Understanding the match-up

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is very aware of his team's potential top-10 showdown next week. He's more concerned with how his struggling defense will first handle against a dangerous Wyoming offense.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is very aware of his team's potential top-10 showdown next week. He's more concerned with how his struggling defense will first handle against a dangerous Wyoming offense.

Adamant they're not looking ahead, the ninth-ranked Huskers hit the road for the first time Saturday night against the undefeated Cowboys.

It seems hard to ignore a visit to Madison to take on No. 6 Wisconsin in a matchup many are calling the Big Ten's game of the year, but Pelini said any thoughts of facing the Badgers in the school's inaugural conference opener will have to wait.

"The last thing I'm worried about is what is happening two weeks from now, or Saturday for that matter," Pelini said. "I want to see today. We have enough work to do to fix us."

Most of that work has to do with shoring up a defense that allowed 21 fourth-quarter points in last Saturday's 51-38 victory over Washington. Nebraska (3-0) has given up more than 400 yards of offense the past two games, including 274 passing yards against the Huskies.

The defensive line hasn't stacked up well against the run either, allowing back-to-back 100-yard rushers for the first time since November 2007.

"It's all part of the process,'' Pelini said. "It's why they put 'coach' in front of our names. You don't panic. You look at it for what it is and work to get it fixed.''

Wyoming, meanwhile, has been outscored 137-26 in losing its three home games against top-10 opponents since 2009, but after averaging 492.3 yards of total offense thus far - 16th in the nation - there's hope for a better result Saturday.

Brett Smith, the first freshman quarterback to start for the Cowboys (3-0) since 1974, threw for 248 yards and a touchdown in last week's 28-27 win over Bowling Green.

"I think he is a good player. He is tough and I would say he is a winner," Pelini said of Smith. "He is a guy who makes good decisions and plays. He will run and make all the throws. He is a good one and I like his attitude. He understands the game and how to play. He's really intelligent and is a good player."

The Cornhuskers' secondary may get a boost with the return of cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who is recovering from a pulled muscle in his leg. Dennard is back to full practice and is hoping to play against the Cowboys.

"In my opinion, I don't think there's a better corner in the country. I think he's that good,'' Pelini said.

With the defense struggling, the Huskers have relied mainly on an offense that has scored 40-plus points in its first three games for the first time since the school's national championship team in 1995.

Taylor Martinez threw for two touchdowns and ran for another against Washington, while running back Rex Burkhead rushed for 120 yards and two TDs as Nebraska totaled 464 yards.

"We've got no resentment toward the defense at all,'' said receiver Kenny Bell, who has caught three passes for 101 yards the past two weeks. "I've got nothing but faith that our defense will play lights out every week. Have they had their struggles? Perhaps. But it's a football game. No one can play perfect.''

Despite a heavy reliance on the offense, Martinez believes everyone is contributing equally as the Huskers look to start 4-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since doing it five straight times from 1997-2001.

Nebraska hasn't lost to an unranked non-conference opponent on the road since falling 40-7 at Penn State on Sept. 14, 2002.

"I'm just glad the whole team is doing pretty good right now, and special teams, offense and defense can contribute," Martinez said.

Wyoming, which survived last week's win by blocking an extra point with three seconds remaining, is seeking its first 4-0 start since opening 9-0 in 1996.

The Cowboys have lost 14 straight games against ranked opponents by an average of 34.1 points, last beating then-No. 22 Air Force 34-26 on Oct. 26, 2002.

Nebraska has won each of the five previous meetings with Wyoming, all in Lincoln.

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