The Huskers finished up their last regular practice before they are set to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on Friday at 2:00 pm central time. The Huskers will go into this game down two of their key players from this year.
Freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez will likely not play as he is nursing what Head Coach Bo Pelini said was a turf toe. And senior wide receiver Niles Paul is now out until at least the bowl game, with a broken foot, which was a bit of a freak injury was it happened during a non-contact drill. Martinez has started 10 of 11 games this year, and is second on the team in rushing with 974 yards on the season. Paul ranks as the top receiver the Huskers had this year in regard to receptions, as he has caught 39 passes for 516 yards and a touchdown. But his loss will certainly be felt in special teams as well, as Paul was the only Husker in double-digits for returns in both punts and kickoffs. He also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to his name.
In regard to Paul, Pelini obviously felt for his star wideout, especially at this point of the year. " My heart's (out) to him. He's such a competitor. He wanted to play in his last home game here," Pelini said. "He's in better spirits today. He understands it's not a long term thing for him. Everybody's got to keep in mind, he's such a competitor. He's a team guy and he wants to be there for his teammates." Pelini continued saying that while Paul is out now, he doesn't anticipate that will be the case come the bowl game. "I would anticipate would be back for the bowl game. I feel pretty confident he'll be back," he said.
For Paul, this is an obvious journey he's taken over four years, but the last year especially. From brushes with the law to some inconsistent play during the season, it's been a year of ups and downs for the former Omaha North standout. Pelini said that those adversities have helped to make him who he is. "I think Niles has grown a lot. I think he has great character, and all the experiences you go through, they make you who you are. He's gone through some things, and he's come out stronger because of it," he said. Pelini added that he didn't worry about Niles' future, as he was positive that he'll be playing on Sundays one day.
With Cody Green getting the start and Martinez probably out until at the very least, the conference title game should Nebraska win this weekend, the second string spot seems to be up in the air. Pelini said that he considers Taylor still the second string as well as senior Zac Lee, who has been fighting injuries himself, some speculating that it's his hand while others think that he reinjured the elbow he had operated on during the off-season. But if he's not available, Pelini said that he has confidence in a quarterback who has yet to hit the field.
"Ronnie had a really good week of practice. I should have said Ron's name, because he's really done a nice job and you could see him on Friday," Pelini said of redshirt freshman Ron Kellogg III. As for knowing the offense, while the last two weeks have seen Kellogg learn it in earnest, Pelini said that he's worked with the offense a lot, here and there. " Ron's been running this offense for a long time. Ron is well versed in the offense. There's no question there. We put him down there with the scouts, because he gives us such a good look. "
While replacing Paul won't be easy, Pelini said that they have a number of players who could figure into that role, including senior Michael McNeill, who made the move to wide receiver this year from tight end. But whoever it is, Pelini said that the offense won't change. "This doesn't change anything. We have a lot of capable guys. We have depth on our football team," he said. "You are always going to miss a guy like Niles Paul, but it's not like we had to recreate the wheel, because that happened. Those things happen. That's part of the game unfortunately."
Friday promises to be an emotional time for Pelini himself, but not the kind we saw down in College Station. After having three years with most of the seniors on this team, Pelini is obviously going to feel a bit of loss as he knows this will be the last game in Lincoln for him and this group of guys. "They have done everything I have asked, that this staff has asked. We just want to send them out the right way. We want to do right by them, and you honor that by playing good football."
In related news, junior tight end Ryan Hill will be honored in this game for Senior Day, as he is hanging up the cleats for good. Bo Pelini said in regard to Hill that he and his family agreed that due to a history of concussions and obviously wanting to look out for his welfare, it was better to give up the game now. "(We) wanted to make sure we honored him. He made the right choice not to make himself vulnerable anymore," he said. "He's doing great, but there's no sense in putting yourself in that situation again."
Check out the full post practice audio was Pelini talks about all the above and more.