Sights and sounds from the Huskers in Nashville:
Gerry Gdowski hadn't been to a Nebraska football practice in more than 20 years.
But the Huskers came to him this time, practicing for their bowl game at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, the very school where Gdowski is now working as a quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator.
The former Husker quarterback, fresh off his own bowl game appearance the night before, was on hand for NU's practice Tuesday.
Nebraska's starting quarterback as a senior in 1989, the Fremont native still knew a few faces on NU's staff, like Jerry Weber, Kenny Wilhite and defensive line coach John Parrella.
Gdowski, who worked at Ohio under Frank Solich, still keeps in touch with the former Husker head coach, too.
"It's hard, especially not being able to get back and go to games, and get around the program, it's very easy to kind of lose track of people," he said. "I was excited obviously when I saw they were coming to Nashville. Hopefully I'll get a chance to catch up (with a few guys.)"
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As a Husker player, Gdowski broke or tied 11 school records in his lone season as a starter. He led NU to a 10-1 regular-season record, with only a 27-21 loss to Colorado keeping the Huskers from a shot at the national championship.
Bringing it to the present, Gdowski knows plenty about this Tennessee team his alma mater is about to face. His Vanderbilt team beat the Vols 45-34 in the last game of the regular season, costing Tennessee a likely bid to the Sugar Bowl.
"We played our best football of the year in that game," Gdowski said. "That was fun. Vanderbilt, here in Nashville, if you're going to win one, that's the one you want to win."
While Vandy lit up Tennessee's defense in that game, Gdowski knows the Volunteers have some great individual talents on that side of the ball. He immediately brings up 6-3, 265-pound All-American defensive end Derek Barnett.
"Their defensive end was probably, if not the best guy we played against on that side of the ball, certainly in the top two or three," Gdowski said. "He's a great player. You have to kind of scheme and account for him, especially when you get in third-down situations, because he's going to find a way to get to the quarter. He's a great player."
While Gdowski is mostly invested in his current job, he tries to follow NU football's progress from afar when he can.
"I'll always hope for the best and root them on. I get a chance every once in a while, always put them on TV when you get that opportunity," he said. "Just excited to be here and get a chance to see them."
On with the drive.
> Hot chicken is a big deal in Nashville.
* So, yes, one of my main missions on Tuesday included standing in line for a half-hour outside of Hattie B's to get my fix.
The wait was worth it.
When ordering your chicken, there are four different levels of hotness to pick from: Southern (no heat), Mild or Medium (Touch of Burn), Hot! (Feel the Heat), Damn Hot (Fire Starter!)
I didn't want to start a fire. Not two hours before covering a Husker practice, at least. But I didn't want to go soft either. So I picked Hot!
And it was. And quite good. And charged to the Journal Star. That's the old triple whammy.
By the way, you know a restaurant is the real deal when there's basically a line down the block from 10:30 to 2:30. I even saw a couple of cabs show up, with people taking a taxi just to eat some hot chicken.
* The Huskers will wear a Mountain Tough sticker on their helmets during Friday's bowl game as tribute to the people of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
That's where a forest fire killed 14 people, injured 175 and destroyed more than 2,400 houses and businesses.
The fire started on Nov. 23 and caused estimated damage of $500 million. About 20,000 acres of Great Smoky Mountains National Park were scorched.
The Volunteers will also honor the people of Gatlinburg by wearing "Smokey Grey" uniforms for the game.
> Doing the whole comparative score thing in college football is risky business, but for fun, let's look at two bowl games that people might use to try to help in predicting this Nebraska-Tennessee game.
Perhaps you noticed the one team Husker quarterback Ryker Fyfe started against this year, Maryland, gave up 36 on Monday in a six-point loss to a Boston College team that had to scratch and claw to just get first downs this year. Fyfe played well against the Terps. But that defense offered resistance to very few this year.
On the other hand, the Vanderbilt team Tennessee lost to by a score of 45-34 in the regular-season finale got whipped by 24 by NC State in its bowl game. When a Vols fan in my hotel lobby saw that Vandy score, he shook his head and said, "You've got to be s------g me."
* Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey is looking triiiiim. He said he's down to 220 pounds.
The linebacker is listed at 230 in the program. You can see the difference just by a quick glance.
Rose-Ivey plans to train for his NFL workouts back in his hometown area of Kansas City.
> Sad to see Jordan Westerkamp watching his final week of Husker practices from the sideline.
Listening to his voice, you can tell how crushing this is for him. He has tried to have some light moments here, though, including on Monday when he grabbed his helmet and put it on. Teammate Chris Weber joked on Twitter that the senior wide receiver was "questionable" for Friday's game.
— Brian Christopherson