Alamo Bowl Journal - Day 1

The first day of Alamo Bowl practices are in the books. So, what have we learned? I should have left my coat at home.

Probably about three hours away from San Antonio, maybe more, I had the window down, enjoying the mild air as they whipped by my face as I traveled along I-35. I still had my coat on at that point, not quite adjusted from less than 20 degrees to above 60.

Don't worry. I managed to fight through it.

You could have sensed as much sarcasm with the players today as both camps came from markedly different climates than the one they practiced in today. Currently there is a wind-chill factor of 29 degrees in Lincoln, 33 degrees in Ann Arbor and in San Antonio……..wind chill? What's wind chill?

That might explain why there might have been a bit of a skip in the player's steps today, a little more energy to burn off, because when you caught a ball, it didn't' feel like concrete in your hands and if you were on either end of a hit, it didn't feel like you were either hitting a wall or a wall just came out and hit you.

At the Nebraska camp it was definitely noticeable.

Oh, sure, we have gotten used to the animated practices from way back in spring of last year. The "Oklahoma" drill and the now famous one-on-one call-out drill, where coaches pick players to face off against each other, the man that finishes with leverage and momentum being the winner.

At one point a player yelled out ‘We're ready to do some bangin, baby!'

And so they did

The energy seemed to infect the coaches as well, or it could be the coaches that were infecting the players. Either way, energy levels were up, intensity was through the roof and all that energy saved up from a day off, was quickly expended as many players commented on just how rigorous this practice was. "Yesterday we just kind of hung out and took it easy," redshirt freshman tackle Lydon Murtha said. "Today we went at it real good. It was a pretty tough practice."

Some would say the Huskers need them right now as they prepare to play the always physical Michigan Wolverines. Sure, the Big 12 slate isn't like playing in the WAC, but with the conference being down, the overall level of play has followed.

Michigan will undoubtedly be the best team that Nebraska has faced this year, sporting All-Conference linemen, typically prolific and physical Michigan receivers and a defense that while not relentless with the blitz, will still challenge a team toe-to-toe.

Remember, they were the only team to beat Penn State this year.

Others would say that it's ok to be physical, but not too physical, because it's been taking its toll as of late. Starting WILL linebacker Bo Ruud will be watching from the sideline as he broke his arm at close to the end of practice last week. If Nebraska can't afford anything, it's to lose anymore players on a team that will still probably be overmatched by their opponent.

This was the first day, though, so no worrying about stuff that will probably happen the more you worry about it. It was a time to enjoy the weather, get out on some real grass for a change and let players work on their roles and in some cases, adjust to new ones or increased ones.

As you know from practice reports last week, Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said that in place of Ruud, sophomore Lance Brandenburgh would take the top spot. Brandenburgh had actually been competing at the middle linebacker spot with fellow sophomore Corey McKeon until Lance started battling a variety of injuries.

A few months later, no duty increasing to spot duty throughout games, Brandenburgh will now take the field as a number one. How that works out this week will dictate a lot of what happens immediately behind him and possibly at the middle position as well.

If for whatever reason Brandenburgh can't run with the ones, true freshman Jeff Souder is also being worked out at that position.

You know, Souder, the psychotic one on special teams, that flails about to the point of hyperventilating before kickoffs as he tries desperately to get the crowd involved. At 6 foot tall and 200 pounds, he wouldn't be the biggest candidate for the job, but there's no doubting his intensity and his love to hit.

Now, if all hell breaks loose and both don't work out, Corey McKeon is also being seen as another that could move to WILL. Only in the last week has he gotten a rep at the position, we believe the first reps he has ever taken at the position while at Nebraska.

It's not a question of ability, of course, as McKeon has shown himself to be a force both in a crowd and in space.

The question is who is playing behind him

Phillip Dillard is an impressive physical specimen. He runs side-to-side very well, hits very hard and in coverage, his ability belies his thick 6 foot, 2 inch, 250 pound frame. But he is a freshman and a true one at that, and the middle linebacker position is as much about knowledge as it is about physical prowess.

The other question is about the vacated rush end spot due to the loss of Wali Muhammad, after being excused from the bowl game for violating team rules. There isn't another rush end that can match his speed off the line except for the man that plays on the other side of the defensive line in passing situations, true freshman Barry Turner.

You can bet that at least some of the bowl preparations will include just how to remedy the loss, but also about how you try not to lose that speed on the outside on long-yardage scenarios.

There is one factor, though, that I am sure some worry about, but it's one that as a fan or even media, you can't pinpoint very easily.

Is the team too happy?

Hey, I'd be happy to if I were them. The team missed a bowl game last year for the first time in forever, they finally made it back and what do you know, they get to face off against a team like Michigan.

Who wouldn't be happy about that?

But it goes to something that we often never talk about when Nebraska comes up, because nobody is happy to be a place they have always been. If you miss it, though, even once, do those players that never experienced a bowl, and those players that are glad to be back, have to focus above and beyond what they have accomplished thus far this year?

The win over Colorado was momentous for a lot of reasons. It wasn't a great Colorado team, but nobody is going to sit here and say that Nebraska was all that and a bag of chips either. They went into Boulder, faced off in front of a crowd that hates them more than they hate wet snow, and fed them their hats.

They finished 7-4 after finishing 5-6 the year before, so this year was a success.

In addition, most of the talk over the week was about how the team wanted to play well, do better than they did before and they wanted to make sure that they didn't beat themselves. That's great. In fact, it's perfect, but there was one thing lacking that more or less hit home after by interview with Zack Bowman today.

I asked him if this team needed this win in order for the season to be a success. He paused and then said "We want to win." He went onto say that they wanted to play well, execute well and play until the gun went off. But more than anything, he said that he wanted the team to play better, implying better than they did against Colorado.

That's probably another thing that Nebraska fans have had to get used to: adjusting their expectations.

You can't expect a bowl, because as we have seen, it doesn't always happen. You can't expect 300 yards on the game, because this team doesn't do that an in this year's case, can't do that anymore. The drive-blocking bigguns, the athletic quarterback – there's lots of things that have just changed out of necessity, but the team has grown to accept it and have adjusted extremely well.

My question is, do they need to learn how not to just win again, but expect nothing less when they step on the field?

I suppose you can call it that swagger if you like. The confidence in knowing that if you play your game the way you can play it, nobody can beat you. It's realistic to think that they don't have that mind-set quite yet. There's probably more than a few teams that could still beat this group even if they did play near flawless football.

That's not so bad. Heck, considering everything this group has gone through over the last year-plus, saying "a few" could even be a compliment.

The point is, how do they feel about being where they are at right now, and after having gotten back to a bowl as they hoped to do this year, are they now obsessed with the idea of finishing it off the right away.

From where I am sitting, I don't think they need to win to prove anything. Outside of a blowout loss, this team accomplished much, even if the face of the losing streak at just past the mid-point of the season. Zac Taylor got better as the season went along. The defense, while porous at times, still proved the defining force for the team. And those special teams, the word special being almost a punch-line last year versus a description, they were special this year and then some.

Winning over Michigan would be great for this program, great for recruiting and great for the team going into next year. But they moved ahead a spot from last year and considering how bad last year was, I am sure some thought that it wouldn't even get to that point.

I'll reiterate what Bowman himself said in that as long as they play well, execute well and play all the way to the end, whatever happens, happens.

As for the players, I hope they don't think like that on the 28th. I hope that against all odds, they will accept nothing less than an upset victory over the Maize and Blue. And if they lose even after that?

No problem, because you will know that there was absolutely NOTHING this team lacked in trying to win. They just got beat by a better team.

I think everyone can live with that.

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