Popping pads serves as Huskers' medicine

2012-12-14T22:00:00Z 2013-02-15T16:40:50Z Popping pads serves as Huskers' medicineBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

The collisions have become their medicine.

Since that horror show in Indianapolis, the Nebraska football players have had five practices -- fast-paced, physical, with a magnifying glass on tackling.

Some of the practices have lasted not much more than hour. But they’ve been packed with about 85 to 90 plays, with the No. 1s squaring off against the 1s often.

“The best way to start the healing process is to start hitting somebody,” said offensive line coach Barney Cotton, who led the early bowl practices while Bo Pelini and other assistants were on the road recruiting.

Pelini was back on the field with the team Friday. It was also the first time Husker coaches and players met the media since the postgame interview room after the 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

When last seen, the Huskers were dazed and red-eyed. Friday, they left the field in good spirits. Few were going to stop and look back.

That Wisconsin game film?

“Watched it once. Threw it away,” said sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell.

They’re thinking about Dawgs now.

The Huskers have begun doing their homework on Georgia, one of those talent-laden SEC teams, which was just 4 yards from playing in the BCS Championship Game.

“Studs. Great football team,” Bell said of the Bulldogs. “Physical secondary. Solid group of guys. Very solid.”

Cotton said Georgia’s defense, which ranks 17th nationally in scoring defense, reminds him of the one Nebraska saw in South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl last season.

“Although, I think they’re bigger than South Carolina. But they have the same kind of players,” Cotton said. "They’re fast and physical in the back end, and they’ve got lean pass rushers on the outside and big, physical guys on the inside. It’s a pretty typical, very good Southeastern Conference defense.”

Matching up with Georgia physically and athletically is challenge enough for most teams.

But Nebraska players and coaches also must clear the mental hurdle that surely dogs a team when it loses by 39 points and gives up 639 yards of offense.

It’s got to be about more than pride, Bell said.

“I wouldn’t say pride will take us anywhere. Obviously, when you get beat like that it’s tough and you want to rebound. But dedication and hard work is what’s going to get you over this hump.”

And it’s got to be more than words, though words do sometimes help a hurting soul.

To that end, senior tight end Ben Cotton said the team met in Lincoln shortly after the loss to Wisconsin.

Some players stepped up and said a few things.

The general message: Something like the Wisconsin game can’t happen again. But you also can’t go back and change it.

“We’ve got to get right back to work and we’ve got to bust our butts in weight training, and conditioning, and practice so that we’re going to be 10-fold better,” Cotton said. “We want to be that much better when we play in this bowl game than we were in our last game.”

While the season goal to win a conference championship is gone, players are now pushing to win an 11th game this season.

The last time a Nebraska team did that was 2001.

“It would be something pretty special to be the team that finally got past that 10th win instead of just being the next Nebraska team that got to that 10th win and stopped,” Cotton said.

Barney Cotton said players have had “a hunger in their eyes” in early bowl practices.

“I know I called on my guys the next day after the (Wisconsin) game. We did have a good season and I’m proud of those guys,” the offensive line coach said. “They put a stake in the ground for us (with) those six wins in a row in the Big Ten and against the defenses we faced. I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of guys.

“And that last game? That wasn’t us. We didn’t earn it that night, but what do you do? You correct your mistakes, you move on, you put a new stake in the ground and you go chase a bowl win.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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