing this to me.' It's a great feeling."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Just because Texas is coming into Saturday's game riding a rare two-game losing streak, the Huskers aren't viewing the Longhorns as underdogs.

"I don't ever consider them underdogs," senior wide receiver Mike McNeill said. "They're a talented team, and any week they can beat anyone. I think we might be favored, but in the long run that's not going to change how we play or how we approach Texas."

***Sophomore quarterback Cody Green, a native of Dayton, Texas, said he can relate to Nebraska fans' distaste for Texas as much as anyone, as he grew up among a family of Texas A&M fans who hated their in-state rival. Add in how last season's meeting in the Big 12 Championship game went down, and Green said the Huskers have no shortage of motivation.

"Ever since that game, that's been our basic fuel for our fire to go out and finish this time," Green said. "Don't make it to the point where the referee makes the final call or something like that. Make it known what we are and not let anybody stop us."

***There will be a fraternal reunion of sorts on Saturday when Nebraska sophomore linebacker Alonzo Whaley faces off with younger brother and Texas H-back Chris Whaley. Another Texas native (Madisonville), Alonzo said he has no regrets about not ending up with the Longhorns.

"I wasn't even worried about going to Texas," Whaley said. "They tried to jump on me a little late just to make sure they got Chris, but I wasn't interested in Texas at all coming out of high school."

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