Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski isn't the sort to mince words.
He says UCLA "flat-out embarrassed us up front" last September in Pasadena, Calif.
The Bruins flustered the entire Husker defense to the tune of 653 yards (6.9 per play) in a 36-30 victory that foreshadowed some dramatic struggles by the NU defense.
UCLA ran a whopping total of 94 plays — 56 runs, 38 passes. Nebraska defenders were chasing powder-blue jerseys all night, often a couple of steps behind, if not more.
Nebraska's front seven looks much different nowadays. Gone are Eric Martin, Chase Rome, Baker Steinkuhler, Joseph Carter, Cameron Meredith, Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher. Kevin Williams is out for the season with a knee injury.
Interior tackle Thad Randle and end Jason Ankrah are the only key holdovers from a front seven that was bamboozled by UCLA.
Meanwhile, the Bruins return eight starters on offense, including four from last year's O-line. All-Pac-12 guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound junior, is the bell cow. Make no mistake, Nebraska's young and inexperienced defensive line on Saturday will get a taste of what life will be like in the Big Ten — much more of a taste than it's gotten to this point, anyway.
Say what you will about Big Ten football, the league has plenty of big and skilled linemen on both sides of the ball. The offensive linemen, in many cases, are mammoth. Some of them are married. Family guys. I swear I've seen a few graybeards. Point is, Big Ten O-linemen know every trick. They know how to pace themselves during a game. During a season.
UCLA's behemoths surely can relate.
Nebraska's unseasoned defensive linemen might not know exactly what they're getting into this week, and that may be a good thing.
That said, Kaczenski gained confidence in his crew in Nebraska's 56-13 victory against Southern Miss on Saturday night. But the Golden Eagles (0-2) had four offensive linemen who are first-year starters. Comparatively, the Bruins' line might look like the bulldozing 1995 Husker group.
Kaczenski, in his second season at Nebraska, wears his heart on his sleeve. He was predictably glum after Wyoming on Aug. 31 rolled up 35 first downs in NU's 37-34 win. He was upbeat after the Southern Miss contest, pleased with the line's progress.
He was matter-of-fact about this week's challenge, mindful of last year's jarring loss to the Bruins.
"We didn't change the line of scrimmage," Kaczenski said. "We were just kind of catching blocks. We let the quarterback out (on long runs) a few times. That allowed UCLA to extend some drives."
UCLA hammered Nebraska with big plays — 12 covering at least 19 yards. The Huskers generated minimal pressure with their four-man rush. If they give Bruins sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley too much time in the pocket Saturday, he is more than capable of another 300-yard passing performance (he threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns last season).
"He's just dangerous," Kaczenski said.
The coach seems optimistic. His mood no doubt is enhanced by Randy Gregory, the 6-6, 255-pound end who spent much of Saturday night in the Southern Miss backfield, producing four quarterback hurries and generally causing mayhem for Allan Bridgford.
You don't have to be Bill Belichick to conclude that Gregory is a gifted pass-rusher. Bear in mind, though, he is only a sophomore. He sat out all of last season at Arizona Western Community College with a leg injury. By the time he's a senior, he should be an All-Big Ten-caliber player, assuming he continues to improve. He has only scratched the surface, according to NU coaches.
Gregory made some mental errors against Southern Miss, "but he was flying to the ball," Kaczenski said. "Some guys, when they screw up, and they're out of a gap, they kind of freeze up. I thought Randy did a good job of playing through the play and going to find the ball."
Kaczenski's youthful linemen are figuring out that only intense practice work is rewarded on Saturdays. The coach saw a greater sense of urgency in workouts last week. The linemen evidently learned from the Wyoming game. They better have learned from that game.
Much learning remains.
Nebraska's regular D-line rotation includes two sophomores (Gregory and tackle Aaron Curry), three redshirt freshmen (tackle Vincent Valentine and ends Avery Moss and Greg McMullen) and two true freshmen (tackles Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice).
"Our tests are on Saturday. You get what you deserve," Kaczenski said with a chuckle. "If we just do what's required, that ain't enough. I think our guys figured that out."
Perhaps just in time.