September 16, 2008

Tuesday notebook: NU faces big opportunity

Sitting at 3-0 with bye week to catch their breath, the Nebraska football team has a real opportunity in front of them to beat a Virginia Tech squad that has won 10 or more games each of the last four years.

In less than two weeks, a young and inexperienced Virginia Tech team will come to Lincoln for a showdown with the Huskers on national TV.

Head coach Bo Pelini and his team will practice four days this week, before beginning their game week preparations for the Hokies on Sunday and Monday. Pelini said the extra time he and his staff have to prepare for the Hokies should be very beneficial for NU's overall preparation.

"Hopefully we can do some work as a staff and get ahead a little bit," Pelini said. "Like I said, we wouldn't be doing ourselves any favors if we came out of this (bye week) exhausted. I think we have a nice blend of giving our guys a little bit of time of getting their legs back, but at the same time getting some work done. Our players understand what we are asking of them and we'll be ready next Monday to get ready for Virginia Tech."

Breaking down this match-up, there has actually been quite a bit of build-up and hype started by Husker fans for the Virginia Tech game already. In fact, one media member even got a little carried away on Tuesday and compared the match-up with last year's USC game when interviewing some of the NU players.

Let's not kid ourselves though, this is a young Virginia Tech team that had eight players drafted off last year's squad and they continue to try to build an identity over the early part of their schedule.

In 2007, Pelini's LSU team squared off against the Hokies in Baton Rouge and won handily 48-7. Pelini said you really can't put much stock in that game though, because it was different teams playing in a different year.

"It was a different time and a different place," Pelini said. "We kind of had some good things happen for us early in the game and it kind of snowballed on them. I said after the game if we played them 10 more times, it probably would have been a lot different every time. They just had some tough things happen early in the game and it kind of snowballed. I think they went and won most of their games after that, so we know what type of football team they have."

Senior defensive end Zach Potter said the players have a strong respect for the Hokies and their program and he's personally looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.

"I think this game means a lot," Potter said. "They are a historical program just like we are. When you hear of Virginia Tech, obviously everybody knows where they are at. Obviously they are going to be better competition than our first three games have been. The preseason games are over and it's time for us to step up our game. It should be a great game."

-Sean Callahan

Tuesday's Practice Takes
On the road: Nebraska ran their practice on Tuesday with a skeleton coaching staff. The Huskers will have the NCAA maximum seven coaches out on the road for most of this week visiting high schools across the country. The staff is expected to be back in town by the end of the week and from there they'll attend different high school football games across the state of Nebraska on Friday night.
Indefinitely suspended: Head coach Bo Pelini said on Tuesday that redshirt freshman linebacker Austin Stafford is "indefinitely suspended" from the team for violation of team rules. Stafford is no longer listed on the official roster. Stafford was also suspended for the spring and was not a part of the 105 man roster last month. He joined the team on the first day of classes and practiced for a week, but hasn't been seen in practice since NU's season opener on Aug. 30 against Western Michigan.
Injury update: Junior safety Rickey Thenarse continues to practice in a green jersey and Pelini expects him to be doing full contact next week. Sophomore cornerback Anthony West remains out with what Pelini calls a "day to day" injury. Sophomore defensive end Pierre Allen won't practice at all this week, but Pelini said he'll be ready to go on Monday.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team held a one hour and 15 minute half-padded workout inside Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. It was NU's first practice since this past Saturday's 38-7 victory over New Mexico State. The Huskers will come back on Wednesday for a full-padded practice and they are also scheduled to work out on Thursday and Friday.

Meredith settling in to new role on defense

At this point last week, freshman Cameron Meredith was a scout team player who new about as much of Nebraska's defensive playbook as the team's equipment manager.

Now, he's the Huskers second-string defensive end.

When senior Barry Turner was lost for the season in NU's second game against San Jose State, the coaching staff suddenly found itself looking for players to step up and provide depth at defensive end.

Early last week, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini called Meredith into his office and told him he'd have a chance to compete for the second string spot at defensive end behind sophomore Pierre Allen. Though he hadn't studied Nebraska's defense since fall camp, Meredith jumped at the opportunity.

"At the beginning of the year I accepted the fact that I was going to redshirt," Meredith said. "I didn't study the plays, because we didn't have to, I was scout team. We were running the other team's defense, so we'd just look at cards and I'd just play football. When they pulled me up with the second string, I had to re-learn everything all over, because I had forgotten everything.

"When an opportunity comes, you have to take it. This is a big opportunity, and I took it. I'm just so glad it came."

In his first game as a Husker last week against New Mexico State, Meredith didn't register a tackle, but he said he was happy with his debut performance overall.

"I had just learned the defense in a week, so I was a little hesitant at first," he said. "But I started to get comfortable and started to get the plays down…For the most part it was exciting. I'm just doing what's best for the team. They want me to play this year, so I'm just doing what's best for the team."

With Allen currently sitting out with a foot injury, Meredith will be working with the No. 2 defense until Allen returns. Allen is expected to be ready for next weekend's game against Virginia Tech, and Meredith's role will likely decrease when Allen returns to practice.

Still, Carl Pelini said he plans to use Meredith a lot as a sub the rest of the season. Whatever his role ends up being this year, Meredith said he has no regrets about burning his redshirt three games into the season.

"No, not at all. Everything happens for a reason, and this is what I'm going to do."

-Robin Washut

Murtha hopes experience gives NU advantage over Hokies

Senior offensive lineman Lydon Murtha didn't want to show Nebraska's cards as the Huskers' prepare for next weekend's game against Virginia Tech. However, he did give one clue as to what NU will be looking to take advantage of during the game.

With a combined 76 true and redshirt freshmen and sophomore on their roster, the Hokies are about as young as they come. As result, Murtha said the Huskers would be looking to use their experience to their advantage next weekend.

"They're still a really good football team either way. They're still learning some things and they have some new players that they're bringing up. From personal experience, being a young guy, it's hard to learn the system. Experience is everything. That's one of the major keys we're looking at right now."

"They're still a really good football team either way," Murtha said. "They're still learning some things and they have some new players that they're bringing up. From personal experience, being a young guy, it's hard to learn the system. Experience is everything. That's one of the major keys we're looking at right now."

That was about as far as Murtha would go in expanding on Nebraska's game plan or providing any bulletin board material.

"It'll be a good, good game," he said. "I can't really speculate what the score's going to be and which way it's going to go, because either way we gotta come out and play football, period. We're going to face adversity, they're going to face adversity, and it's how we respond to it."

-Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Pelini said even though Tuesday's practice was short, the Huskers still got quite a bit accomplished in the time they were on the field.

"We did a lot of team work and kind of got right to it," Pelini said. "We got out of the meeting room and got right out here and did good on good. We did some things to get their tempo going. We did a bunch of different situations, mostly as team. We did a little bit of punt protection work and conditioned here at the end and got them out of here. All and all it was about an hour 15 or an hour and 20 minutes, but it was good work."

***Junior safety Rickey Thenarse continues to practice in a green jersey for precautionary reasons.

"He's pretty much full-go, but we want to keep him from hitting this week and turn him loose next Monday," Pelini said. "We want to protect him during this bye week and make sure he doesn't do something stupid."

***Pelini is a big fan of the 7 p.m. kickoff announced by the Big 12 Conference for next week's Virginia Tech game. You get the idea Pelini likes night games, considering most of his games at LSU were played at night.

"I prefer it over 9 in the morning or 10 in the morning," Pelini said. "It doesn't matter though. We'll play at whatever time they set. I'm excited for the program and really both programs because we get the chance to play in front of a national TV audience."

***When you talk Virginia Tech, strong special teams play is a phase of the game that is immediately identified with the Hokie program. Pelini is obviously well aware of their success on special teams, but he said it doesn't necessarily mean they'll spend more time on it in practice this week.

"There is always an emphasis on special teams around here," Pelini said. "That's a phase of the game we always want to win. We understand their history on special teams and how good they are. That's something we always emphasis, and the players understand they have to play well on that side of the ball in this contest."

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