October 28, 2010

Thursday notebook: WRs ready for physical test

Niles Paul knows Missouri senior cornerback Carl Gettis all too well.

For the past two seasons, Paul and Gettis have gone head to head each time the Huskers and Tigers have crossed paths. In the first meeting in 2008, Gettis held Paul to just one catch for three yards.

Last year in Columbia, though, the senior receiver went off for six receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Considering that Gettis and the rest of the Missouri secondary are viewed as some of the best in the Big 12, Paul said he was eager to take them on one last time. Whether this time will go more like last year or the season before, Paul knows one thing for sure - it's going to be one of the most physical games NU's wide outs will play all season.

"I've played against Carl Gettis for three years now, and he's as good as any corner I've seen," Paul said. "He's an aggressive guy, and it's a real aggressive group. They'll get their hands in on you and try and re-route you, so it's going to be a good match-up."

The Tigers' aggressive style against the pass has helped them have 11 interceptions to just seven touchdown passes allowed through the first seven games. But Paul said the size and strength of Nebraska's receivers should make them perfectly built for such a physical match-up.

"With our receivers, we kind of feed off that," Paul said. "The more aggressive the secondary is, the more aggressive we get. I think we feed off that."

Receivers coach Ted Gilmore agreed that Nebraska matches up well with a secondary as aggressive as Missouri's. He said the fact that the Huskers go up against the likes of Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard every day in practice has helped his wide out become quite familiar with facing physical defensive backs.

"They are a physical group, but we are prepared for that," Gilmore said. "We see that every day against our own guys. We embrace the challenge and look forward to it, because it's a deal where no matter who is standing across from you, you've still got to do your job. They're in the way of what we're trying to accomplish, and we have to have that mindset and take that approach to it."

Because of the size and strength of Nebraska receivers, Gilmore argued that Missouri's secondary would be in for just as much of a physical test as the Huskers.

"All these men are competitive on both sides, and I would like to think (Missouri) has a challenge as well," Gilmore said. "What it's going to come down to is, 'Is my technique better than his?' Because they're not going to shy away from contact, and nor are we. In the end, the first one to flinch is going to lose."

- Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
Governors' wager: On Thursday, the office of Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman announced that it had contacted Missouri Gov. Dave Nixon's office in regards to making a friendly wager on Saturday's game between the Huskers and Tigers, and Nixon happily agreed. Heineman will offer up some choice cuts of Omaha Steaks, while Nixon is betting some Missouri black and gold candy in a walnut candy dish along with some fishing lures. Nixon said he was looking forward to comparing Omaha beef to Kansas City strip steaks.

Illegal hit rule unclear: When news broke that Nebraska linebacker Eric Martin had been issued a one-game suspension by the Big 12 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Saturday, the rest of the conference seemed to be left a bit confused as to the actual definition of the rules regarding hitting "defenseless players." Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops told local media he was surprised that a member of a kickoff team could be considered defenseless, and he would need to get better clarification of the rule before his team took the field again this weekend. "If it's beyond defenseless players, now you're saying you can't hit anybody in the helmet, so I'm trying to get some clarity myself before this weekend to know why one is and one isn't," Stoops said. "I don't know how clear it is."

Injury report: Head coach Bo Pelini said senior defensive end Pierre Allen, who missed the first two practices this week with a knee injury, would be ready to play on Saturday. Allen has practiced the past two days. Other than that, Pelini said there was no new injury news to report.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced in helmets only inside the Hawks Championship Center and the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Thursday for their final full practice of the week. The Huskers will hold a brief walk-thru session on Friday before getting ready to take on No. 6 Missouri on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Compton makes life easier for David

Lavonte David's career at Nebraska started faster than even he could have ever imagined.

Though he was expected to play a big part on the Huskers' defense coming in as the No. 2-ranked juco linebacker in the country, injuries to returning starting linebackers Sean Fisher and Will Compton thrust him into the starting lineup after being with the team for a little more than a month.

David has obviously handled the task remarkably, as he leads the Big 12 Conference with 78 tackles. But when Compton returned to his starting Mike linebacker spot Saturday against Oklahoma State, life got a whole lot easier for David.

"It was real easy," David said. "I was kind of lined up wrong a few times, but before the play he would let me know I was lined up wrong or doing something wrong I wasn't supposed to be doing. I adjusted to it real fast."

The knowledge of the playbook and experience Compton brings to the table allowed David to focus more on his own responsibilities than helping make calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage before each play.

"It's a faster tempo (with Compton back)," David said. "We've got our quarterback back out there, and he gets you lined up right and everything and gets us lined up quicker. That's a big plus for us."

However, David said the experience he gained from having to help take the lead of the defense the previous six games would be invaluable for his progression.

"That's what they got me here to do," David said. "A junior college guy, they expect big things out of you, so I took on the challenge well and I'm still progressing and trying to get better."

- Robin Washut

Huskers insist it's just another game

Despite all of the hype surrounding Saturday being the final time Nebraska and Missouri face off as conference rivals, let alone the Big 12 North implications that come along with it, the Huskers are insisting that the Tigers are merely the next game on the schedule and nothing more.

"It's just a game," Paul said. "It's a Big 12 game, and it's no more important than any other game. I just can't wait to go out there and play against them."

Even Missouri natives like Compton and offensive lineman Keith Williams said they weren't anymore excited to take on their home state team as they would be for any other conference opponent.

"It's Missouri. It's another game on the schedule," said Williams, originally of Florissant, Mo. "That's all I can say about that. I know a couple guys on the team, but when we're on the field, it's a battle."

Compton, who hails from Bonne Terre, Mo., said the only reason this game is any different for him is because a win would give him bragging rights over his old high school friends, most of which ended up going to Missouri.

But even he wouldn't come out and say it was enough to admit beating the Tigers meant anything more than usual.

"That is for you guys to hype all that up," Compton said. "I know we're approaching it like any other game. Every game is significant because this team is the next team on your schedule. This is the next biggest game of the season for us and that is how we're approaching it."

There was one player who acknowledged that the game might be a little more important than "just another game on the schedule." Senior receiver Mike McNeill, a native of Kirkwood, Mo., admitted he's been keeping track of his record against the Tigers over the course of career.

With Saturday being his last game ever against Missouri, McNeill said a win would definitely mean something more for him.

"I'm 2-2 (against Missouri), so I'll tell you (what this game means) after Saturday," McNeill said. "Obviously I am excited for it. It's always a big week. You can't say that it's just any other week this week. It's a big game for me, it's always fun."

Like Compton, McNeill said bragging rights would definitely be on the line on Saturday.

"It's just always a big week because people from home like Mizzou and are always in my ear," he said. "The last seven weeks all I've heard about it how good they look each week. It's always a fun game."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***While head coach Bo Pelini wasn't allowed to comment on the suspension of Eric Martin, he did say the coaching staff made some changes to its special teams units to make up for Martin's lost production on Saturday. He wouldn't specify on exactly what those changes were, however.

"He's a good football player, and anytime you lose a player it's not good," Pelini said/ "But we have some very capable guys in there. We just kind of moved a couple guys around."

***Pelini said he was still unsure who would start at safety against Missouri, as the combination of DeJon Gomes, Rickey Thenarse, P.J. Smith and Anthony West have all started at the two safety spots at some point this season.

"It kind of remains to be seen," Pelini said. "Fortunately we have a lot of options there. We'll see how the film finished up and we'll go from there. Like I said, fortunately we have a lot of capable football players."

***Asked if the Huskers were using their 52-17 loss at home to the Tigers in 2008 as motivation this week, Pelini said that game has all but been completely erased from the team's memory.

"It's not about that game," he said. "These are two different football teams, a different season and a difference situation. At that point, we weren't a very god football team and they were. That has nothing to do with anything. I put that game out of my head."

***Williams said the key for Nebraska's offense on Saturday would be to come out and be the aggressors against Missouri's front seven.

"We're going to go out there and play some good ball, play some physical ball," Williams said. "That's how you beat teams like that who have a good defense, you play physical."

***Despite their impressive rebound performance last week against Oklahoma State, Gilmore said his receivers are still taking on the approach that they have to prove themselves each and every week.

"Humility came into play big time (against Texas), and we've got to exercise from that mindset all the time," Gilmore said. "We're looking for consistent performance. Not too high or too low, just do your job. That's the bottom line. A week ago, there was no finger pointing, they pointed the thumb, because those young men knew they had some missed opportunities.

"All of them are very prideful, and they take pride in their craft. They understand they didn't execute, but the thing is everybody on this team and staff believed in them and knew they would have a chance this past week to make the same plays, and they came through."

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