September 22, 2011

Thursday notebook: Pelini ready for a rematch

Nebraska hasn't played Wyoming since back in 1994, but there will definitely still be some familiarity with the Cowboys when the Huskers travel to Laramie, Wyo., on Saturday.


Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen has squared off with Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini a couple times over the years, most recently back in 2008 when Christensen was the offensive coordinator at Missouri.


For those who don't remember or blocked that game from memory, the Tigers came into Lincoln and rolled NU to the tune of 52-17, the second-most points ever given up by a Pelini defense in his four years with the Huskers.


Christensen's offense had almost as much success in the only other time he's faced Pelini back in 2003, as he helped guide Missouri to a 41-24 victory in Columbia, Mo., back when Pelini was the defensive coordinator under Frank Solich. Not coincidentally, those were also the most points the Huskers allowed in a game that season.


While Pelini and his brother and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini were able to eventually draw up a defensive game plan to shut down the Tigers' spread offensive attack after Christensen left for Wyoming in 2009, there's no denying that Christensen has gotten the best of the Pelinis up to this point.


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As far as what the Huskers will see from the Cowboys on Saturday, Carl Pelini said there would be a lot of similarities to what Christensen ran at Missouri, but with a few new wrinkles.


He said Wyoming has also incorporated some of what offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon ran when he was the head coach at Bowling Green from 2003-08. During his time with the Falcons, Brandon's offenses averaged more than 400 yards per game in four of his six seasons.


"It's very similar to what we saw out of Missouri," Carl Pelini said. "Coach Brandon, being the old Bowling Green head coach, a lot of that Bowling Green stuff is there. You'll see some carryover from what you saw from Missouri a few years ago."


Through their first three games, the Cowboys have put up some hefty offensive numbers, albeit against mediocre competition. With a balanced attack, UW ranks 16th nationally with and average of 492.3 yards of total offense and 13th nationally with 36 points per game.


Though their three wins have come over the likes of Murray State, Texas State and Bowling Green, Bo Pelini isn't taking the Cowboys' offense lightly as long as Christensen is on the sidelines.


"I think they're a well-coached football team," Bo Pelini said. "They play hard. They're sound in what they do. They're extremely well coached and they have good athletes. They present you with a challenge, and like I said, being on the road for the first time, all those things come into play."


- Robin Washut



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Huskers not falling into trap game


There are several reasons why Saturday's showdown with Wyoming could be considered a trap game for Nebraska.


The Huskers are coming off an emotional win last week over Washington, and in two weeks they'll be playing their first ever Big Ten Conference contest in what's being regarded as one of the biggest games in college football this season.


There's also the fact that this will be NU's first road game of the year, and with so many young players at several key positions, it's hard to know how the Huskers will respond being away from Memorial Stadium for the first time.


Then of course there's the issue of Wyoming presenting a style of offense Nebraska hasn't seen this season against a defense that could be out one or even two of its best players.


With all that in mind, there doesn't seem to be any way the Huskers are looking past the Cowboys this week.


"First thing we have to do is treat it like any other game," junior tight end Ben Cotton said. "There's no game that's less important or more important than the game before or the game after. I think that's the biggest thing we have to focus on both side of the ball. This is a good team. We're both 3-0, and we've got a lot to prove just like they do. We know it's going to be tough going on our first road trip, but I think we've done well on the road in the past and we're excited about this next opportunity."


Nebraska has always been a one of the better road teams under Bo Pelini, as he's posted a 10-4 record on the road since 2008. Even with several new faces on the roster, the Huskers aren't expecting that to change this season, as Pelini's message this week has been the same for every road game his team has played the past three years.


"Coach Pelini does a good job of expressing to the team that it's essentially a business trip," Cotton said. "You're going into another team's environment, another team's area that they're used to, and we're going in there to do business, and that's it. We're going in there to win in any way possible. It could be pretty, it could be ugly; it doesn't matter. As long we get out of there with a win, we'll be happy."


- Robin Washut


Taking the show out West


For the first time in program history Nebraska will play a football game at Wyoming. In fact, it's just the third time since 1976 that the Huskers have played a game at a non-BCS conference stadium.


Defensive line coach John Papuchis is confident NU fans will show up in big numbers this weekend in Laramie. Reports are as many as 12,000 Nebraska fans could be in the stadium, if not more.


"From what I've heard there's going to be a good share of Nebraska fans," Papuchis said. "I also know (Wyoming) is excited for us to come to town from everything I've heard and everything I've read.


"They're a 3-0 football team who is excited about the opportunity to have Nebraska come to their place. I'm sure their players are going to be ready and excited and their fans are going to be juiced for us to get there. We expect a pretty good game day environment."


Saturday's game at Wyoming will actually be Papuchis's second trip to Laramie. Back in 2003, Papuchis was a graduate assistant coach at Kansas under Mark Mangino when the Jayhawks beat the Cowboys 42-35 that day in Laramie.


"I thought it was a nice place," Papuchis said. "It's obviously a little bit smaller than what we have here, but it's a good college football game day environment."


- Sean Callahan


Green getting plenty of support during learning process


Sophomore cornerback Andrew Green was thrown in the fire this season when he was thrust into the starting lineup with senior Alfonzo Dennard sidelined due to injury.


While he's done a good job at the position considering the circumstances, he's had a few forgettable plays as well.


Green has remained upbeat when talking about some of his early struggles, and a big part of that has been because of the support he's gotten from his coaches and teammates.


"I like Andrew Green," Carl Pelini said. "Again, we can't give him enough snaps. We can't season him enough. He just needs to keep getting out there and keep seeing different route combinations and different things happening to him. He looks better every day in practice. He's going to be a really, really good corner. The experience factor just needs to grow for him."


Pelini also said some of the big plays Green has given up in the passing game weren't his fault, instead saying they were due to miscommunication from the sideline that had him out of position.


Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond said he's seen daily improvement from Green. Even after having some problems with Washington's big, experienced receivers, he said Green has gotten better in every game he's played.


"It's a learning experience for him, and that's what he's doing," Raymond said. "He got out here today and did some good things, and it's how you bounce back. You're going to grow from it, and I can say we've played some pretty good receivers the two weekends past. Those guys were not slouch receivers, and that might have helped him to get better."


The biggest source of support has undoubtedly been his younger brother, freshman running back Aaron Green. After last week's win, Aaron said Andrew was obviously upset about his performance, and he spent several minutes sitting at his older brother's locker just talking and putting things into perspective.


Aaron said he did that because that's exactly what Andrew did for him two weeks ago, when Aaron didn't play a single snap against Fresno State.


"After last week against Fresno I didn't play, so I was down on myself," Aaron said. "My brother was there for me to talk to me, comfort me and make sure everything was all right, just telling me things were going to get better. I'm here for him the same. After last game, he was a little down on himself. He came over to my locker right after the game and we had a good little talk just to boost each other's confidence.


"I tell him what he told me: just don't listen to everybody else. Remember that we only have one audience, and that's God. Just remember that. He tells me a lot of things, but when things get down on him he tends to forget. I told him the same thing, and he's ready, he's motivated for this week. He'll bounce back."


- Robin Washut


Quick hits


***Carl Pelini said part of the reason for Nebraska's rough start to the year defensively has been due to the fact that the Huskers have now had to prepare for four completely different styles of offenses the past four weeks.


"We've seen three extremely different offenses, and now a fourth that's different from anything we've seen," Carl Pelini said. "Working with young DBs with Dennard being out, some new guys in different positions, it's been nightmare to face four offenses where there is no carry over one bit from week to week.


"It's learning brand new each week. So I think they're starting to settle down. I really think there were a couple quarters where we settled in a little bit, and I'm seeing that this week, too. They're starting to get used to the grind of the season."


***Carl Pelini said the problems in defending against the pass haven't been a result of Nebraska's defensive backs getting burned in coverage, but more because of the unique shifts and formations opponents have been using.


"What haven't struggled with is teams lining up and running routes on us," he said. "What we've struggled with are the motions and shifts and those adjustments. Once you show a weakness in that regard, you've got to be prepared for it every week, so we've been working hard on doing that."


***Both Nebraska and Wyoming's coaching staffs will be wearing a special arm patch to raise awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy during Saturday's game as part of the "Coach to Cure MD" week around college football. Starting with tonight's game between North Carolina State and Cincinnati, a total of 109 out of 120 FBS coaching staffs will be wearing the patch this week.

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