Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 9.29.2012

Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead (22) follows blocker Justin Jackson against Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium in 2012. The Huskers wore alternate uniforms and helmets that day; an NCAA oversight committee will meet this week to study whether multiple helmets could lead to more concussions.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star file photo

The wait in the hotel felt like “forever,” or at least long enough to look at the clock a gazillion times, kill off a few chapters of a book and watch some Harry Potter.

Husker junior offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles did all of the above in the hours before Nebraska took the field against Wisconsin last Saturday night.

Hey, whatever works.

If that is the pregame potion before Sirles and his O-line chums got to work in the 30-27 win, the big man might want to consider another round of Harry Potter this upcoming Saturday.

Because it’s hard to find fault with what the Nebraska offensive line got done against a Badger defense that had previously proved itself stingy.

“I think (coaches) put a lot of trust in the guys up front,” Sirles said. “We wanted to put the game on our shoulders and show that this is how things are done around here. We like to run the ball and we want to run the ball.”

Nebraska did just that, running it 46 of its 75 plays despite trailing for most of three quarters.

By game’s end, the Huskers had amassed 259 rushing yards against a defense that came in allowing just 80 per game.

Nebraska averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Compare that to Wisconsin’s offensive line, the big bully on the block in recent years, which was able to muster just 1.4 yards per rush against the Huskers.

It was no doubt a mostly pleasing performance to Nebraska offensive line coaches Barney Cotton and John Garrison.

But by Monday, it was also considered old news in the Husker camp.

“That’s over,” said right guard Spencer Long. “A whole new week now.”

Think a coach such as Garrison likes hearing a player say that?


“I thought our guys played with a lot of passion, a lot of desire, they finished blocks, they worked hard at it, but there’s always something to work on,” Garrison said. “And that’s the answer you always hear from every coach, but there truly is. There’s always something. And it’s amazing the details that go into the game of football.

“I mean, one inch too far this way or one inch that way. It creates an outcome that’s either going to be good or bad. I think that’s what our guys are seeing now – the small details to be assignment-sound and understanding that it has to be a day-to-day thing that carries over to the game.”

That understanding has helped Nebraska be among the country’s elite in rushing offense early in this season.

After Saturday’s win, NU ranks fifth nationally in rushing offense at 305.8 yards a game.

Currently settled on a seven-man rotation, with three tackles and Seung Hoon Choi and Cole Pensick splitting duty at left guard, Long sees an offensive line that has meshed well since entering fall camp with some question marks.

“At the very beginning we didn’t even have our for-sure center. We didn’t have five for-sure guys that we knew for sure were going to be on our unit,” Long said. “We’ve come a long way since then.”

It helps, Sirles says, that Nebraska’s linemen are better adjusted to an up-tempo offense than they were a season ago.

Having a front five in the kind of shape to play at a fast pace perhaps helped wear on the Badgers on Saturday.

“As the game went on, we could just feel our conditioning was kicking in," Sirles said. “I mean, we practice at a high tempo. And even though it might not be the most fun thing some times … you can definitely feel it pay off during the game.”

But Nebraska’s rushing attack will be put to a severe test this week, when NU travels to Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are 19th in rushing defense (100.8 yards per game), and coming off a performance in which they held Michigan State to just 34 yards on the ground.

Spartan running back Le'Veon Bell, who was doing his best Jim Brown impersonation against other foes, had only 45 yards against the Buckeyes, and didn’t register a carry longer than 8 yards.

Factor in that the Huskers are heading into Ohio State’s den for a night game, and the challenge is clear.

But at this point, Sirles said Husker linemen just need to focus on getting better each day this week.

What helps keep that focus is when you face serious competition every day at each practice.

Garrison has been pleased to see that in-house competition continue to grow.

“Guys don’t want to be taken out,” the coach said. “When I tell them they’re sitting down, even though they know it’s coming, they kind of look at me. They want in there, they want all those reps. They’re like racehorses. When those gates go down, they’re going to go."

The hope is that such competition during the week translates to Saturdays.

And while Nebraska's 2012 Big Ten debut could be considered a success for the Husker front five, Sirles knows this race has only just begun.

"It’s not a sprint," he said. "It’s a marathon."

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


Load comments