What's a linebacker not to love about this week?
First and foremost, Wisconsin’s style of offense means Nebraska will likely play much more base defense, giving opportunities to senior linebackers like Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher.
But it’s not just that.
To any linebacker worth his salt, a helmet-knocking, smashmouth game is just more fun.
“At times it gets old trying to chase a bunch of bubble screens, going sideline to sideline,” said Fisher. “You kind of feel like you’re in the middle of the field running around and not doing a lot. With a team like this, it will give us linebackers an opportunity to get our heads in there and make plays.”
Playing time has been off and on for both Whaley and Fisher during the nonconference season, as Nebraska played mostly nickel and dime defenses against spread-offense attacks.
“The way college football is right now with the diversity we’re seeing and the offenses we’re playing against, you have to have some guys that can play specialty roles,” NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.
“Whether it’s an Eric Martin kind of guy (hybrid defensive end/linebacker), or Sean Fisher or Alonzo Whaley or Ciante Evans (the nickel back), some guys just play better against some schemes. For us to maximize our full roster we have to make sure we use guys the in the most advantageous way possible.”
Despite the fact Whaley and Fisher haven’t consistently been on the field, Husker coach Bo Pelini expects the veterans will be ready to go Saturday.
"It's about execution,” Pelini said. “Those two guys are obviously part of it, but everybody. We just got to execute at a high level."
* Enjoying the grind: Count senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler among those eager to test himself against a power running offense.
"I like that playing that way," Steinkuhler said. "It's one guy against another guy. It's that way for four quarters. I like it."
Certainly last year's 48-17 loss to Wisconsin is one that doesn't leave the memory bank.
It's one of those games that sticks with you and "stings a little bit."
"Not that any game is more important than another but you want to come back and prove to everyone that you can beat somebody," Steinkuhler said.
He isn't about to rate this Husker defensive line this early in the season, but said the goal has to be to strive for improvement each week.
"I mean, there's always room for improvement, and that's what we're trying to prove is that we're one of the top defensive fronts in the nation," he said. "And I think we work to prove that every week. We're trying, we're chipping away at that goal every day at practice."
* On the health front: Pelini said his team is in good shape heading into Saturday’s game.
Pelini said senior P.J. Smith, who was dinged up and left the Idaho State game for precautionary reasons, is fine. He said defensive tackle Thad Randle (hobbled with a bad knee) is also ready to play.
Cornerback Mohammed Seisay, who rolled his ankle on Saturday, said he is back to 100 percent.
Seisay actually came back to that game for one series after the injury.
“It was me just being hard-headed, and I wanted to go out there and play,” Seisay said. “So I went out there. I wasn’t really supposed to.”
Defensive tackle Chase Rome, who did not receive any snaps against Idaho State after departing the team for a week, is also available.
* Learning the news: Pelini said Tom Osborne let him know about his plans to retire the day before Wednesday’s announcement.
“I wish him well,” Pelini said. “He's meant a lot to me and I appreciate everything he's done. I just wish him and Nancy well going forward."
* Sunday chats: With gameday as hectic as it is, Pelini doesn’t get much time with recruits on Saturday.
"For me, it's more of a Sunday morning deal," he said. "But obviously they'll be around, I'll spend some time with them. But most of my meetings happen on the back end of it."
On Saturday, Pelini said the recruits will take tours and meet with academic counselors, among other things.
"It really doesn't change much on a game weekend," the coach said of recruits' visits. "It's just a little more compacted at times."
* Pregame dining: Coaches can be a superstitious bunch, and Papuchis is no different. He said he always eats the same pregame meal, and it’s a unique combination.
“It’s going to sound weird, but I eat pasta with no sauce, cheese on top of it and bacon,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for too long and it’s not real healthy.”
-- Brian Christopherson and Darnell Dickson