BruinsNation: First, all Bruins want to say very sincere thank you to Coach Pelini and Corn Nation for the kind words on the passing of Nick Pasquale and for putting the #36 stickers on the helmets. We are all touched by Nebraska's incredibly classy gesture. I hope the answer is no, but have the Huskers ever been involved in a situation like this or honored an opposing player in any manner before?
- David: The women's soccer program had a member of their team shot and killed probably about a decade ago. She wasn't the target, it was a stray bullet that killed her. It was terribly tragic. That's the only time I can remember a current athlete at Nebraska was killed. There may have been others that I'm not aware of, but none that I can recall, fortunately. What has been interesting to note, and I don't know what you believe in terms of spirituality or things like that, but Nebraska has been the opponent that's faced teams facing excruciating life and death scenarios at least twice before. We played Penn State in their first game following the whole Joe Paterno firing mess in what was in incredibly delicate situation. In 2001, the Oklahoma State basketball team lost ten members of the OSU hoops community including two players and several coaches and staff members. Their first road game after that was in Lincoln. I don't think that's a coincidence. I can't imagine what the players and coaches are going through right now.
- Paul: it wasn't an opposing player, and it wasn't during the season, and he had already used up his eligibility, so maybe the parallel isn't valid...but losing Brook Berringer in a private plane crash was a deeply devastating moment for many Husker fans. Moments like that become part of the shared experience of fans. Husker fans typically take great pride in their identity as classy fans, so the gesture didn't surprise me at all. As important as winning is to us (and make no mistake...it's VERY important) being decent human beings is far more important to us. We grieve with Bruin fans this week.To add to what David wrote...Coach Brown is the team's spiritual anchor. I suspect that he is in touch with the UCLA staff and will figure prominently in whatever happens on Saturday.The situation reminded me of one that happened 20 years ago when I was a grad student in Iowa City. Chris Street, an all-Big Ten forward and native Iowan was killed in a traffic accident. The Hawks next game was postponed, and their first game back was in East Lansing. The Hawks won in overtime. I'll let you draw the necessary conclusions.
- Mister Mike: I can't honestly remember a time when we've done something like this for an opposing team. I think it's a fantastic gesture to a visiting team and their fans.
BN: From an outsider's perspective, Coach Pelini seems to be a polarizing figure. He ignited controversy a few seasons ago with his aggressive handling of a young and inexperienced Taylor Martinez. This season a viral video showed the fun side of Pelini playing a trick on the team. Beyond all that, we know coaches are ultimately judged on wins. How is Corn Nation feeling about its head coach these days?
- Husker Mike: Much the same. We have the Bo-lievers, who see a coach who's won more consistently than almost every coach not named Saban. We also have a faction of people that grew tired of the sideline eruptions. Some fans on the fence have shifted to the Bo-must-go side in the wake of bad, blowout losses. Pelini isn't really on the hot seat; his record of success ensures that. But for some fans, a consistent nine or ten wins isn't enough; it's a situation referred to as "Bo-gutory."
- Aaron: Bo has been more reasonable with the media this year than in the past. He isn't so combative with people. He is encouraging the good-will programs including "Team Jack." I think he's starting to realize that he may have made some mistakes with the media and is trying to correct them. It can take time to mend the bridge.
- Mister Mike: Us here at Corn Nation cover the full spectrum. I would say it's fair that most of us fall in the middle, but we will lean one way or another. I believe that while Pelini has done some good things here at Nebraska, and seems to have improved in the PR department, the performance of his team on the field has gradually declined every year since the Texas game in 2010, where I believe we reached our apex under him. I personally believe that his seat is warmer than "simmer" and our performance in the Wyoming game upped it a notch. UCLA will be a great measuring stick for where Pelini is at as a coach in his 6th year. Win and the perception of Pelini and the program changes and we (most likely) will ride into Ann Arbor undefeated. Lose in a hard fought game, perception probably doesn't change much. Lose with 600+ yards given up again, and the heat will be turned up yet another level.
- Jon Johnston: I love me some Bo Pelini but that SOB better win a championship in something soon or he'll have to go.
BN: The B1G Ten move seems to have worked out better for the Cornhuskers than the other moves out of the Big-12 (i.e. Colorado and Mizzou). What differences have you noticed since moving to the B1G Ten? Did the Athletic Department, run by the very competent Tom Osborne and Coach Pelini's staff, do anything specific to facilitate the transition and help the student-athletes adjust to the different style of play? What sort of impact has the new conference had on your recruiting?
- Paul: the conference change came at a time when Nebraska was losing some of its best defenders in years. The narrative that is often repeated is that Pelini had recruited a smaller, speedier defense to deal with Big 12 spread offenses and that is why they struggled their first couple of years in the Big Ten. I'm skeptical of this because I can't find any actual evidence of it.
- Aaron: Between 2010 and 2011, Nebraska had only one similar opponent. That was Washington. Most years, coaches have to make at least some slight adjustments because opposing teams have some new personal. The past couple of years have been challenging because they have 11 new opponents and places to play.
- Mister Mike: If you are comparing our move to Colorado and Mizzou, I would say you are correct. However, I am still not completely sold that our move to the B1G will end up working out for the best (from a football standpoint). I'm reserving judgement on that one and a good part of my withholding judgement has more to do with how the conference seems to be pursuing things from an expansion and football standpoint. I'm not entirely convinced that we'll be sitting as pretty as we are now, regardless of what TV markets we possess, if the level of football doesn't elevate significantly in the conference. Recruiting wise, I think it's still too early to tell...I think we'd have to wait out a full cycle, but I think we've lost more than we've gained so far.
BN: What were Nebraska's biggest questions coming out of pre-season camp and how have they been answered so far?
- David: Biggest question was by far will they figure out how to tackle. More precisely, they're relying on a large number of newcomers to this level of football, many of which are freshmen of both varieties. Most were quick to say that they are very talented, which they seem to be, but that they were very, very young, which they are. When they went up vs. a talented and experienced (and mobile) QB, he had a lot of success. There were a lot of communication lapses and they looked tentative and nervous, understandably. A week later, they played very well. Those that said they were a talented group appear to be right. How much will the inexperience handicap this team? The jury's still out on this one. This little test on Saturday will give us a much better idea of where they stand, though the real test they need to pass begins in November. (Mike will go into further detail on this below.)
- Aaron: All the newbs on the defense. It's been rough, but they are showing some improvement.
- Mister Mike: I don't think that there was any doubt that the biggest question marks coming out of camp related to the defense. For me I think the answer is a definite ‘incomplete.' Obviously they're very inconsistent right now. They didn't do much to slow down a Wyoming offense that may turn out to be better than expected in the MWC this year. And they throttled a team which as stated earlier, is now riding a 14 game losing streak and probably competes for the worst team in America right now. Where does that leave us? Uncertain, in my opinion.
BN: How much of the Wyoming game (600+ yards allowed) was rust and how much was legitimate? What do you predict for the Blackshirt defense this season?
- Paul: The 600+ yards is a big deal for me...I wrote a number of pieces about it after the first week. At first I was focused on the coaches as at fault, but I'm less certain about after seeing many of the mistakes and poor play corrected against Southern Miss. And while I realize that Southern Miss is in the discussion for the worst team in CFB, it was still encouraging. Most Husker fans were willing to wait until your Bruins come to town before unsheathing the pitchforks and lighting the torches. If the results this year are like last year's Pelini will begin to feel some real heat.
- Husker Mike: I don't see much of the Wyoming game as being rust, but rather inexperience. Nebraska only has four starters returning on defense this season. Freshman are being counted on to fill key roles. Three freshmen will likely start against UCLA: redshirt freshman DT Vincent Valentine, true freshman LB Josh Banderas, and true freshman LB Nathan Gerry. These guys are being backed up by other freshmen. The talent is there, but it's raw talent. As Nebraska's season evolved last season, Bo Pelini had second thoughts about redshirting some of these guys. I expect Nebraska's defense to be much improved this season, though this week is the first real test.
- Aaron: They will get better every week. I'd feel more comfortable if we were playing UCLA in November than the third week of the season, though.
BN: We know what a great running threat Martinez is, and when we met last year, his passing was improving. How much has he developed in the last year? How much of the Nebraska offense is relying on him to make plays and how much is up to the skill players around him?
- David: Taylor is who he is at this point. There's been some natural maturing and he's completing passes at a better than 70% clip, though he hasn't really gone up vs. a defense that has really posed much of a challenge. The offense has been extremely reserved up to this point and they really haven't asked Martinez to carry the running load thus far. I look for that to change on Saturday and as we get deeper into the Big Ten season. But he does certainly have some shiny toys at his disposal. Abdullah is developing into a premiere back and his stable mates Imani Cross and Terrell Newby are tough to handle in their own right and I haven't even mentioned his wide recievers. There's just a lot of offensive talent. It's a lot of fun to watch when it gets rolling. They haven't gotten anywhere close to their potential yet.
- Aaron: I think the big thing most Nebraskan's are hoping for is to see the turnovers drop drastically. If he can get rid of those mistakes, there should be a lot of W's this year.
- Mister Mike: The turnovers definitely have to improve. You can't lead the nation in consecutive years in TO's and expect to win hardware. What else he can improve on is his decision making. When to take a sack, when to throw it away, etc. He had his best year as a passer last year, and I don't think we'll see much more improve in the way of mechanics. I think, as David said, he is who he is in that department.
BN: Who are some under-the-radar players Bruins fans may not know about but who the Bruin coaches better be ready for?
- David: Quincy Enunwa. He gets lost behind the glitz and glamor of Kenny Bell's afro and the joystick moves of Jamal Turner, but he's been the Martinez's primary passing target so far this year. He's a vicious blocker if Bell or Turner get the ball on the edge or in space, you can bet that Enunwa is out there looking to knock someone's block off. I'll let someone else give you a defensive player or two to keep an eye on, because there are a bunch to choose from there.
- Paul: Randy Gregory has the raw talent to be the kind if devastating pass rushing end that NU has been missing for a decade. Whether he matures fast enough to disrupt the UCLA passing game remains to be seen.
- Mister Mike: I agree about Gregory. He's still raw, but he appears to be the real deal thus far. Whether or not he can cause the same kind of havoc against an OL that returns a significant amount of experience...? We'll have to see.
- Jon: Imani Cross.
BN: Bruins Nation debates endlessly with other Bruin fans as to what constitutes reasonable expectations and a successful season. What has to happen this year for the season to be considered a successful one for Nebraska? How much do those benchmarks change from year to year?
- David: Rose Bowl or better.
- Paul: Championships are the standard by which all Husker coaches and teams are measured. 9-win seasons are a minimum, but even those aren't a guarantee that the coach will keep his job.
- Aaron: We rotated Ohio State and Wisconsin off the scheduled and replaced them with Illinois and Purdue. Getting back to the Big Ten title game is always the goal and the schedule sets up fairly well this year for that.
- Jon: Paul is right in that championships are the standard by which Husker coaches are measured, however fair that may be.
BN: What places to eat and drink in Lincoln or Omaha should Bruins fans making the trip be sure to hit?
- Husker Mike: You'll want a corn-fed Nebraska steak either Friday or Saturday night. If you are staying in Lincoln, head to Misty's in Havelock on Friday night. It's the unofficial place to be the night before the game. The ABC/ESPN crew will probably be there, and the pep band will probably make an appearance. If you are staying in Omaha, try the Drover in Omaha. It's a really small steakhouse, but their Whiskey Steak is legendary.
- Aaron: And if you need breakfast, Omaha is a trial city for Taco Bell's Waffle Taco....
- Jon: CN did an article in August asking "What is Lincoln's ‘Can't Miss' Place for football fans?", after narrowing down the choices amongst our staff. One thing - there has been a lot of construction in Lincoln due to the new basketball arena (Pinnacle Bank Arena - PBA) and the Haymarket area that is not too far from Memorial Stadium has undergone a renaissance over the last few years. (Note that Friday we will invite Bruins fans to our site in the morning to ask any questions about Lincoln that they want to ask.)
Once again, huge thank yous to the gang from Corn Nation for taking the time this week. Check out their fantastic site here, and take up that invite today to ask questions about Lincoln.