Notebook: Monday in Nebraska

After getting dismantled last year in Madison, the Nebraska Cornhuskers will look to return the favor this Saturday to the Wisconsin Badgers.

Harvey on AM 590 ESPN Radio in Omaha

Lincoln, NE - The Nebraska football team enters Saturday's contest against Wisconsin a double-digit favorite. The Badgers have struggled in non-conference, losing to Oregon State and narrowly defeating Utah State 16-14.

But Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini doesn't get caught up in perception. He's prepping for the best team the conference has to offer – until someone from the Big Ten knocks them off.

"They've been to the Rose Bowl two years in a row, so they haven't forgotten how to play football," said Pelini. "They are a good football team and we have to get better this week. We have to prepare well and take care of our preparation and be ready to go and be ready for the challenge that is coming in. I have a lot of respect for their football team and their program."

Last year, the Huskers were embarrassed in Madison, 48-17 – Nebraska's first game in the Big Ten Conference. While Pelini says 2012 is a new year, it's hard not to think players from last year's squad still have a sour taste in their mouth.

"Everyone is motivated by different things. At the end of the day, it's not about want. You need to execute to win the football game on either side," said Pelini. "How we choose to motivate the football team and how they choose to motivate themselves is up to each individual. We need to be ready to play on Saturday.

"We got beat out there last year. We didn't play well and the better team won. It's a different time, different place and different football teams. I don't really care what happened last year. It's in the past. It's time to move on. The team that plays and earns it on Saturday will be the winner."

RBs not named Ball

Melvin Gordon finished with 112 yards on Saturday against UTEP
On Saturday, Wisconsin running back and 2011 Heisman finalist Montee Ball was sidelined in the first quarter with a head injury (concussion). On Monday, Badger head coach Brett Bielema said is questionable coming into the first conference game of the year.

If Ball can play, it might be a blessing in disguise for the Huskers. The senior has struggled this year, averaging only 3.9 yards per carry, more than two yards off his mark in 2010 and 2011.

His counterparts are picking up the slack: Melvin Gordon (10 carries, 130 yards) and James White (30 carries, 134 yards).

"It's kind of like us. We have Rex (Burkhead), but sometimes people forget about how good Ameer (Abdullah), Braylon (Heard) and Imani (Cross) are," said Pelini. "With them, White's a really good player. Montee Ball is a tremendous player. And the guy they are using in there is very capable as well. They have talent at the running back position. With them, it starts up front. They have a good offensive line."

Most Husker fans are reading this right now and asking if this writer forgot Ball's 151 yard four touchdown performance against Nebraska last year.

I guess I have.

Finding speed up front

Martin has been a nightmare for quarterbacks the last two weeks
After only registering one tackle in the first two games of the season, senior defensive end Eric Martin is finally healthy. It has shown the past two weeks. Getting the start against Arkansas State, Martin caused three quarterback hurries, registered a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Last Saturday, it was just a mere 2.5 sack performance with five tackles for loss.

"Eric is a pretty dynamic pass rusher. Eric can do a lot of different things. He's a personal guy and a little bit of a high-rib defensive end. We use him in a multitude of different ways," said Pelini on Monday. "Obviously, besides Eric we have some other capable pass rushers. It will just be interesting to see who steps up as the season goes on. It's got to be a mix of pressure and four-man rush and that's always going to be part of what we do."

Currently the Huskers are in a tie for third in the country (FBS) in total sacks with 16, only behind non-BCS schools Tulsa and San Jose State.

Burkhead hopes to shed brace

Returning from two weeks on the sidelines with a MCL sprain, senior running back Rex Burkhead received eight carries for 119 yards against Idaho State.

But Burkhead looked a little different. He wasn't quite as fast and his speed wasn't all there according to running backs' coach Ron Brown.

It might have been Burkhead just knocking off the rust. Or maybe it was his new knee brace. A piece of equipment Burkhead would like to shed this weekend.

"We'll see. I'm hoping so, but it's up to the doctors. I'm seeing how my knee is coming along, but it's good for protection and if anything does happen," said the Texas native. "It's kind of weird seeing the knee brace, but, at the same time, it felt good, it felt comfortable. Practice definitely helped that out just getting comfortable with cuts and stuff. The brace prevents you from doing some stuff, but at the same time it's there for protection and for a good reason."

Pelini's Monday Presser:

Rex Burkhead's Monday presser:

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Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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