“Health-wise it came at a good time for us,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini told reporters on Thursday while admitting he’s not a huge fan of bye weeks. “I think we had a good week. The kids are anxious to play. I know I am.”
This will be the fourth meeting between the two schools since Nebraska joined the conference, the other three were won by just a combined seven points between the two schools. Nebraska, who leads the series 5-2, is a 6.5-point favorite.
“I’m always hoping for the best,” Pelini said. “(I’m hoping) that it’s not so close, but I told our guys. We have a lot of respect for this team. We better be ready for a dogfight.”
The Huskers who were riddled with injuries during the first half of the season, should see the returner of starting receiver Kenny Bell, starting linebacker David Santos, and starting cornerback Daniel Davie, who all missed at least some time against Michigan State a few weeks ago. They should also likely see sophomore receiver Brandon Reilly play for the first time this season. Santos and Reilly won’t likely start, but should see reps.
Two years ago, in front of a large contingent of visiting Nebraska fans, the Huskers had a come from behind fourth quarter victory on the road against Northwestern. Nebraska fans actually caused the Wildcat offense to go to a silent count on their own turf.
“It’s what you always kind of expect from our fans,” said Pelini. “They’re going to travel well, they’re going to be loud and they’re going to be into it. I thought that was pretty special out there a couple years ago. And I think if the tickets were available for every away game, I think you’d see that every week. That’s what our fans are.”
Kickoff between Nebraska and Northwestern is set for 6:30 p.m. from Ryan Field and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Punt game turnaround:
There isn’t a nicer way to say it - Nebraska was dreadful in the punt return game last year. Fast-forward to week eight of the NCAA football season and the Huskers have the nation’s leading punt returner. A large part of that is likely because of the talent level of true-freshman De’Mornay Pierson-El, but Nebraska has also tweeked the scheme.
“I believe I handcuffed the way we did things a year ago,” said Pelini. “ (I) studied it in the offseason. Found some different ways to accomplish the same thing that we were trying to get done. But being more aggressive as far as one, going after blocks, and two, being able to get looks. Be sound as far as being able to defend fakes, but also getting bodies on bodies and get a chance to get really good holdups on the back end of things. Like I said, we put some time into it.”
Pelini was asked who else on special teams deserved recognition outside of Pierson-El.
“I think they’ve all done well. I think there are some things that we’ve been working on fundamentally that we can keep getting better at,” said Pelini. “I think guys are growing into it. I think technique-wise, we’re better. We’re getting guys hands on. We’re getting bodies on bodies, which at the end of the day, it’s hard to tackle a guy like De’Mornay if you have somebody on you. It’s not about knocking somebody out when you’re blocking somebody, it’s about getting your hands on him, staying with him and covering people up to give the returner something to run behind.”
De’Mornay Pierson-El talks with reporters:
CB Daniel Davie pre-Northwestern Q&A:
On leaving game last week due to injury:
“It was really hard. I had 40-plus family members there. But it’s part of the game. I have been through injuries before. I just look at it as another hurdle. I just had a sprained MCL. I felt pretty good going straight ahead but I couldn’t really change direction very well and that’s a big part of the position.”
On the bye week:
“The bye week was really important for guys to get their rest and for me personally to get some treatment on the knee and now I’m ready to go.”
On importance of defensive backs against Northwestern:
“We will have to watch a lot of film this week on the backend just to know what to expect. We have to communicate and be sound in our technique and then we will make the plays we need to make.”
On previous games with Northwestern:
“I think we both just have that competitive edge. We see each other on the schedule and look back at prior games and see it’s been a pretty good match up. Hopefully the score’s not that close again so we can get the win.”
On Northwestern’s offense:
"(Trevor) Siemian isn’t as mobile as Kain Colter was so we have to worry more about his arm. We have to be prepared for the routes we are going to get. He is talented with his arm so that’s what we will have to prepare for the most.”
On going into second half of the season:
"All our goals are still there in front of us. We definitely want to be in Indianapolis when it’s all said and done, playing whoever wins in the other division. All our goals are in front of us.”
On not giving up big plays:
“We work on our technique every day; the corners especially. Most of the big plays, when they are given up, are lost at the line of scrimmage. So if we get our hands on guys in the beginning of the play and break their routes up, that’s when big plays don’t happen.”
On fellow defensive back Joshua Kalu:
“One thing I noticed with him is that he just wants to be good. Anytime we are in the meeting room his is like a sponge, asking a lot of questions. He’s doing all the little things after practice and working hard. I saw it with him back in the summer that he would be a contributor and be good, so I am looking forward to seeing how he progresses.”
Credit to Nebraska Media Relations for the Davie Q&A
Big Red Report/Scout.com predictions:
Josh Harvey, Scout.com: Nebraska: 31, Northwestern: 21
Bryan Munson, BRR staff: Nebraska: 38, Northwestern: 24
Matt Svoboda, BRR contributor: Nebraska: 31, Northwestern: 21
Beth Long, Scout.com: Nebraska: 34, Northwestern: 21
Brandon Huffman, Scout.com: Nebraska: 30, Northwestern: 27