Nebraska is nearly halfway through its regular season
The Huskers will hit that halfway point when they play at Purdue Saturday in West Lafayete, Ind.
The game at Purdue marks not just the midway mark, but it is also the first road game of the season for the Huskers (4-1, 1-0 in the Big Ten).
The Huskers enjoyed five straight home games to start the season. That’s not really that unusual. A number of other major college teams have similar schedules, including Indiana. The Hoosiers are on the road for the first time Saturday when they play at Michigan State.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said that was probably the best possible schedule for this Husker team.
“I kind of talked about that in the preseason going in and where I thought we would be to start and the level of work that was in front of us,” Pelini said. “The schedule set up well for us as far as being able to get that accomplished. I think it’s playing out to a certain extent because I’ve seen a significant amount of progress in the past couple weeks. Let me qualify that in saying that we still have a lot of work to do.”
Sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory can see the advantages of all those early-season home games.
“It really has helped us out as far as getting comfortable with the defense,” Gregory said. “We got a lot of new faces out there and it was really important for us to go out there and get a lot of reps. I think it was really important for us as we get ready for this final stretch of the season.”
Now the Huskers will take their young defense, and redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong, on the road to face Purdue (1-4, 0-1), a team that just moved freshman Danny Etling into the starting spot at quarterback.
The Huskers did show improvement on the defensive side, but it’s hard not to wonder if their defense can do enough to confuse Etling the way a veteran defense would.
Pelini said taking a young team on the road is always a concern, but he is glad that it’s an 11 a.m. start.
“You get up and go play,” Pelini said. “Guys are used to getting up early. I think that will help us to a certain extent. I think it will be a good experience for our guys. Some of them have been on road trips but there’s a difference between being on a road trip and walking out there as a starter in the first play. I think it will be good for us.”
Armstrong isn’t likely to be intimidated by a foreign environment. He played high school football at Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas. Steele is in Class 5A, the largest class in Texas. Going on the road to play 5A football in Texas probably isn’t much tougher than going on the road at Nebraska.
Armstrong is looking forward to the experience.
“I like playing at home, but it’s just a great feeling to just have an away game to just get away a little bit,” Armstrong said. “All the guys are looking forward to it so we are real prepared for it.”
Junior receiver Kenny Bell has been on the road many times with the Huskers. His first road trip was in 2011 when Nebraska played at Wyoming.
“We went to Wyoming and it was a pretty hostile environment,” Bell said. “You get flustered a little bit, but I think we have a lot of guys who are great competitors on both sides of the ball.
“I’m excited to watch Tommy (Armstrong Jr.) play on the road this week and see how he handles it. I have nothing but confidence in him. He’s one heck of a competitor and one heck of a football player.”
Bell, who leads the Huskers with 22 receptions, said communication could be an issue early with Armstrong playing in place of the senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is still nursing a turf toe injury.
That changes the level of communication for the Huskers.
“We’ve been with Taylor for so long that it’ll take us some time to adjust,” Bell said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be nice to get on the road with just the team and go play a football game.”
The Huskers will have their second bye week of the season after the Purdue game before playing Oct.26 at Minnesota.
“These two road games we have coming up are going to be a test of how we handle it, because we have some huge road games later down the road,” Bell said. “It’s a big week for us. Coach Bo has been harping all week that we have stuff that we have to fix ourselves. We left a lot of football out there on Saturday (against Illinois) after watching the film.”
It is kind of a quirky schedule for the Huskers with two bye weeks in the span of a month. That may have been difficult for a veteran team, but the lighter schedule will give Pelini and the coaching staff a chance to put it all together.
“Normally I don’t think I’d like it, but with the youth we have on our team I think it’s just what the doctor ordered for us,” Pelini said. “I like it. I think it’s helped us get better, not just injury-wise but just giving us a chance to continue to grow, especially on the defensive side.
“I like the it’s set up for us. I thought we made a big jump coming out of the first bye. I think we were able to get a lot done and some things that happened to us early in the year cleaned up.”